Contributed by Mike Simon (Saint John, NB)
BEFORE ANYONE GETS TOO EXCITED, let’s be clear: We’re not talking a monetary contract here although many young players have that as an ultimate goal. Rather this contract is usually a written document prepared by the coach for his players to sign at the beginning of the season.
Most coaches I know have a meeting with the parents soon after their team is picked to go over the rules, his plans for the season and any nuances he wants to cover before the onslaught of games and practises actually begin. I find this approach works well in the younger age groups; Initiation, Novice, and Atom.
However, it’s a fact of life that as kids get older they develop other interests, some of which may conflict with their hockey obligations. In addition there are other factors a coach has to consider that were not as relevant in the early years; on ice behaviour, curfews and fundraising just to name a few.
In my experience the contract is not a standard form but, instead, one that has been customized to the needs of a particular coach and there can be as many variations as there are coaches that use them.
What goes into a contract? Well, I can’t speak for all coaches but I usually consider two sections. The first part pertains to the coach and his obligations (you didn’t think this was all about the kids did you?). For example, in the contract, the coach makes a commitment to attend all the practises and games, prepare appropriate drills for every practice and strategies for every game. He commits to working hard to improve the skills and abilities of each player and make the game as enjoyable as possible for all concerned.
For the player’s part, there are several issues the coach may want to include. Here are a few examples:
- Having the players arrive at the rink at specific times before practises and games. Every coach knows how difficult it can be trying to talk to the team prior to a game when a player ambles into the dressing room late and all the players focus on that player getting dressed rather than on game strategy.
- Players might have to wear specific attire to games (in my case, a shirt and tie).
- On-ice behaviour (slamming one’s stick across the glass is not acceptable when the ref misses a call).
- Fundraising obligations (Should one player get a free ride when the rest of the team works hard to raise money for a tournament?)
- Dressing room etiquette: no wrestling or throwing snow. This is a good way to prevent needless accidents.
- The contract may list specified penalties for infractions (e.g., come late for a game, miss one shift.) This year on my team I added a new twist, a specific penance for players caught shooting a puck after the whistle or roughhousing in the dressing room. The penalty was ten math questions! (To be completed by the next practise.) I must say I received nothing but positive feedback from my parents!
The player reads the rules with his parents, signs it and hands it back to the manager who keeps the contracts on file. In this way the coach has something to which he can refer if the need arises. (“Johnny, skipping hockey every second weekend to go to the movies is not something we agreed to when you signed this.”)
Unlike golf or the long jump, hockey is a team game. It takes six skaters on the ice to run plays and support each other. From a coaching perspective, it’s difficult to run a penalty kill properly when only three out of the four players know what to do and impossible to teach a breakout in practice when you’re missing a center. It’s not fair to the rest of the team when a player doesn’t hold up his or her end of the bargain. It’s no different than the player who constantly hurts his team with needless penalties.
Understanding what is required when they agree to play for a team allows players to develop responsibility and, through hard work and cooperation, forge a bond with their teammates.
Of course, there are always unexpected problems that crop up during the year and coaches can make the appropriate exceptions. Medical problems aren’t always predictable and cars break down at inopportune times. However, I feel that little problems like these can be remedied by the parent having a quiet word with the coach or manager. (Sorry Coach, my fault, I got a speeding ticket on the way to the game.)
The contract is not to be viewed as a punitive document but rather an instrument that serves as a foundation that the team can build on. The coaching staff, knowing that the simple rules are accepted and understood, can move forward with teaching the game and not worry about the administrative measures that potentially hamstring a team.
The contract is only a tool that any coach may or may not decide to use. It can be modified or altered any time with the consent of all parties. It can even be combined with a parental information sheet at the beginning of the year.
And, of course, it is not a legal document but simply serves to focus the player’s attention on the importance of team building, commitment and fair play.
After all, in the end, that’s what coaches are looking for.