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Coaching in the Playoffs: Trust Your Process

03/10/2014, 4:45pm MDT

Playoff hockey. It’s the most fun time of the year.

The playoffs represent the pinnacle of the season. It’s a time for players to demonstrate the skills they’ve honed for months.

Players trained in a supportive environment should be able to make a seamless transition to the playoffs, since they’ve already been competing in every situation – power play, penalty kill, etc. – without fear of failure.

Rhode Island-native John Hynes, in his fourth season as head coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, has a simple message for playoff-bound coaches: stick to the game plan and trust your process. Don’t shorten the bench.

The 2011 AHL Coach of the Year and former National Team Development Program coach recently sat down with USA Hockey to talk about playoff preparation for coaches and believing in the team’s foundation.

Here’s what the Boston University alumnus had to say:

USA Hockey: You’ve coached in many big games. What’s your approach when it comes to the playoffs?

John Hynes: When you get to the playoffs, or later in the season, you’re really at a stage in the year where all of your foundations and your buildings blocks are in place. Your individual development and player development over the course of the season is all built to be at its best in the playoffs. When you get to this stage of the season, it’s about having belief and trust in the process you’ve gone through up to this point.

USA Hockey: So you’ve already done the prep work. You’ve already set the foundation. Now it’s just time to go out there and have some fun?

John Hynes: Correct. At this stage, it’s knowing what your role is. It’s knowing what your identity is. It’s knowing what your mindset is. It’s believing and trusting in that, and then going out and playing as best as you can.

USA Hockey: Do you think coaches, parents and players are tempted by “going for the win” too much? Is it easy to get too caught up in the moment or in the emotions?

John Hynes: At times you do. When you get into playoff situations and championship games, the natural instinct is to go to the end result and to want to win more than wanting to go through the process. Believe in your process. The more pressure, and the bigger the game, the more you want to rely on your foundation and structure. You play your best when you’re focused on playing and focused on the process, but to do that you have to believe in the preparation you’ve had through the year. You want to be able to go play with a clear mind.

USA Hockey: Especially at the youth levels, how disheartening can it be for a kid to see a regular shift all season and then ride the bench during the playoffs?

John Hynes: It’s particularly difficult at the younger ages. It’s always difficult when players are in a more developmental situation, when part of the process is learning and playing through those situations and going through the full season. When your role gets limited and you don’t have a lot of chances to play later in the season, it’s disappointing. It’s not like the professional level, where guys are earning a living.

USA Hockey: You want the kids to come back next year. Shortening the bench can’t be a good retention strategy.

John Hynes: Absolutely it’s not. The biggest part of youth sports is developing and fueling the passion for the game. Those are the situations (shortening the bench) where players could get turned off. Ultimately, for the growth of the game, it’s not a good thing.

USA Hockey: What about you, personally? Playoffs can raise the stress level. What do you do to stay loose, stay calm and ensure you continue doing your job?

John Hynes: It really comes down to preparation. It’s the most fun time of the year. It’s the time of the year that’s the most rewarding. You go through all of your training camps. You go through all of your trials and tribulations. There’s something on the line. It’s really just trusting in that preparation. When you’re prepared for a difficult game, you’re more relaxed going into it because you’re prepared for it. You can go play and enjoy the competition. It’s more just making sure that we’re prepared for each situation. Then we want to go out there and compete and enjoy the process of competing.

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Three ways to beat burnout

11/28/2016, 9:45pm MST
By Dave Pond

According to NHL metrics, the average hockey shift lasts somewhere between 45 and 55 seconds. There’s inherent beauty and fluidity to line changes, as skaters come on and off the ice, looking to recharge after going full throttle for their teams.

Meanwhile, your NHL officiating peers are giving their all, too – regularly logging 4-5 miles a game. Those totals are even greater at your level, where you and your colleagues officiate multiple games a day, several times per week, on a seemingly never-ending calendar.

And, although we want to perform our best every game, everyone has both good days and bad – players and officials alike. To learn more about keeping burnout at bay, we went to the experts: longtime amateur hockey scheduler Larry Carrington and former NHL official Mark Faucette.

“There is so much more to officiating than meets the eye,” said Faucette, a 17-year NHL veteran. “It may look easy from the stands, but to maintain total control of a game along with the stress, slumps, supervisors, travel, and fitness regimen takes a very special kind of person.”

Get in shape (and stay there)
We all think we’re in “pretty good” shape, but the reality is, officials must be top athletes and in great condition – even at the youngest levels.

“Conditioning is very important—the deeper into the season, the more important it is,” Carrington said. “Burnout happens physically, mentally, and emotionally. An official who is in good condition will experience less physical burnout, and that will in turn help with the emotional and mental burnout.”

Faucette stresses following a workout routine that maxes yourself at least every other day. Neither player or official should plan to use games as a vehicle toward better physical fitness.

“Where we used to go to camp to get into shape, officials today are on summer conditioning regimens and are tested as soon as they come to camp,” he said. “Taking care of your body is a total focus for the good official.

“The players are so much stronger and faster now, so it’s imperative the officials keep the same pace.”

Find balance
No, not balance on your skates (that’s a given). Rather, make sure to keep the big picture in mind, to work a manageable schedule that includes everything that’s important to you – family, friends, and time away from the rink.

