Building a strong team environment is essential for enabling all players to be their best. In this busy month, I encourage all coaches, players and parents to focus on the following 7 building blocks to proactively create an exceptional team environment.
When in doubt, over-communicate! For whatever reason, many minor sports teams go off the rails based on rumours, not facts. Perception is often not reality. The key reminder here is to create open lines of communication so that people have a way to find out the truth, as opposed to perpetuating hearsay. In a recent study, 70 per cent of business executives said that communication within their team was a negative issue that they needed to improve — why should minor hockey teams be any different?
2. Arrive early
Some parents and players have a natural bent to be on time and to schedule themselves well. Others don’t, so they must learn this skill. Respecting the coaches’ and team’s time and commitment to each other starts with being on time. More coaches become frustrated with this issue over any other, because it is the one thing that almost every family can control. Discipline on-ice starts with a disciplined approach off-ice. Parents and players: Find a way to arrive 15 to 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time! This will give you some space for unexpected traffic and help your player learn a valuable life skill. Finding a way often includes enlisting help from other families on your team. Don’t be afraid to ask or reciprocate — this is part of teamwork.
3. Understand and support the coaching staff’s direction
When I coached minor hockey, the first thing that I did after picking my team was to meet with the parents and share my philosophy and system of play. I learned over 15 years of coaching kids that parental influence (the parent/player conversation) on the drive home from the game is critical to player/team development. For example, many coaches have traditionally required that the first forward skating back not press the puck, but rather pick up the outside opponent. If I was coaching your team, my system of play would have forwards pressing the puck carrier hard on the backcheck instead. Our coaching staff would remind our players to pressure the puck, but in the car on the ride home some parents might ask their children why they didn’t pick up the outside opponent. Do you see my point? Getting on the same page sends a consistent message to the players and gives them a chance to be their best.
4. Find good things to say about the coach
Many of us know this truth but struggle to implement it: “All speaking is public speaking!” Everything said gets back to the people it is said about, so make it uplifting, positive and progressive. Parents, remember that many minor hockey coaches pick their teams by choosing the right parents over the right players. Your reputation of being a negative influence on your last team may interfere with your player’s chance to make next year’s team.
5. Find good things to say about other parents’ players
If you want to be my best friend, find ways to treat our children well. Talk to and speak well of others’ children and they will find ways to reciprocate. Minor hockey has a poor reputation in this area. Parents sitting in the stands finding fault with other parents’ players are a sure way to ruin your team’s season. Activating the golden rule in this area is ultra-important.
6. Fully participate
Coaches have a lot on their plates. Be the kinds of players and parents that help coaches move their agenda forward. Be the first people on the team to volunteer to do the hard stuff, like fundraising (contact me at ryanwalter.com if you are looking for an innovative way to fundraise). Teams need people focused on creating solutions rather than people complaining about having to write another cheque. Parents and players who are quick to create solutions become valuable members of great teams.
7. Believe that your team “can do it!”
For more than 100 years, runners tried to break the four-minute mile. It was considered the “Holy Grail” of track and field. Many said it couldn’t be done. In fact, doctors wrote articles in medical journals explaining why it was physically impossible for the human body to run a mile in less than four minutes. However, in May 1954, a British medical student named Roger Bannister ran the mile in three minutes 59.4 seconds. His amazing accomplishment made headlines around the world. Yet what happened afterwards is even more amazing. The four-minute mile was broken again the next month … and then again … and again. It has since been broken more than 700 times, sometimes by several people in the same race.
What happened? Once that time had been beaten, other runners started to believe they could do it too. The barriers to the mind had come down. Help your team focus on what they can achieve instead of what they can’t. Parents do not play the game, but their attitude around their players can influence both the team environment and the score. Believe great things for your player and for every player on the team.
Now that you are one-third of the way through your season, this is a great time to refresh and activate these seven building blocks that foster an exceptional team environment.