I know I haven’t been posting lately on The Hockey Mom. The truth is, I had nothing good to say. We had a slow start to the season. A very s-l-o-w start. A painfully slow start. I didn’t have anything positive to say, so I decided to zip it.
The team always came out on fire, but they never scored the opening goal in any of their first six match-ups. And, sometime in middle of the 2nd period, the other team would score the go-ahead goal that always seemed to rip the tape right off their sticks.
When that happened, their shoulders would slouch. They stopped moving their feet, started taking bad penalties. They couldn’t win a board battle, or execute zone exits as they should. As for shots, the net wasn’t big enough. And then the other team would put on a goal-scoring clinic we couldn’t rise above.Even I, the grandstand coach you all know so well, had lost my spirit, and no longer had the courage to shout out “Who wants the puck???”
It looked like the season was going to be a very long one, indeed.
In five of our first six games we lost our matches by a three-point differential. That is massive. In a league where goals-for and goals-against help determine the point race, looking at the standings was painful. We were one win ahead of dead last.
After Game 6, Guy and I went for a walk with the dog, and as we walked, we talked.
Since Guy is coaching, he needs to find ways to motivate them. He was miserable, at his wits end, searching for an answer. What could he say to them to keep them playing for all three of those three periods and keep their chin up when the going got tough?
Game 7 would be against the league leaders.
“They have the most goals scored, and the least scored against” he said.
“Really?” I asked. “How are we doing compared to them?” but I knew as the words left my mouth that it was a really stupid question.
“We’re the exactly the opposite.”
We tossed ideas back and forth. About a mile later, we’d found an idea he was willing to try.
It was something simple. Something fun and motivational. He had no idea if it would work, but it was certainly better than nothing.
In the locker room before the game, Guy asked his players if they thought they’d be able to make 5 shots on goal each. “Five” isn’t a big number when you look at it in the locker room.
The forwards said they could. The defensemen said they couldn’t. But with the commitment from the forwards, Guy said, “Let’s get out there and see!”
The two Assistant Coaches on the bench were involved in the challenge too. They were told to ask for the number of shots each forward made each time they returned to the bench, and to remind them of trying to achieve 5 shots each time they next went out. When the forwards started returning their shot numbers, the defensemen started returning results too. Everyone wanted to participate.
I know, I know. In a game, making shots on goal is a whole other reality than the bravado of a group of players in a locker room. A team with six forwards and five defenders would have to shoot an incredible 55 shots on goal to meet the challenge, which for our team would have easily been a new season high.
But with that number 5 in their heads, as unrealistic as it may have been, the players hit the ice, working towards it. When their shift was over, they gave their tally as they got on the bench. Sometimes, they would proudly add a one, or two to their shot total, and sometimes they shook their heads, or said, “I didn’t even get to touch the puck”.
And they never stopped trying.
At the end of the game, only two boys, both forwards, had achieved their self-committed five-shots-on-goal goal. But each of them had at least one shot on goal throughout the game, and each of them thought the challenge was a lot of fun, saying they want to try that again next game.
As it turns out, our next game follows our first shut-out of the season, a win which netted us a 3-goal differential. We won 3-0.
Guy said it was so nice to see those kids with a smile on their face after the game. In the grandstands, the parents were smiling too.
Maybe the season’s not going to be as long as we thought it might be.