Although it makes Carrington’s job as an assignor more difficult, he said it pays off in the long run.

“I encourage officials to take at least one weekend off to get away from hockey,” he said. “I certainly don't want to lose their services for a week, but the invigoration that it usually provides makes them a much more valuable asset over the course of the season.”

That’s huge in an industry where both mental and physical fatigue are commonplace.

“Every official runs into slumps, just as players do,” Faucette said. “You spend numerous hours alone as an official, and when things are not going good, where everything is negative, it can cause you duress.

“Positive thoughts and self-evaluations speed up recovery,” he continued. “So, instead of telling yourself, ‘I wonder what bad thing will happen tonight?’ say ‘I’m ready for anything – bring it on!’”

Have fun
It’s No. 3 here, but should be No. 1 on your to-do list.

“I realize the officials are all trying hard, and mistakes are part of any sport by any participant,” said Faucette, who currently serves as supervisor of officials for USA Hockey, the NAHL director of player safety and the SPHL director of officiating. “That being said, the joy I get out of seeing a young official start out at ground level and making the big time one day is immeasurable.”

For most of you reading this, the “big time” might not be the end goal (and that’s OK). But wherever you are, there’s experience you’ve gained, as well as that to come – which both point back to why you first got involved in this great sport.

As an assignor, Carrington tries to get out of the office as much as he can and intentionally varies the schedules of his officials to help keep things fresh. He also encourages his more senior officials to lend a hand to those who aren’t as long in the tooth.

“Going to the rink and helping officials help themselves get better can be very invigorating,” he said. “Even a very good, very experienced official will often find it fun and relaxing to mentor some new official at a lower-level game where the stress levels aren’t nearly as high.”

But no matter where you officiate, Carrington emphasizes keeping one thing in mind: the love of the sport and those playing it today.

“If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there.”

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Shadow me

11/29/2016, 10:15am MST
By USA Hockey

Officials in Colorado Springs are benefitting from a shadow program

It was roughly five years ago when Tim Whitten noticed a problem in his association. Whitten, an assignor in the Southern Colorado Hockey Officials Association, observed that while new and young officials were signing up, few were returning the following season.

That’s when he berthed the idea of a shadow program.

Andy Flores, president of SCHOA, took time to tell us more about the program and how the association and its officials are reaping the benefits.

USA Hockey: How exactly did the shadow program come to be? What specific problems were you guys noticing?

Andy Flores:
It started with Tim Whitten. He found that we had a large exit rate, mostly because our newer and younger officials didn’t seem to be comfortable. We would be getting up to 10 new officials a year and we’d lose about 40 percent of them. When that happens, it puts a huge hole in your officials pool. So Tim came up with the idea to have veteran officials shadow newer officials to build their confidence on the ice.

USAH: How does the program work?

The program is designed for the new officials, the Level 1s who are in their first year. For the first five games on the ice, they are assigned a shadow. It’s general for a game assignment, a 10U C-level game or something like that. Typically on the ice we will have one senior official, one second-year official and the new officials. The shadow is assigned and works with the new individual. After five games, the shadow identifies if the person needs a little more work or if they are strong and have gained enough knowledge to do it on their own. At that point, they don’t get assigned shadows anymore. If they need a little extra help, they are assigned a shadow as long as they need it.

USAH: Are the shadows technically working the game or are they there as a silent helper?

The shadow’s primary job is to teach, not actually officiate. As a shadow you’re not there to influence the game. We don’t work in a capacity where we are working the game. We don’t call offsides, we don’t call icing and we don’t call penalties; it’s strictly educational purposes for the new individual. A shadow is there to give them support and confidence. A simple ‘Yes, you’re making the right call,’ or, ‘I would have maybe called offsides there,’ is what they are there for. That’s why we have shadows work at some of the lower levels of the game, because they are at a stage where coaches aren’t going to go after a ref for minor mistakes and it allows the new officials to learn in an environment where they aren’t necessarily going to get yelled at for everything.

USAH: What’s the feedback been like?

The senior guys definitely love it. They enjoy the teaching aspect. That’s why I officiate, because I enjoy teaching the game as well as being a part of it, so for those senior guys, it’s fun to be sharing the knowledge. In Colorado Springs, our experience for our guys ranges anywhere from the NHL, USHL all the way down to the local stuff, so we have a vast array of knowledge. I think the newer officials are enjoying it, too. They keep coming back, so we must be doing something right.

USAH: Has the retention improved then?

Absolutely. More than 60-70 percent stay on now for a second year. Plus, we’re getting anywhere from 20 to 30 new guys each year. It’s definitely had a positive impact.

USAH: So you would recommend that other officiating associations give a shadow program like this a try?

Absolutely. You take advantage of those prime opportunities to teach at the time they’re occurring. You don’t have to holler across the ice to try and say ‘Hey, do this,’ or, ‘You can’t do that.’ You don’t want to spend time during the game and you don’t want to slow down the game. With the shadow program, you keep the game flowing while teaching. Plus, I can’t speak enough about the retention. People leave officiating because they don’t feel confident. Now we give them that confidence.

Tag(s): Coaches