John F. Russell: Expecting the best from coaches
Steamboat Springs — We expect a lot from coaches.
We expect them to make the right choices, we expect them to inspire players to reach their potential, and we expect them to win — sometimes at all costs. I understand those expectations when the coach is in charge of a professional team, but where should we, as fans and as parents, draw the line?
Should those expectations apply to those in our community who become volunteer coaches for a youth team? Should we expect the same from high school coaches or college coaches?
As a coach of a 4- to 8-year-old peewee hockey team, Chris Zuschlag has been able to keep things in perspective during an up-and-down season.
A few weeks ago, Zuschlag’s young players were in the middle of a rough patch. The team wasn’t winning games, and it had taken a toll on their enthusiasm. He could see in his players’ faces, it was clear from their effort on the ice, and he was desperate to find a way to motivate them and remind them that the game is about a lot more than winning, and losing.
So as you might expect a coach to do, Zuschlag searched for inspiration off the ice, and he found it from another coach. A coach most people would never expect to take the time to inspire a team of teens and tweens, or even respond to a youth coach’s email.
Zuschlag had sent an email to the Colorado Avalanche several weeks earlier, hoping for advice on how to motivate his team. To his surprise, he got a response from Avalanche assistant coach Tim Army.
Army, who has coached at the professional and college levels for 28 years, took Zuschlag’s email to his players. He asked them where they look for inspiration when things are not going their way.
The overwhelming answer from the professional players was to have fun playing the game — no matter what the scoreboard says.
Army returned Zuschlag’s email, and the youth coach shared the Avalanche players’ words with his own players. That advice inspired the young players from Steamboat and South Routt to play harder — and to have fun on the ice.
“The kids spirit stayed up through the end of the season,” Zuschlag said. “It came at the perfect time. The players on our team kept driving until the very end of the season. I wasn’t sure that was going to happen before I sent the email.”
On March 14, the players on the peewee team will travel to Denver to watch the Avalanche play a game against the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center. Zuschlag is excited that Army has agreed to take a few minutes to meet the local team.
“It’s so cool that he’s willing to give us a few minutes of his time,” Zuschlag said. “He doesn’t have to do it, but what he did, gave our whole team a big lift in the middle of our season.”
The Steamboat team played its last game Sunday and topped a team from Craig 9-2 to end the season on a high note.
Sure, as fans of the game and parents of youth players, we expect a lot of things from coaches in Steamboat Springs. But we shouldn’t worry as long as the lessons learned in our youth programs are about more than the final score. We should leave that to the professionals.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966
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