“The Big Game”

There were two minutes left in the Ringette game; the score was 5 to 4. The winning team would progress to the next level of playoff round. The losing team would look forward to the year-end party and next season. The goalie was told to come to the bench. She was not replaced. The net was open. Players on the bench watched intently. One coach was busy shouting and waving arms. The other coach was pacing. The two coaches met in the middle of the bench: a shouting match erupted. Two games were underway: one on the ice, the other on the bench. Players of the team without the goalie displayed no structure, making poor use of the extra skater. The final score was 6 to 4 – an empty net goal. The coaching dispute ended in the lobby of the rink, offering entertainment value to all bystanders.

We know that big games will take place. How can we plan for them to prevent “team meltdowns” and still perform well?

People under stress who receive a surprise get more stressed. Making assumptions without communicating between parties breeds more surprise. Terrible combination.

Coaches should strive to create a predictable pattern of game preparation and execution – no surprises.

Here are some tips to try:

  • The Head Coach should call a coaches-only meeting at the beginning of the season to discuss game management; use a quiet place with no distractions.
  • Determine roles on the bench during games: head coach decides on when a tactic will be  used; assistant coach on defence door, another assistant coach on the forward door, extra coach can take notes or stats about your team or the opponent; who will talk to refs.
  • Tell players what you expect of them in each position in the middle of the game; Avoid blanket comments such as “nice game, girls” and “games are won and lost between the free play lines.” Be specific about body positioning in the middle of tactics – triangle, attack players, one-timers, and defensive formations.
  • Make sure messages to players are consistent from all coaches. If unclear, have more coaches meetings about tactics, and how to play them.
  • Strive for a positive bench: provide timely feedback to players with a positive tone; don’t overburden players with advice. Learn about the players, and determine which ones are more likely to handle feedback during games.
  • Tell goalies in advance (24 hrs) who will play the first or second half of the game or the next game.
  • During the game: be aware of all penalties, and notify goalie in advance of coming to the bench; Make notes as game events occur and discuss with coaches after game, learn from each game; Track line changes on score clock to ensure regular rotations; Have someone in stands take stats for giveaways and takeaways, not just scoring and assists – measure what matters;
  • Use the pre-game to bring a few key messages; build emotion and prepare mentally and physically for competition; use music, team talking and singing to build community, inclusion, and commitment; players will not absorb as they are getting worked up to compete.
  • Use the post-game to reinforce what we learned in that game: how to compete, about another team, our tactics, self-control, our weaknesses. Say something you liked, and something you did not like and needs work. Avoid blanket statements “terrible ringette” unless there is a message that can be taken away and applied for future.
  • Keep alive in games; no sleeping or cell phone stuff; games are like cards, pay attention to what is happening, and have a response to all situations.
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