This post was developed with the intent of providing answers to some of the commonly asked questions and discussions we have had with athletes, parents, and other companies involved in hockey. This series will run from now until April and will feature interviews from Competitive Thread representatives as well as coaches and development personnel from across Western Canada. Today we will start close to home with the Founder and President of Competitive Thread Dan Waschuk.
Dan grew up playing minor hockey in Edmonton before playing in the WHL for the Regina Pats and Saskatoon Blades. After Junior, Dan attended Grant MacEwan University, Auckland University, and the University of Alberta working towards a Masters in Sport Psychology. He was formerly an assistant coach with the Defending National Champion Alberta Golden Bears and has been running hockey development camps and clinics in Sherwood Park and Edmonton for past 11 years.
Dan, what, If anything do you draw on from your journey in hockey to pass on to the athletes you work with at Competitive Thread?
In hockey I have been pretty lucky to play for and work alongside some outstanding coaches and leaders. From an education standpoint I have also been quite fortunate to work with some brilliant teachers and students. It is through these interactions that I have been able to observe many successful teaching methods in practice and witness the effect they had on myself and others. While, I have yet to find one method of coaching/teaching that supersedes all others I think it is important to take bits and pieces from each experience and find what works for you and what works with your athletes. Each athletes’ journey is unique, especially today where the mindset of athletes can be quite diverse. When I was growing up in minor hockey it was common belief that one method fits all. However, in today’s world, a particular method may positively influence one group of athletes while at the same time negatively affecting another. It is crucial for coaches to be cognisant during their interactions with athletes and embrace a dynamic teaching style that enables them to make adjustments when necessary.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for today’s young athletes in terms of their development?
Pressure. The pressure placed on kids can be quite overwhelming. This pressure is not relegated to parents or coaches, the kids themselves are putting a lot of it on themselves to succeed. I guess it may have been around to some degree when I was growing up, but I certainly didn’t notice it as much as I do today. I believe this pressure is strongly correlated with the trend to specialize athletes to early. There is a concerning amount of one sport athletes in the 8-14 age range. This is clearly evident to us in our camps when we see great hockey skill on the ice by certain players but no ability to throw or kick a ball off of the ice. Early specialization combined with pressure more often than not leads to disinterest and lack of focus in many athletes because the GAME is no longer fun for them to PLAY. It’s sad to see kids stop playing a GAME at twelve years old because they just don’t like it anymore. I am not sure enough people truly understand the positive effects in life and in hockey of participating in multiple sports.
You devote a significant amount of time to educating athletes on Leadership, Respect and Sport Psychology, why is this and what can athletes gain from this training?
When we started Competitive Thread we had two main goals in mind; develop hockey players on ice, and develop great people off of the ice. Developing on-ice skill is important but as a group we felt strongly that athletes in general need to continue to develop their interpersonal and leadership skills as well. Educating athletes on these concepts can help prepare them for a successful future that may or may not involve professional hockey. It may seem mundane for a lot of young hockey players to learn about leadership or respect but it is important for us as coaches to see them treating everyone with respect whether it is their coach, friends or the facility staff at the arena. It is encouraging to us when we see athletes who without being asked pick up pucks after practice, move nets for the rink staff, or hold doors open for families on their way out of the rink. These actions may seem trivial but they do not go unnoticed by others and will likely lead to positive outcomes in the future.
Based on your experience in hockey development across Alberta what do you perceive to be the biggest challenge for coaches in minor hockey?
I think the biggest challenge for today’s coaches is to not get caught up in the rat race. I have seen it time and time again through our development channels. For example we will be out at a novice practice where the coaches are working on breakouts, then getting frustrated because their players cannot execute the way they want them to. Meanwhile none of their players can skate that well, none of them can pass that well, and they all lack the ability (due to their age and development) to understand what the coach is even talking about. We understand that passing and skating are not the most exciting skills to teach but until players can execute even the most basic of these tasks there is no reason for them to be working on systems. I think the best thing they can do is take a step back, work on skill execution and allow the players to improve by continuing to execute in practice and games.
More on Competitive Thread
Competitive Thread is located in Sherwood Park, Alberta and is Western Canada’s leader in athlete testing and hockey development. They have worked with teams and athletes in the National Hockey League, the Canadian Hockey League and Minor Hockey teams and players across Western Canada. They take a holistic and balanced approach to development and aim to positively contribute to the individual growth of each athlete both on and off the ice. For more information visit www.competitvethread.com or call us at 780-267-5795.