Coaching Package: Indelible Impressions

Lessons Taught By Coaches Carry On Long After The Whistle Blows

I’ll always remember my first hockey coach for sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes and flicking his fingernails.

I know, gross. I hate cigarettes, too.

But I loved this coach.

He was also my dad.

I don’t know how it happened, but one day, long before the American Development Model, I was a 10-year-old playing in the Dayton [Ohio] Amateur Hockey Association and my dad was the coach.
He doesn’t remember the specifics. I asked him about it the other day and all he said was, “Boy, that was a lot of fun.”

That’s how I remember it, too.

The patches I’ve kept say that I played for five seasons—’73-’74, ’74-’75, ’75-’76, ’76-’77, ’77-’78—always with him as my coach. My friend Ronnie’s dad, Ron, was the assistant coach.

In a team photo that my siblings gave me for my 50th birthday and that I cherish, I’m in the front row with kids I mostly remember—Kent, Jed and our goalie, “Buckwheat.” Ron is wearing a dark snap-up windbreaker and my dad is dressed up in a tie and a brown leather coat, looking like he could be coaching the Dayton Gems of the old International Hockey League.

Back then he and Ron did not have to go through background checks. They did not take coaching clinics. I’m pretty sure they had no idea what they were doing, at least at the start.

I have many fond memories, but the strongest might be of my dad waking me up for practices and games on all those early mornings. He’d be sitting at the kitchen table, sipping his coffee, smoking and flicking his fingernails.

These days the author continues to carry the lessons he learned from his father as he coaches his own son, and other children.These days the author continues to carry the lessons he learned from his father as he coaches his own son, and other children.

I’m thinking about this in a new way as I get up in the dark to get ready for my first game as head coach—the first jamboree of my 8-year-old’s team. I’m just drinking strong coffee, but I can smell my dad and hear him like it was yesterday.

I do not remember any of his hockey plays or strategies. I don’t remember any inspiring sayings or speeches. I certainly don’t remember our win-loss records.

As a hockey coach, my dad actually was pretty forgettable, I guess, except in the most important way. He was there for me, and for the other players. And boy, was it a lot of fun.

How do I want to be remembered as a coach? Maybe I don’t want to be remembered for specifics, either.

I stopped playing hockey in high school, but my dad wasn’t my last great coach. Since my son started playing at age 5, I’ve been around a lot of coaches who’ve made positive impressions, and for more human than hockey reasons.

I got to be one of the assistants with my son’s first head coach, Todd. His genius was in that he was one of the kids. Some other parents thought he gave out too many helmet stickers and game pucks. Not one kid will remember it that way. They loved him. I do too.

For the next two years, I got to be an assistant to Scot, who reinforced the power of making sure the kids have fun. Not that he didn’t always know the score and what was what. I also learned from the time or two he lowered the boom, including once when he saw one of our players punch another in the handshake line. I’ll never forget the tournament game when we got way up on a team and how Scot gently coached our players to just pass the puck. “We don’t need any more goals.”

My fellow assistants, too, were mostly about having fun. Jim was another big kid at heart who’d remind us that 8 & Under is “the kindergarten of hockey.” Pascal P. was always quick with a smile. And Pascal D. was a merry prankster who knows a lot more about hockey than I ever will.

When I made my return to playing hockey as an adult, one of my fellow assistants from that first year became my coach. Pete is one of the more serious, thoughtful coaches I know. But the biggest thing he did for me wasn’t to give me training advice or tactics. He just encouraged me to give playing a try and ... he was there for me. Just like my dad. And boy, playing on his team was a lot of fun.

I picked my current assistants, Bret and Steve and Homer, knowing they’re down with “my” philosophy. They want to compete and to win, too. But they know what is most important. We’re learning from each other, as good coaches do. And we’re spending time with our kids. It’s … well, you know.

I’m thinking about all this on a chilly morning as I drive with my wife and son about an hour north to a drafty old rink just like I used to play in. The puck is to drop at 8:30 a.m. I have no idea about the teams we’re playing, nor much of an idea yet about my team, in any specific way. How am I going to coach them? How do I want this to go?

I don’t have a whiteboard, a game plan, or even set lines.

But I’m good.

I’ve had my coffee. I’m with my son.

And I have all my coaches with me.

When he isn’t writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bob Batz, Jr. is a coach in the Mt. Lebanon [Pa.] Hockey Association.


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