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Inside a Playoff Hockey Coach’s Thinker (the Brain)

02/22/2016, 5:00am PST
By Kelvin Cech






A critical observation or examination.

"Every aspect of local government was placed under scrutiny"

synonyms: examination, inspection, survey, study, perusal

The coach of your son or daughter’s hockey team knows he or she’s being watched closely come playoff time. Heck, they know they’ve been watched closely every single day since the season began. Like a national government, however, the coach is responsible for a group of people rather than one individual. The goal is to appease as many individuals as possible, but we all know that’s impossible. 

Note: I’d like to witness Justin Trudeau’s first attempt at coaching a minor hockey team. 

Here’s a handy list you can print out and share when you attempt to determine what on earth your child’s hockey coach was thinking this playoff season. 


Every hockey coach in the world wants to win. Some might claim they don’t care (I’ve made this claim) but it’s a bold-faced lie. The best coaches find a way to win with as many players pulling in the same direction as possible, but ultimately, when the playoffs begin the coach wants to taste victory. It’s why we play (and coach) the game. 

Did You Know Hockey is Political?

As you watch the coach open the gate across the rink from your perch in the crowd, understand that he or she understands that the ramifications of their decisions will have an affect long after the final whistle blows. Limiting the ice time of certain players so others can play more might land a coach in hot water, but coaches make these decisions because it’s what they feel is best for the team and the team’s chances of winning. 

Speed of the Game 

One aspect of the coach’s decision-maker is the speed of the stimulation being thrown their way. Playoff intensity speeds everything up - the coach has to make hundreds of small decisions in short order to keep the bench and the team organized. What kinds of decisions?

  • Is it worth it to verbally lash out at this referee?
  • Which two forwards should I put on the ice for this 4on4 situation that will last 36 seconds before we get a powerplay?
  • Is Mr. Yelly Yellerson’s son Yelly Jr. going to quit hockey if he doesn’t play for the next 5 minutes while we try to tie this game up?

The easiest place to make decisions is from the stands. Especially if you make those decisions after the play in question has already occurred. 


Coaches still teach and aim to improve their team during the playoffs. Just because the postseason has arrived doesn’t mean the coach drops the reins and watches a season’s worth of work at arm’s length. The coaching carries on with individual players in order to find a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. 

So when you scrutinize the coach based solely on their interaction with your child, you might potentially be forgetting about the other 15 or 19 individuals. Some kids need more attention, some need less to play their best. It’s like juggling 3 potato sacks of catnip-infused felines all at once. Also the cats have knives strapped to their feet and are armed with clubs. 

Minor hockey is about the acquisition and demonstration of life skills first and foremost. But coming in a close second is winning hockey games. Especially in the playoffs.

For everyone involved in the game - the players, the coaches, the parents - winning is fun. Life sucks when you lose and it’s grand when you win. 

And it’s all enhanced come playoff time, even if you’re watching from the crowd. 


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