Growing up in Prievidza, Slovakia gave the North Shore Winter Club’s Stan Sibert a unique hockey perspective.
“I started to play when I was ten years old,” that’s Stan, now a coach with the NSWC’s Midget Elite program in addition to an atom team and an initiation team. “My city, growing up in Prievidza, was small, only about 60,000 people. I started to play in the junior league in the city and then men’s league as a professional for ten years.”
For Stan, playing professional hockey was a valuable experience, and one that he calls on when coaching players anywhere from 6 years old to 16. You see, in Slovakia, coaching hockey is much more than a hobby delegated to a dad who draws the short straw (not that the dedication isn’t appreciated) - it’s a program you take in university.
“During my pro career I was studying physical education in university while learning to be a coach. I got my Master’s degree in physical education and hockey coaching, which was actually the highest certification for coaching hockey in Slovakia.”
“I did a little bit of coaching while I was playing, just small kids, 6 and 7 years old. When I stopped playing at 28 it became a full time job. I coached youth teams at the peewee and bantam level in Slovakia for 3 and a half years and then we moved here two years ago in 2012.”
“The urge to move started when I was 25 by my wife actually. She wanted to move but I was still under contract and I wanted to focus on that. But after the two kids were born we decided to move to Canada because there were good immigration programs. My wife was the main applicant because she studied english in Slovakia. So it was easy to go through her and get our permanent residence.”
After moving to Canada Stan started honing his coaching style. He had the technical expertise to back it up, but the practical experience learned on and off the ice was a key component in his career.
“When it comes to coaching tactics and methods, it depends what level you coach, but it’s always about encouragement and finding the best qualities in all your players. My experience from Slovakia was with youth teams, but no matter how old the players are, I believe in improving skills and being good teammates, supporting each other and being disciplined on the bench in games.”
Stan believes these are skills that transfer naturally off the ice as well.
“Just being a good human and being a good example for society, that’s what it’s all about.
“When players are really good and can reach their dreams maybe they can play professionally, but what if they don’t? Not everyone is cut out for that, there are only a certain amount of spots.”
“The Midget players are older, but I still give them ways they can improve their skills but it has to be about being creative. They have to find their own way. Some examples I can give to them and then it can work.”
But they have to drive the bus, right?
“They have to love hockey and have the passion for it, absolutely. When you coach really young kids you have to give them rules and how to be organized for practices. You have to organize them. When you coach the older guys it’s still about focusing on the small details, how to keep the stick this way, focus on this stuff. Small details can make huge differences for the midget players.”
Ultimately Stan believes in accountability to the process of playing, not the results.
“It’s my philosophy that it doesn’t matter what the result on the scoreboard is, it’s about what they know and the skills they’re learning. When I compare the beginning of the season with the end of the season you have to see a big difference. Have they improved their skating, shooting? And it has to be a big difference.
“It can be tough, it’s a long season, but that’s why you make it fun. You have to tell them that they came here to be a better player and be a better teammate and have fun feeding off that. You can learn something new every practice. The kids, no matter how old, they have to feel that the coach is working hard and he get lots of energy from him. The kids feel it. They have to see preparation, that the coaches understand what we want to see and they feed off that just like coaches are energized.”
Stan’s favourite memory from last season? In hindsight, it makes perfect sense.
“When we were losing 5-1 in Squamish and we came back and won the game 7-5 and we won a banner. That was really cool, it was the perfect game for parents, players and for coaches. That’s when I realized the work during the season was paying off. Small steps made this big win possible. During the season, all that work that went in, it was a nice reward for the team.”
And for the coach?
“Sure, I’ll admit, it was a nice reward for me as well. That’s what it’s all about, sometimes the improvement pays off.”
In a big way.