At a time when every aspect of life seems to be sanitized, personalized, computerized and compartmentalized, some worry that the use of modern gadgets is taking away from what makes team sports so great – the team itself.
While parents and players alike herald the concept of individualism, coaches struggle to find a balance between supporting the individual while promoting team chemistry.
“The dynamics and culture in the locker room are reflected on the ice,” says USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program Director Mark Tabrum.
That’s why 30 minutes before Tabrum’s Bantam AA team hits the ice all music is turned off. Fifteen minutes of that time is dedicated to the coach’s instruction; the remainder is for the team to interact and create some sort of camaraderie, and not to drift off into their own little iPod-induced world.
“I want them thinking about hockey,” says Tabrum, a former Junior and college coach.
There seems to be a generational gap between old-school coaches, like Tabrum, and teenaged players.
Brent Schwarz, a goalie for Tabrum’s Junior Tigers in Colorado Springs, believes that listening to headphones pre-game “helps [the team] perform on the ice a lot better,” because listening to his preferred music in the locker room helps him focus.
Colin Staub agrees with his Junior Tigers teammate that having the option to listen to their favorite tunes while dressing in the locker room allows them to mentally prepare for the game. They are not dozing off into some fantasyland, they are getting pumped up and going over what they need to do on the ice.
When the team is “listening to music together, everyone is talking and goofing off, not necessarily focusing on the game,” says Schwarz with another reason why he prefers headphones.
He also says that while he may listen to headphones, some of his teammates prefer to hang out together, goof off and do the things that young hockey players do. His iPod allows him to do things his way, while others can do what works for them.
An NHL veteran and current assistant coach of the Portland Pirates, the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, Gord Dineen says his team has a common radio to be shared in the locker room.
“We’re trying to promote chemistry and interaction between the guys,” says Dineen.
The players seem to work out radio control among each other on a day-to-day basis. Dineen says that if any particular song is not appreciated, players on his team have no problem expressing their protest and the tunes are promptly changed. He tries to be tolerant of the team’s musical preferences, but does not allow anything
that is laden with expletives.
The Pirates may be willing to change the music, but Schwarz’s teammate Jake Slizewski says that “everybody likes different stuff,” in his locker room. One player’s favorite song may be irritating to the point of distraction to his teammate. It all boils down to a matter of taste.
Dineen requires that all music in the locker room be muted 20 to 30 minutes before they take to the ice for warm-ups. Once the game is over, however, all bets are off.
Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire” became a frequent celebration song after wins for the Phoenix Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, where Dineen was an assistant coach last season.
While some remain dismayed by the personalization of modern technology, others are whole-heartedly supportive.
John Hynes, head coach of the U.S. National Under-18 Team, welcomes the use of MP3 players in the locker room. No music is played between warm-ups and game time, but unlike many coaches, Hynes allows his players the option to listen to music with headphones during this time frame. He says that this option allows him to cater to those who need quiet to focus as well as those who prefer music.
In this time of cell phones, portable video games and MP3 units, it seems that society may have traded the need for interaction in exchange for a dependence on attention-grabbing gadgets.
Mike Schmidt, an assistant coach within the Metro-Detroit-based Honeybaked hockey club, was playing Div. II college hockey less than six years ago. Yet it may still seem like the Stone Age to today’s teams. There were no “movies on demand” and iPods were less than a year old and cost $400 for limited memory. If players wanted to watch movies during long bus rides, they had to go to the store and actually pick them out.
Schmidt’s team would entertain themselves by being as obnoxious as possible, screaming things like “seagull” and “foothill” when passing boring landscapes. Card games were heated and animated, and helped pass the time as the miles rolled by.
In the locker room, nobody had headphones on. The team was treated to several air guitar concerts, sometimes even accompanied by air drumming while the rest of the team cheered and headbanged to the blaring music coming from the boombox. They got pumped up together – as a team.
Schmidt has no major concern as of yet regarding the whole MP3 player debate. He feels that if a player thinks that zoning out to his own music is helpful to his performance, then “by all means, go ahead,” but to remember that there is a “time and place for it.”
As a coach, Schmidt’s policy is for all devices to be turned off and put away 20 minutes before game time.
No matter what the coach or team’s take on the whole iPod phenomenon is, the issue is and will remain something to be addressed with the best interest of the team.
As Tabrum says, the locker room is the domain of the team, not just a place to put on their gear. It is where they prepare by talking about plays, moves and strategies.
There may be 20 individuals in the locker room, but all of those characters combine to form one team.
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It’s something that most people have very strong opinions about. It can create bonds, stimulate emotions and cause arguments. No, not politics or religion. Music has the power to move the human spirit.
Hockey players are no exception to the rule. Walk into any locker room and it’s likely you’ll hear a variety of sounds blaring through the speakers.
Some use it to stay calm and focus on the task at hand, while others employ it to get their adrenaline flowing.
The Metro Detroit-based Honeybaked boys’ Squirt team prefers rap or rock to get them ready to play. Assistant Coach Mike Schmidt says that the players overwhelmingly enthuse that their favorites are Soulja Boy and Fall Out Boy.
Jordan Leopold of the Colorado Avalanche likes to listen to heavy metal in the locker room before games. One of his favorites, System of a Down, gets him so amped that he “won’t listen to it in the car,” for safety reasons.
As a personal preference, Julie Chu of the U.S. Women’s National Team loves country music and enjoys anything upbeat that she can sing to. But with so many personalities to accommodate in the locker room, a soundtrack is provided with a team mix CD. Each team member picks two songs to be added to the disc, and after airing the collection, team members bond over guessing who picked which song.
Chu says that sometimes a Celine Dion number can follow a hardcore rap song. Years later, Chu says, certain songs will “take you back to memories of that team or certain players.”
Tastes and styles may differ and change over time, but whatever the genre, music and hockey share the ability to build character and unite their followers.