Now that it’s the middle of October, by my calculations, if you started your hockey season in September and end in March you are about 20% into the year. Typically, you will have created a season plan in the summer and communicated your team goals to the team when you first got together in September. You may have set down some team guidelines as well, maybe a set of team rules.
That said, there might not be a better time to sit down and evaluate how the coaching staff and the team is doing. Who knows, maybe you haven’t looked at your season plan since you created it three months ago. So, here are a few things that you might consider when looking critically at your team and your season in mid-October:
1) Re-evaluate your goals. Maybe your team is much better than you had expected, maybe the opposite is true. In any case, if your goal was to make the playoffs and you find yourself in first place with a terrific team, maybe upping that goal to say, “finishing in the top two spots” might be a good idea. If you divided the season into chunks of, say, 5 games and were hoping to win half, maybe you might want to adjust the goal to win 3 of 5, or 4 of 5.
2) I am more of a fan of team goals such as “be the hardest working team in the league”. So, now is a great time in the season to sit down with the team and ask the question “are we the hardest working team in the league?” If not, what types of things do we need to do as a team to realize that goal? I would expect you might have had somewhere between three and five goals. Make sure you critically evaluate how you are doing with each one.
3) With respect to your season plan, have you taught what you wanted to teach by this point in the season? Whether you are a little behind or a little ahead, this might be a great time to re-evaluate your lesson plans moving forward. Maybe your team has had great success in the defensive zone but is struggling scoring goals. An adjustment to your season plan might be in order to help fix that problem.
4) What’s your team chemistry like? Are your players getting along? Are there players who are unhappy about playing time? (Are there unhappy parents in the stands?) Now is a terrific time to address any issues and maybe “nip it in the bud”. The longer bad feeling continues and festers, the worse it will get.
5) Have you managed to find time for the one on one meetings you had planned to have at the end of September with all your players? Now is a good time to schedule those so that you can deliver a meaningful “report card” and also improve your connection with them individually. This is something that often gets away from coaches as the season progresses because of time constraints and general schedule busyness. But, those one on one “touches” can make a huge difference in building confidence in your players and reinforcing expectations - both team and individual.
6) The 20% mark is also a good time to evaluate individual players. There might be a player who your projected as a third line winger that is all of a sudden in your top three in scoring. Is the third line still a good spot for them? Or would a move to another unit (and maybe some power play time) be appropriate? Look at your roster and see if there are any surprises - both good and bad. Who is performing for you day in and day out?
7) How is your team leadership group doing? Are your captains and assistants doing a good job bringing the team together and leading? Do they need some support from the coaching staff to do a better job? Has a player stepped up and maybe should now be part of the leadership group?
8) With respect to team guidelines and rules, how is your team doing? Are the team’s on ice habits good? Off ice habits? Do players respect arrival times? Dress codes? Guidelines around deportment at the rink? If things are starting to slip a little, this is a perfect time to get things back on track. Leaving it might be asking for trouble as the season progresses.
9) If appropriate, this is a good time for an academic check-in with players. Whether your team is connected to an academic institution or not, make sure you know where your players are academically is important. Usually this is close to mid-term report card time. If any of your players need some type of academic support from you as their coach then this is the time to try to put it in place - anything from finding a tutor to some time off to get back on track.
10) Ask yourself, and ask your assistant coaches, “what is the one thing you would change about this team?” Now that you are a fifth of the way through the season and have good perspective, you might be surprised with the answers.
Self-evaluation is a key to learning and growth. Although it’s not something we always are in the habit of doing, this is a perfect point in the hockey season to critically look at how the team is going and make some “not too late” changes to routine, culture and season plans.