So you've spent a few weeks practicing and now game day has arrived. Don't be nervous, it's a fun experience for you and the team. Try to find a routine for yourself and it will help get the boys relaxed and ready to play as well.
Pre-game Locker Room:
- Get to the rink well before the game and find a locker room. Require that all the players get dressed and hang out together before the game. They will want to skate and loosen up which is fine (have them leave the sticks in the locker room, there are too many people in the hall ways to be skating around with them.)
- I try to talk to every kid as they enter or finish getting ready. Just a few minutes of encouragement or areas to focus on. Maybe even a tip on a way to win a face off or beat a goalie.
- About 10 minutes before game time, round them up and make them sit down in the locker room. Designate a parent to not allow anyone out. I've always said, this time can be like 'herding cats', 1 goes in the door, 2 more out.
- Make sure all kids have signed in the game day roster, you will need to turn this into the ref prior to the game.
- This is the time to discuss the upcoming game and make sure all equipment is ready. Have a coach or parent check wheels to see if they are loose or dirty (always bring a towel for the bench and locker room). Use your whiteboard to draw out any plays you need to work on. Keep it simple but stress the keys to the game.
- With about a minute to go get them all on their feet and huddle up. Pick a kid out to count out to break your huddle. Kids may have encouraging words they want to share or come up with your own. Mine is pretty simple.
"Play hard, skate hard. 45 minutes of hockey. TEAM GAME on 3!"
NOTE: Never leave your room until all players are ready. Enter the rink as a TEAM.
- You may only get a few minutes (no more than 5 to loosen up.) Skate the Horseshoe drill.
- Let your other coach(es) handle this. You need to meet up with the other coach and check rosters and sign off.
- Have a game day puck that you keep out of practice. Give this to the ref and talk to them about any concerns you have. If you have a new goalie, let them know that, they may tend to blow the whistle faster instead of letting kids bang away.
- Have a set lineup for a game (or do the best you can). All kids want to play offense. If you are lucky enough to have kids who want to play Defense only, work that into your lineup.
- I've found that keeping kids consistent for a period or a game is better than switching up every shift. It just confuses everyone. Over the course of your season, it will all even out.
- Make adjustments when necessary, but make sure to explain to a kid why you are moving them around. Kids get very sensitive to short shift or changes.
- Don't forget to have a PK and a PP line (and make sure your kids know who is on it).
- Keep your shifts to a 1 1/2. Long shifts can be game killers.
- Coach the kids on the bench
- Try not to yell at the kids on the floor. This is a hard one because it's easy to want to yell to them to correct things.
- It's better to talk out loud for the benefit of the players on the bench. They are watching the game and know what's going on. So you talking about what to do with the puck or to push a player to the outside, helps them when they step on the rink.
- Have a coach who is in charge of hydrating the players. Kids will want drinks but tend to forget because they want back in or don't take the time.
- NO Gatorade or water bottles with caps.
- Only use water bottles with straw lids or squirt tops, it keeps it cleaner.
- Sit the kids on the bench to get them water. Unlike ice hockey, water on the wheels is not good for inline.
- As players come off, offer encouragement or congratulations for plays made. Help them understand what they could have done differently, but NEVER yell or degrade a player.
- You have a Time-out, use it if you need it.
- You can pull your goalie, do so if you need to.
- NEVER show your disappointment to a play made or a goal given up or a penalty taken.
- Congratulate every player after the game.
- After the game, shake hands with the other team/players/refs and pack up your gear and head back to the locker room.
- Round all the players up in the locker room. It's tough because all the parents want to see their hockey player and talk to them. Ask for a few minutes to talk to your players.
- Stay positive about the game and talk about areas to work on and focus on for next game.
- Congratulate your goalie no matter what happens, he is the hardest working guy on the floor and at elementary age, it's a tough job.
- I seldom call out individual players (other than the goalie) and remind them its a TEAM win (more on TEAM in a future post).
- Get them on their feet, huddle up and break your huddle again.
- Check for any injuries or other issues.
Going into the next to the last game of a season, I had my team go up 5-0 in the first period and ended up losing 8-6 because they quit. After the game, we had a closed door meeting where I explained how unhappy I was they quit on the coaches, their teammates and their parents. I challenged them because I knew they were better. Next morning, we beat the top team 5-1. It was needed and called for. No way could I have done that at the beginning of the season. You'll learn to read your players and know which ones you can challenge.
After you've had time to reflect on the game, send a team email again telling them your thoughts on the game and how proud you are of their work. Offer any drills or things they can work on at home before next practice. Remind them when the next practice and game are.
These tips should help you better manage game day, until you get into a routine of your own. Just remember, hockey is the greatest game on earth. Have fun with it.