With the start of a new youth hockey season, I thought I'd re-visit my first season, when Brynne decided she was going to be a hockey player (one of the proudest moments of my life! She's in the first row, second from the right!). I got tabbed, somewhat blindsided, actually, as the head coach of the Agawam Squirt C squad. Here's my open letter to my parents, which I think also conveys why I think sports -- and hockey in particular -- are so important. Plus, I've always thought of coaching as more than an obligation to our kids ... I see it as an obligation to all the coaches who took the time to teach me, and to the game that has taught me so much over the years. And one that continues to teach me. Let me know what you think!
Welcome to the 2008-09 hockey season
Dear Agawam Squirt C parents and players,
Welcome to another year of Agawam hockey! Sorry this note is coming after our thrilling 3-3 stalemate vs. North Andover, but our staffing came together rather late (or maybe the season came a little too early!). Unbeknownst to me, I was "volunteered" to coach the Squirt C team, along with Jere Moroney, by President Apgar. Still, I welcome the assignment, and am looking forward to the coming season. The energy our kids displayed last Sunday has definitely energized me as well.
First, though, I wanted to echo Lee's earlier letter regarding Agawam's early start date, and the obvious conflicts that arise with fall sports. Clearly, hockey is not the be-all of your child's extracurricular activities, especially in September (my Brynne is juggling soccer, swimming, and lacrosse Fall Ball as well!). All that Jere and I ask is that you keep us posted as to the dates, especially the games, when your child can't attend.
I also wanted to let you know a few things about me, and my relationship to the game. I've played hockey for the better part of the past 40 years, and have coached for the past 12. I work primarily as a senior staff member for Bertagna Goaltending, though I've also coached at the high school (Hamilton-Wenham) and college (Endicott) levels. Simply, I love the game, which is why I still play several times a week, despite having entered my second half-century (and despite a host of nagging injuries), and why I'm thrilled that my daughter Brynne has decided to give it a go.
My philosophy regarding sports in general, and hockey specifically, is pretty straightforward. I think sports are an important, even essential, tool in teaching life lessons: camaraderie, teamwork, discipline, resiliency, respect, and sportsmanship. The fun comes not only from individual accomplishment, but in seeing the team succeed through mutual effort and cooperation. I also believe that children at the Squirt level are fully capable of understanding and appreciating these basic ideals (if not the "life lesson" aspect). As coaches, it's our job to help them with that understanding.
During this season, I hope each child will grow as a player and as a young man or young lady. Confidence, as John Buccigross once wrote, is the single most important trait for a young athlete, and we want to cultivate that among all our players. At this age, I'm less interested with their skill set (and wins and losses), and much more interested in their behavior, both on and off the ice. I hope to create, along with Jere and the other coaches, an environment where each player can thrive within the team concept, which I believe will result in team success. I will move quickly to short-circuit any behavior that isn't conducive to the team: woofing at opponents, showboating, talking back to the refs, or arguing with teammates, to name just a few pet peeves.
I want the Squirt C's to be a team that the players and parents can be proud of, regardless of what our record is. (Don't get me wrong: I like to win as much as anyone, and I'm sure Jim Cabot would be happy to vouch for how testy I can get during our NSSA skates! But I never want winning to trump sportsmanship.)
We will emphasize the basics. Play a north-south game, skate your lane, don't bunch up, cover your man on D, back check, talk to one another, skate with the puck when you're open, and pass to the open man or space when you're not. Everyone will play offense, everyone will play defense, and, yes, everyone will strap on the goalie gear for game or two. Playing every position is the best way I know to foster an appreciation of what your teammates are dealing with.
Last, I welcome input from parents. I understand that coaching youth sports is a delicate balancing act, and not everyone will agree with my approach (or the approach that other coaches might take, for that matter). I promise you this much: I will strive to be as consistent as possible in putting the team interests above the individual interests of any one player. Hockey is, after all, a team sport, and that's why it works so well as a teaching tool for life in general. That said, if you feel that there are issues that need to be addressed, please don't suffer in silence. My door is open.
Many thanks, in advance, for the opportunity to work with these youngsters.
All the best,