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Coach Like Your Favourite Uncle

Looking around the NHL, there are many different coaching styles that are finding success, but none of them are in the form of the totalitarian regimes that permeated my childhood and dominated my father’s. Don’t get me wrong; the new way to coach is not soft nor is it permissive. Unlike the NBA where the players run the league, the NHL is still a hierarchical corporation where the coaches and GMs get the final say on personnel and playing time. No NHLer would ever ask for “load management” or go on Twitter and rip his teammates or management.

How then can a coach get the best out of his/her players today knowing their entire roster has been raised in a new age of parenting and education?

Simple: Coach like the “Favourite Uncle”.

Think of your favourite uncle: He is proud of your accomplishments, he supports you without having to yell at you, but if you let him down, the guilt you feel takes a long time to get over. Dads are in the unfortunate position of always having to discipline you because as a kid, you are forever getting on his nerves and your dad is fearful of you amounting to nothing. Uncles, however, are able to take a more holistic approach and their voice doesn’t get old when it comes to coaching.

Martin St. Louis is coaching like a favourite uncle right now and it shows. Nick Suzuki is more engaged, Cole Caufield is becoming a star, and Alex Romanov no longer looks like a one-legged rooster in his own end. This isn’t because St. Louis is a brilliant tactician; he is a Pee Wee hockey coach in the NHL. The best youth coaches let their players make mistakes and rather than bench a kid for serving a pizza up the middle, they put them out the next shift and let them atone for their mistake. Players, young and old, have to respect their coach, but their coach has to let them grow through mistakes.

Tim Stützle is the perfect example. Had he played under previous Habs regimes, he would already be out of the NHL. Stützle, along with many of his young brothers on the Senators, has been allowed to grow (painfully at times) through patience and more, not less, ice time. It seems crazy that I grew up in a time where we got benched for making mistakes. Think about that: “I’m going to make you a better hockey player by nailing you to the bench so you can learn to not make mistakes by watching, rather than playing.” My own children learned how to walk by walking and falling themselves; not passive observation.

Do you have the “Jacked Uncle” who you do not want to let down because he is revered by all of his buddies? Congrats, you want to play for Rod Brind’Amour in Carolina. His players love him and you never see him using fear as a tactic. Do you have the “Wise Owl Uncle” who calmly goes about his life and offers you sage advice when you screw-up? Congrats, you want to play for Jon Cooper in Tampa Bay. His players are never demeaned in public. How about the “Grumpy Uncle” who seems abrasive to strangers, but deep down he has a heart of gold and you would go through a wall for him? Get your butt to Calgary and play for Darryl Sutter.

None of these guys are soft, permissive, or disingenuous. St. Louis gets the most out of his players because he got the most out of himself. Cole Caufield isn’t better under him because he is small like his coach; it’s a mutual respect thing. Do you honestly think that Caufield had a sudden revelation when St. Louis got hired? “Hey, I’m small. My coach was small. I’m going to play like him!” Give me a break. Caufield is on the ice more and has the trust of his coach. Men and women need their uncles just as much as boys and girls do.

“When you are carrying a hammer, it is very difficult not to see every object as a nail.” Coaches hell bent on power and narcissism are going the way of the dinosaur. Hammering your players for every little mistake they make will stunt their growth as a player and as a person. In the NHL, it stunts your growth as a playoff contender.

Is your son or daughter being coached by a “Favourite Uncle”? Parents of the Montreal Canadiens can say, “Yes!”

Waldo1947 | Sens Nation Hockey

1 Comment

mark sicoly
mark sicoly
Apr 16, 2022

nailed it waldo....i've never been a fan of the play terrified coaching style. It never really worked in my opinion but was only tolerated in a time when few in authority knew better. Those Iron mike keenan types who bounced from team to team after their two year shelf life ran out are a thing of the past. Todays player doesn't tolerate very long being run under the bus publicly aka, Dave Tippet, and sorry, Sutter as well. The jury is still out on how long the latter will survive in Calgary.

Great read...

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