Victor Kraatz is as electric off the ice as he is on it. And Victor skated in the Olympics!
I’m fortunate to get to share the ice with Victor Kraatz almost every day, and I was fortunate enough to sit down with him in between lessons in the cafe at the North Shore Winter Club.
KC: Hey Victor! How’s your day going? It’s 9:30am and I just put on pants, what have you done so far?
VK: Well, I started at 6:30am with a group I work with on Wednesday mornings. They’re fantastic, it’s the same kids keep each week, but you still never know quite what personality you’re getting. Like, what happened at school the day before or how their morning went. But it really shows the dedication for the individual athlete to get up and get going to work on their skills rather than waiting until after school which I believe is beneficial and so they can focus more at school. They do something physical in the mornings, so their minds can flex during the rest of the day.
KC: Do you prefer teaching in the morning?
VK: When it’s possible, yes. Most of the athletes I work with in the morning, some have the luxury of going to school later. Or I work with kids who go to school half day and then they get the afternoon to work on their sport, so there’s that 2 - 3:30 window. Home base is the North Shore Winter Club, but it’s an all-day production. Sometimes it’s a lot of driving.
KC: I know that game. Driving is tricky, getting all over the city.
VK: The nice thing is that I’m able to arrange the schedule, for instance if there’s no ice at a facility then I’m lucky enough to go somewhere else. The driving factor is included, and you have to calculate the traffic factor. We’re a city with lots of bridges, and some days for whatever reason there is lots of traffic, it’s like playing the lottery. For the most part I’m driving the opposite direction of traffic, but it’s nice to set up shop at NSWC as much as possible.
KC: You have a young family, how does your line of work impact them?
VK: I have two young sons, a four and an eight year old. Totally different personalities. The youngest is aggressive in the sense that he won’t ask to take something, he’ll just take it before asking the question. The rules are there to be broken for him. The oldest is conscientious about not breaking the rules, but he’s aggressive in his own way of working hard. In the sense that, he’s into diving, he doesn’t have the fear factor. But he also plays soccer, and he’s not the type to just go steal the ball, he’ll wait for his opportunity, whereas the youngest will just go steal it and worry about the consequences later.
KC: Which one are you more like?
VK: Which one am I more like or which one do I like more? (He laughed here, just an FYI, Victor is the nicest guy ever -ed.) There’s times to be aggressive and there are times to maybe fall in line. I teach my kids and anyone I work with to show respect, listen first and then make an opinion. There’s always more at work, more than one sentence. Take information in and then use what works for you. It’s the same with my athletes, listen to the information being transmitted, decipher it and use what you think is appropriate for you. We always teach our kids right from wrong, but they have to make the call for themselves as well.
KC: You’re teaching them to fend for themselves.
VK: You have to, you want to teach the right values, but on the other hand you have to teach them to put their foot down and say what’s right while at the same time teaching them respect. Someone may have an opinion and you might not agree with it, but you have to weight that. When I work with athletes I always consider their values. I work them as hard as anybody else and when I see that someone is not giving 100 percent I’ll push them more. We need athletes that work hard and smart, consistently every single time they go out and practice. It’s one thing to do it once in a game, but if you do it constantly in practice, then it all becomes secondary, you’re in the moment in the game. The practice directly helps that performance.
KC: Talk about what you teach that specifically translate into a hockey game.
VK: There are different variables you have to look at. What is the athletes weaknesses and strengths? Just by running a few exercises I can see where their weakness is in their skating skill, I can hammer down on the technique of long strides, short strides, changes of direction. Someone else worries about the stickhandling. It’s not just one person training these players, that’s why you have different coaches in a game and then people who work on individual skills. In great working relationships, the athlete comes to you with several people already working with them. You have to work with everybody to assist the athlete. I really believe that depending on the skill the kids come to me with, I can pinpoint what they need. Everyone is different, someone may have really quick feet but they’ll be sluggish changing directions, or they don’t have the skill of accelerating over a great distance, or vice versa, they can move tactically but they can’t go fast.
So I ask them what they do off the ice because it’s all complimentary. The easiest way to explain it is skipping rope, running the stairs, running up a hill, all those things will help make you quicker on the ice. It really comes down again to what does the athlete come to you with. Pinpoint those aspects and make the weaknesses a strength.
Looking at long term athletic development, whenever I work with an athlete, it’s not like going into a store and buying the latest iPad. Sports is something you require through many hours of training, but specific training. Continuous exposure to a coach and their working habits and their style of coaching is what it’s measured in. It’s life too, be on time, remember your equipment, bring both gloves. Be responsible for your equipment, keep your skates sharp, it’s your responsibility to be prepared. So once they step away from sports they’re responsible to keep gas in their car, they have all the tools they need to go to school or got to work.
KC: For you then, it’s more about training hockey players how to skate. What are you trying to turn your athletes into?
VK: First and foremost I always try to demonstrate and show. If someone can do better than me then I’ll use them as an example. Ultimately what is important to understand is that sports should be the development of the individual. An extension of who they are and a compliment to their future development. If you’re lucky enough you can be in sport for a long period of time provided everything goes right. Growth, skill, you can have a great athlete but a horrible person and once they leave the sport that distinction doesn’t leave them. Sports should be fun but at the same time, no one can help them out there, it’s individual skills they have to master and when called upon they have to perform.
Acquiring skill is a fleeting moment in time, you can be unbelievably skilled in something, and that’s great, but their will be the moment where you have to move on, you may have been the greatest but sport will always move on. As new ideas are brought to light, people will become more skilled, more agile, you constantly have to reinvent yourself. Like, ‘that was really great last week, but I want to be great this week, and what will make me great next week?’
So I try to teach kids that at the end of their career, they’re hard working, they have initiative, their actions in sport translate into life after being an active athlete and then as parents those beliefs translate into their kids.
So don’t be calling someone else out, these are your teammates, your family. How were your passes? Are you adding to the experience or are you detracting? Or are you just hiding your own weaknesses? It’s the responsibility of the athlete to make the experience great for everyone.
And that’s what I live by.
Victor Kraatz has competed on the ice all over the world. He was an at the Olympic Games in 1994, 1998 and 2002. Born in Berlin, Germany, Victor lived in Switzerland when he was young and eventually moved to Canada. He also lived in Quebec after high school.
VK: All over the world there are different lifestyles, but you can take the sport lifestyle everywhere. Having moved a lot taught me to deal with different personalities and different values, different languages even. Moving makes the world interesting, makes it challenging.
Even here in Vancouver, you look at the demographics, there’s always what they say and then what they mean beyond the words. “I need quick feet!” yes, but what are you truly saying?
You have to figure that out, the deeper meaning.
And once you do? Wow - there’s just no limit.