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Managing Negative Hockey Player Attitudes

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Negative attitudes can be a real challenge in coaching hockey. How do you tone down the disruptive and ratchet up the excessively shy players on your team? You may come upon some of the attitude challenges listed here. Hopefully, some of the proposed solutions will work for you as well.

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  • Whiners and complainers: Make sure your team is aware of your goals and the team’s rules at the outset. Then when a persistent whiner or complainer comes along, you can ask that player to suggest a solution to his concerns, whether it is wanting more ice time or wanting to play on the best line.

    Because you’ve stressed team rules and goals from the get-go, when he offers a solution, you can then respond with something like, “How does that fit with the goals of this team?” This usually makes the player become more realistic. However, if a player persists in wanting ice time, for example, that’s in excess of what suits the team goals, nothing’s wrong with saying, “It looks like this isn’t the team for you. Why don’t you look around for one that better suits your purposes?” and let him go.

  • Egocentrics, superstars, and attention-seekers: One rule applies for all: The team comes first. Sometimes you can tame the big egos before they get too serious by assigning that player tasks to help other teammates, such as during a drill. Vary the leaders in these situations so that no one player’s helmet gets too big.

    However, if someone breaks the team-comes-first rule persistently, pull that player aside and remind him of the rule and how he fits in that picture. If there’s a next time, try a time-out or limit his ice time. Ice time is one of the most valuable commodities to an ego player. Your players should know what you expect of them, what you expect them to do differently when they need correction, and the consequences of their actions if they don’t put the team ahead of themselves.

  • Bullies: A hockey team has no room for bullies, whether their manipulation is physical or emotional. Emotional bullies are more difficult to spot — they put down and intimidate weaker players rather than hit and shove.

    Watch for players whose equipment goes strangely missing, who stay on the periphery of the group, or who get ignored in plays. Watch for the ring leader (or leaders) ostracizing her and take that person (or group) aside.

    You can send a strong message by saying to the bully, “Who is making you feel so small and stupid that the only way you can feel big is to take your feelings and dump them on someone who is too weak to stand up to you?”

    With bullies, you must also finish on a positive note — something like, “You have more going for you than that. You don’t need to pick on someone else to feel big; you can get good yourself and be big for real rather than faking it. Let’s work on making you the best hockey player you can be — and you can help your teammate get better, too, and you’ll have a lot to be proud of. You won’t need to pick on anybody to feel like you’re a somebody.”

  • Shy players lacking confidence or friends: First and foremost, give these players praise for small jobs well done, and do so frequently. Set small challenges for them that you are quite sure they can accomplish and give them a pat on the back when they do. As much as possible, pair shy kids with teammates who are easygoing and helpful. Provide opportunities for them to get to know teammates socially and to cultivate bonds. Find out their interests and include the shy ones in group commentary as much as possible to draw them out.


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