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Q&A: Keeping Lines of Communication Open

By Tom Robinson, 05/26/20, 3:30PM MDT


USA Hockey's Ken Martel offers some tips while players are separated from coaches

The games and practices may be gone for now, but that doesn't mean the other benefits derived from youth sports participation have to disappear. It just takes some adjustments to replicate.

“You ask most professional players what they miss when they retire from the game and usually the number one answer is, ‘I miss the time in the locker room with my friends before and after games,’” said Ken Martel, the American Development Model (ADM) technical director for USA Hockey. “The game is fun. The game is the game, but, it’s the social aspect of being in a team sport that people miss.

“So, how do you bring back elements of that?” 

Martel took the time this week to discuss some ways to continue communicating with youth team members while sports are on hiatus because of social distancing efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

USA Hockey: How can coaches impact their players during this time and maintain communication without having face-to-face contact?

Ken Martel: Technology has allowed us to communicate in a lot of different ways. It depends on the age of the kids involved.

A lot of kids are having a bit of trauma. They miss, not just the sport, but they miss their teammates, they miss their friends, they miss the social aspect around this. That can have an effect.

Zoom is not a great vehicle for getting kids together because only one person can talk at a time, but you could get small groups together. Just reaching out, having a Zoom call with a couple of players and parents, just, “What are you up to?” From a social standpoint, I think it is real important right now for a lot of kids to feel connected to their teammates, connected to their coaches and those things.

USAH: When coaches are checking in with players and parents, are there some recommended conversation starters or ways to get started in approaching the kids?

KM: You can give them little assignments. Maybe, you talk the team and say, “Okay, if you’re a forward, who would be the two NHL players you would want as linemates? If you’re a defenseman, who would you pick as your defense partner and why? Goalie? Who’s going to be your backup? Pick an NHL player and why.”

There are ways to talk about the game. Get them talking about their heroes, something everybody has in common, if you’re talking about sport specific.

USAH: Are there ways coaches can do more to make sure the kids are keeping in touch with each other?

KM: I’m an old guy in isolation and not with kids right now, but if I had a team that I was involved with, I would talk to their parents and find out what the kids are doing, find out what’s important to them.

Is there information out there that would help us relate to the kids better?

At the beginning of the season, for example, even with your 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds, the coaches should have a little conversation with their kids. Just 10 minutes, myself, the other coach, the kids, Mom and Dad maybe when the kids are young. “What do you like? What’s your favorite subject in school? What do you like to do with your friends?”

When you know more about that individual, you’ll find things to motivate them, that they can relate to, that you can bring up to build relationships with your players.

That’s tough to do while everybody’s social distancing. That’s why dealing with this disease is impacting people in a lot of negative ways.

Human beings are social. There’s a reason why team sports are important. This is inhibiting everybody’s ability to be more personal.

USAH: Do you have any specific suggestions for parents in how they can keep their kids safe in a digital environment or reminders to coaches about what they should be aware of when communicating with kids in a different setting?

KM: The parents should always be involved in the contact. It should run through the parents. The parents have the ability to be in the background. That’s important with minors.

The more you can include parents with kids and coaches, that’s the team in youth sports. It’s not just the kids, it’s the parents as well. The entire team atmosphere is created around the entire social group.        

Including everybody is important. The kids can be put center stage, but it’s important to include everybody.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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