Transitioning From Hockey Player To Successful Coach

This article was written by Rob Whitehouse from South Saxons Hockey Club (UK), who shares his secrets on how he recently made the transition from player to successful coach, winning two titles and securing 3 promotions.

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I sat on the wet, cold astro, wrapped in a coat, looking at the faces of my team mates and I knew it was time to call an end to my playing days.

As I was helped from the pitch with a broken nose, blurred vision and that oh too familiar feeling of another head injury. I knew deep down that I couldn’t do this anymore.

My nose healed but the thought of not playing again would never heal, I had to make a clean break, go cold turkey…. To resist the urge to play five minutes one week…then ten the next… the risks were too great, my family and club supported my gut wrenching decision to retire.

What do I do now on a Saturday?

No more training. And no more changing room banter.

Then someone suggested coaching – could I coach?

I had helped out in my teens but that was it, how would I know what to coach and when?

So I had a long chat with the club chairman and they booked me onto the level 2 course! I needed to keep within the game, it’s my passion, my drive, a part of my life for over 20 years.

I was offered the chance to coach the mens 3’s and 4’s teams, while I also became 4’s manager.

“Wow, here goes” I said just as the players turned up for training… seeing me; an ex 1st team player at their training session. The expressions on their faces were obvious. 

I explained I’m the new coach, laid out my expectations of them and got to work.

Week after week more players turned up for training, “must be a good sign” I thought and the teams kept winning week in, week out, climbing the table. “Thanks coach” players puffed at the end of the sessions.

The end of the season came around far too fast but what a season. Double promotion and one side won the league by a record 11 points!

I had found my calling. I seem to have the knack of coaching but my journey has only just begun.

The first problem I had to solve was, what sort of coach would I be? 

trophy 2What style would I adapt?

How would I get my massage across?

Would the players listen?

I thought about this long and hard then remembered something an old coach had told me, “enjoy it, the more you enjoy it the better you play.” So that’s exactly what I did, I was relaxed and to the point, laughing with the players while getting my point across in a strong manner.

The ground rules were set early and everyone understood them

Rule 1: Respect me and team mates

Rule 2: Hard work = success 

Rule 3: Enjoy your hockey

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I decided to add a fun element to the training – a blond curly wig was used for the “worst” trainer of the drill, this was warmly received by all and added an extra competitive nature to the sessions, no one wanted to be wearing the dreaded wig! 

I loved playing passing attacking hockey, so I went with what I know…

The sessions were planned around moving the ball at pace, using the pivot, switching play and using the wings. These aspects of play are how higher teams played but were a complete new way of playing for our lower teams.

The idea was to change their whole approach to games and training, having a structured session that would aid them on match days and had them playing a style that was fast and exciting to play in and for others to watch. 

Players were very unsure of the new way of playing but I asked them to trust me, trust in the training and work hard….

Thankfully the players did and we saw instant rewards.

I spoke to the other captain and we agreed both the teams play the same formation and style, making it easy for new players in each team to continue the role they already know, keeping it simple.

South Saxons Mens Hockey Club after winning promotion

South Saxons Mens Hockey Club after winning promotion

Every week the players turned up ready to work hard, learn new ways of attacking while focusing on keeping tight as a unit, not leaking silly goals and making sure everyone knew their defensive roles.

Working with the forwards was so important…

I spent some time showing them which runs to make and when, when to attack the p spot or when to hug the baseline and to always look for best simple option in the D. 

The players were getting the plaudits and rightly so, I was just doing my job, trying to make them better players and hopefully they enjoy their hockey.

Some sessions I left them to play, to see if they took on board certain patterns of play…

If things went wrong I stopped the game and gave them a blunt and often harsh assessment of their play and effort, aka the “hair dryer “treatment, a method which was made famous by Sir Alex Ferguson, this worked.

Normally I would never shout or lose my temper but on such occasions they needed it, they needed a reminder that these sessions or my time won’t be wasted by them not listening or working hard.

You could say I have a relaxed style which can be changed into a very strict and very critical one, making players self-assess the effort and patterns of play.

My aim is to get the players to have session input and to keep working on the basics.

Only if they slack off do I give them a dressing down. 

The performances improved weekly, the passing tempo increased and the angles of attack into the D were gradually becoming more varied and clinical.

The teams’ confidence in me grew and with that added boost I felt, the sessions became harder, knowing I could push them and they would respond. 

More attacking, more passing, using the deflection more and always maintaining a high level of the basics, these are hugely important as when tiredness creeps in, the basics are what keep us performing.

The season was a huge success and the season that followed was even better, using my template of coaching to get the clubs 1st team promoted as champions and all mens teams finishing in the top 3 of their new leagues.

Remember if you are no longer able to play hockey, coaching is a great way to still enjoy the game and make a difference by giving something back to this awesome sport!

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About The Author

Lauren Penny

Lauren is a former International Hockey Player, Performance Coach & Mentor specialising in helping hockey players to be more confident, improve their fitness and perform more consistently to get noticed and reach higher teams.

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