By Ian Leier
I would like to start off by saying I never knew I would be a coach. I never felt the “calling” people talk about. To be honest, I lucked into the whole thing and could not be more grateful to be coaching hockey for a living. With that being said, here is my coaching journey.
I lived in a town which revolved around hockey, but I was never that good of a player. I was the player who made teams because I fit the mold of “good guy, tries hard, loves the game.” Also, I was bigger than most kids and loved the contact aspect of the game. I played through high school and went to my local college assuming my hockey career would turn into Wednesday night men’s league like most others in my town. Then I got a phone call out of the blue which (unknowingly at the time) would change my career path drastically.
The call was from a long-time coach in my town asking me to be his assistant coach. I had never really met him before, but he coached my brother in Bantams 8 years earlier. He thought I would be a good fit with him because he knew I came from a solid family and liked the way I played the game. I of course said yes and started my coaching journey; coaching the Bantam A team in my hometown.
As a fresh 18-year-old coaching players 3-5 years younger than me, I had a steep learning curve. I look back now at the things I taught and how I taught them and cringe. I failed and learned, failed and learned, failed and learned. One thing held constant throughout that first year though, I made sure every player knew I cared about them and no matter what I had their back. My passion for coaching that first year went from barely a spark to a full-blown forest fire. Every player fed off of my positive energy, and I still am in contact with some of them 10 years later (even though we both know how sub-par my actual coaching was).
I ended up coaching one more year with the coach I started with. After, I joined up with two other long-time coaches in the area to continue coaching Bantam A’s for the rest of my college career. I graduated college with a degree in both nursing and psychology, but I know I learned more coaching than I ever did in college. There is no better life experience than coaching.
I learned what it means to be a leader, how to handle difficult players and parents, how to motivate and get the most out of each player, how to identify strengths and weakness in players/people, how to react in different situations, and so much more. Coaching became a passion; however, that passion had to be put on hold for a couple years.
I worked as a nurse for two years. In those two years without coaching I married my wife, had a beautiful baby boy, climbed the nursing ladder into a leadership role, and settled into family life. I still helped a friend coach a week-long camp every summer and would help on weekends in the spring and fall at the rink. The passion for coaching never left. That same friend (who started his coaching career similar to mine in college) asked me the ridiculous question of “Do you want to uproot your family/career and start coaching full time at a hockey academy I plan on starting?” Without missing a beat, I said yes.
I am now coaching full-time as a skills coach for youth players. My office is the rink and even a bad day of work is still a fantastic day. I coach new skaters through college players on a daily basis and get to help mentor young coaches and ignite their coaching passion. My passion continues to grow, and I continue to learn something new about the game every day.
The point I want everyone reading to take away from this article is this:
“Give new coaches a chance.”
Young, new coaches are what fuels the growth of the game. Will they struggle? Yes. Will they make mistakes? Yes. But, will they have the ability to connect with players? Absolutely. Will they bring a passion for the game which will radiate with their players? 100%.
In many local hockey associations, I see a switch to Parent-Coaches becoming the norm and not the exception. These parents may have a wealth of hockey knowledge to pass onto the players but having parent coaches will hinder the growth of the game. It will also hinder player’s development when it comes to taking instruction from a leader.
Learning a concept from a coach, disciplining from a coach, and the relationship built with a coach is perceived different if it is Johnny’s dad as the coach. I urge parents with hockey experience to step back from the coaching role and instead help mentor these young coaches. Help identify local players who would potentially be good coaches and try to ignite the passion for coaching in them. And most of all, do not be too critical of these new coaches and do your best to help them along the way. If I was never given the chance to become a coach, my life would be drastically different.