Good or bad, it has the ability to leave a lasting effect on a team. In fact, non-verbal communication can work hand-in-hand with what coaches say to their players, or communicate an entirely different message, all at the same time. To learn more about how body language impacts the game, we spoke with long-time Air Force Academy head coach Frank Serratore, one of the game’s best – and most animated – coaches.
USA Hockey: How important is body language from a coaching perspective?
Frank Serratore: I believe coaches send a lot of non-verbal messages – both positive and negative – through his or her body language. It’s a huge part of coaching that’s very similar to the ways an educator communicates with his or her students in the classroom or how parents talk to their children.
Over time, tendencies in body language reflect the nature of a person, whether it be a coach or a player. If not their nature, it certainly shows a person’s maturity level and/or self-discipline.
USA Hockey: As a coach, what’s the toughest thing about non-verbal communication?
Serratore: You have to find just the right balance between reading your players individually and reading the team as a collective unit, because they’re interconnected.
An effective coach needs to be more positive than negative by at least a 3-to-1 ratio – an overly negative coach will eventually lose his or her team, because those players will get to a point where they simply tune their coach out.
USA Hockey: Is it fair to expect coaches to avoid showing their frustrations through body language?
Serratore: Not necessarily. My job is to figure out how to best communicate with each of my players so that they play and perform their best. There are many effective ways to correct mistakes by implementing positive strategies. This dynamic reinforces the importance of having high-character people on your team, because people with high character will respond in a positive manner to constructive criticism.
The most important thing, as a coach, is to really get to know your players. Each player is different and, by getting to know them, you’ll learn which “non-verbal buttons” to push in each of them to help them excel. For example, one of your players might respond positively to negative body language, while another needs constant encouragement and reinforcement through your positive body language. Then, you might have particular players who perform their best if you don’t pay any particular attention to them at all. It’s different for everyone.
USA Hockey: When you have a player who consistently displays negative body language, what do you do – and recommend your peers do – to address it?
Serratore: Bad body language reflects bad attitude. It can be the beginnings of a cancer in the locker room, so our staff addresses and confronts it immediately. The only things players really have control over are their effort level and attitude so, if one of my players displays bad body language, he’s displaying a bad attitude.
I always tell my players that if they are dissatisfied with a certain situation, come and see me privately in my office after the practice or game, and we’ll discuss and rectify the problem. I don’t want anyone creating a distraction by reacting negatively during a game, whether it’s on the bench or in the locker room between periods.
USA Hockey: On the other end of the spectrum, how do you encourage positive body language?
Serratore: I always make sure I praise a player who has responded positively to something that’s happened – whether it was a good or bad experience. Usually the praise is immediate (as the player returns to the bench) and, sometimes, I’ll acknowledge that player a second time in the locker room – between periods or after a game – in front of his teammates.
USA Hockey: Finally, can body language be used to successfully ‘speak’ with officials?
Serratore: There’s no question that all coaches, including myself, utilize body language to communicate with officials. Non-verbal communication enables a coach to send a message to the officials without showing them up in front of the fans and – most importantly – without getting a bench penalty.
QUESTION: A player was escorted off the ice with one minute left in the game, but he was only given a minor penalty for Roughing. I thought you only escorted a kid off the ice for a game misconduct. Can you escort them off the ice for a minor penalty if there is less than two minutes left in the game?
ANSWER: Occasionally, game officials or coaches will send penalized players directly to the dressing room late in a game if the player’s penalty time outlasts the time remaining in the game. Especially, if they feel the player will become a “target” to opponents after the game, or if they feel the player might continue his poor behavior after the game.
QUESTION: Team A and Team B have non coincidental minor penalties and are playing 4 on 4. Team B has a delayed penalty and team A scores. What happens to the delayed penalty?
ANSWER: If while both teams are playing at even-strength, the non-offending team scores during a delayed (minor) penalty, the delayed minor penalty is recorded (on the scoresheet) but not served. Both minors currently being served are not affected. Play resumes 4 v. 4.
QUESTION: During the course of play, the goalkeeper loses a glove just before an imminent scoring chance, and the potential for injury is present. Two questions: a) The glove comes off on its own, because of goalie movement. Can the official use discretion to end play? Is it mandated? b) The glove comes off due to contact with an opposing player. Can the official use discretion to end play? Is it mandated? The result of play is a goal on a goalie without a glove.
ANSWER: Situation #1 under Rule 304 in the USA Hockey Playing Rules states:
“What action should the referee take when the goalkeeper loses one of his gloves during play?
Keeping safety as the primary consideration, the referee should stop play whenever the goalkeeper loses a glove and is in a vulnerable position UNLESS there is an imminent scoring opportunity in which play should be allowed to continue until the imminent scoring opportunity has passed. Rule References 304(a & e).
If the Referee judges the goalkeeper has deliberately removed any equipment during play he should assess the offending goalkeeper a ‘Delay of Game’ minor penalty.”
QUESTION: I have safe sport and registered with USA hockey as an ice manager volunteer. Am I able to be on the bench with a coach to open doors.
ANSWER: Rule 201 in the USA Hockey Playing Rules states,
“Each team shall designate on the scoresheet a Head Coach prior to the start of the game. The Head Coach shall be in control of and responsible for the actions of all team personnel, including players.
A team may have up to four Team Officials on the players’ bench. Only players in uniform and properly rostered Team Officials may occupy the players’ bench."
We recommend reaching out to your Youth Hockey Association and District Registrar for more information regarding your membership and what needs to be done to be able to be on the bench.
QUESTION: In a youth game a player is assessed the following penalties: a major for slashing, a minor for roughing and a minor for unsportsmanlike behavior, a total of nine minutes. The penalties were all called at the early part of a 12-minute period. How many players are placed in the penalty box?
ANSWER: If one player is assessed nine minutes in penalties (all minors or majors) all at one time, the offending player enters the penalty bench, nine minutes are added to the penalty clock and the teams play 5 v. 4 for the next nine minutes (assuming no other penalties are assessed or goals are scored during the next nine minutes).
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