Fostering young athletes

Emphasis on player development key for coaching and player success.

Pitt Meadows Marauders head coach Matt Todd says he's trying to build more than just good athletes with his football program.

There’s no better time to be a sports fan then when the leaves on the trees start to fall.

Hockey, baseball and football are in full swing. School is back, meaning the start of athletics.

And none of it happens without the countless hours of coaches, both paid and volunteers.

Sept. 19 to the 27 is national coaches week, and in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, the success of our local athletes hinges on the dedication of those looking to give back to their community.

For Dave Lige, who has a degree in kinesiology from UBC and a masters in psychology, player development is his focus.

As a minor hockey coach and owner of Inner Sports – an on- and off-ice training business – molding young players to be better athletes and people outside their sport should be the ultimate goal of any good coach.

It should never be based on the win-loss column. The pressure to outscore your opponent at all costs will ultimately come at a cost to many young athletes, he said.

Lige said coaches should shift their focus to developing and growing better athletes.

“If a coach can have a healthy balance between process and outcome, then those are the ones who have the ability to have the biggest impact,” he said. “Development is about process, and process is about things you can control, and growth: ‘Have I helped this player grow as a player today?’”

He said the key to gaining that balance is a fine line. There’s a difference between constant positive reinforcement and the ability to critique and give feedback. The best coaches are the ones who can deliver the message to their team without relying on the old-school methods of fear and intimidation.

He said coaches need to get players working together and feeling valued and respected, but also held to a high level of accountability.

“It’s not just kumbaya stuff,” said Lige. “People think when you are talking about being positive that it’s airy-fairy, but it’s not. It’s far from it. If you are nothing but positive with athletes, they are going to see through that, too. It doesn’t build them up, but rather gives them a false sense of self-esteem and self-respect, and that doesn’t encourage growth and development, either.”

He said as someone who has coached both his son’s teams and his daughter’s teams, there are subtle differences coaches need to consider when offering feedback.

First and foremost, he said coaches should be asking players what their own expectations are for the season. By getting their input, if offers the chance for a player to feel they have a voice on the team, regardless of their “status,” said Lige.

“Whatever role they play, I want them to play to the best ability of that role. If they are a third-line player and they are a grinder and a checker, then I want the to feel value in that role,” he said. “A good coach makes those roles equal.”

He said that can be easier said than done. Kids feel pressure from their parents to perform and coaches feel pressure from parents to deliver more playing time to their kids. He said those aspects of coaching have never been more challenging.

He said, growing up, his parents would never have approached a coach and talked about more playing time. It was taboo.

But the higher cost of sports, the year-round specialization and the amount of information available to parents has made coaching more accountable in some ways.

Still, success lies in communication.

“I think being highly positive with a high-level of accountability is also absolutely fundamental, and I think that’s what separates the best coaches from the mediocre.”

He also said there’s a slight difference in approach when dealing with boys and girl teams

For males, respect is the key component for motivation

“Boys can go on ice or the football field and can beat the snot out of each other, but they have a healthy level of respect because they competed hard and they’ve gained the respect from their opponent,” said Lige.

But for girls, more than anything, they are looking for a sense of belonging.

“I go back to that aspect of the whole value in what they contribute to the team. You are maybe going to spend a little more time cultivating that culture in terms of off-ice activities, so maybe kids feel part of something. If a girl feels more part of something bigger and feels like she belongs by her teammates and coaches, she’s far more likely to feel motivated and engaged in that activity.”

For Chris Sirovyak, another coach with the Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association, it’s all about bringing passion to his coaching philosophy.

Playing junior hockey in Alberta, he used his competitive nature and his experiences growing up to give back as a coach once his playing days were over.

Sirovyak also played competitive ball hockey for Canada’s national team, competing in eight international tournaments.

As a player or a as coach, it’s all about the love of the game and sharing it with teammates, he said.

“I had lots of great coaches growing up when I was a kid and I had a lot of bad coaches, so I have pretty good understanding of what kind of influence they can have,” he added.

“Coaches who were trying to lead by fear, or by bullying, never worked for me. People don’t respond well to that. When I experienced that as a kid, I would disengage and check out. Didn’t motivate me or inspire me. So why would it now?”

He tries to inspire, motivate and teach core values, including how to act when you don’t win.

“When you lose, you can’t hang your head low. You have to pick yourself up and keep going. Those are skills that they learn over a their entire playing days as a child. It’s a skill set you can take off the ice and shapes you for the real world.”

He said coaches hold great influence over their athletes, even more so than some teachers, because they have a captive audience. So it’s imperative they lead by example. He said kids need to play the game because they are having fun, not because they have the expectation of getting something more out of it.

He said he constantly reminds his athletes, and their parents, of how few actually go on and have a career in pro sports.

Matt Todd, head coach of the Pitt Meadow Marauders football teams, agreed. He said his emphasis is on creating a positive playing environment so kids can feel like they are part of something bigger. He said that’s the great thing about the game of football. There’s such a strong element of team building and how to become a “family.”

He never wants to scare kids away.

And yelling never works, said Todd.

“Whether it’s the game or it’s practice, you want the kids to be always having fun, and that’s what I want to pass down.”

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