The Power of Positive Coaching and Its Impact on the Stanley Cup Playoffs

After one of his nine seasons as Winnipeg Jets coach, Paul Maurice had an idea: Could he be more intentional about the video he showed his players?

Video sessions are one of the most common educational tools used by coaches. Maurice, now coach of the Florida Panthers, the darling eighth seeds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs who are one win away from the Cup Finals, wondered how his staff could maximize those encounters. How many times did they have to show off a system before it appeared in a game? Could they identify the gap between a moment of instruction on video and tangible success on the ice?

Maurice also wanted to quantify something deeper: did his selection of clips affect players’ psyches and performance?

“What happens if we put the same player on all our negative clips, even though I know it’s not all about that player, like I’m going after him? Or if I keep on show a player who was just doing good things, because I like that player?” said Maurice. “We wanted to find the cumulative effect of the video we were showing.”

So Maurice and his team embarked on an off-season project.

“From Monday to Thursday, all summer long, from 9 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m., we all got together and went over everything,” says Pascal Vincent, then Maurice’s assistant at Winnipeg. “We were looking for ways to improve.”

Jets staff charted the videos they showed the team the previous season and tracked the results of subsequent games. They tagged each clip in one of three categories: positive clip, teaching clip, negative clip. The analytics service took it from there.

As the data piled up, coaches couldn’t help but notice a pattern.

“We realized we got results and saw more success when we showed more positive clips,” Vincent said. “Of course, there are a lot of other variables, but that’s what the data says. I’ve read a lot about it in other areas of life, and it confirmed how I felt.”

The sentiment has become a massive trend in the NHL: coaches find it more productive to build confidence through encouragement rather than hitting players with constant criticism. And that’s especially true with millennials and Gen Z.

“The bullying coach, right, wrong or otherwise, doesn’t stand a chance in today’s game,” Detroit Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said. “That’s the reality for players today. You still have to hold them accountable, but you have to do it in different ways.”

Call it the Ted Lasso effect. Heck, NHL players even quote the fictional football coach, known for his extremely optimistic attitude. Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark made a puck handling error in overtime in Game 5 of Boston’s first-round series, leading directly to Matthew Tkachuk’s game-winning goal for Florida. Afterwards, Ullmark encountered a melee of reporters and cameras in his locker, relaxed, calm and even smiling at times. “You just have to have the mind of a goldfish,” said Ullmark, a lyric quote from the TV series.

The popular show is a microcosm for a shift in societal norms, which includes a new focus on mental health. Workplaces across multiple sectors are adapting as younger generations seek out different – ​​and in many cases, less negative – environments than their predecessors. Historically, this stood in contrast to the demanding and demanding nature of professional sports. No more.

“Positive, constructive feedback — maybe people needed that too generations ago,” Bruins forward Garnet Hathaway, 31, said. “It just wasn’t common or they didn’t advocate for it. to unleash even more potential.”

The change in the sport is noticeable and leads to periods of introspection.

“Overall it’s become a more conservative and sensitive world. Kids are now growing up without being yelled at, so they don’t know how to react when yelled at,” the Avalanche forward said. Colorado, Evan Rodrigues, 29. “Growing up I liked being yelled at, it got me into the game, it focused me. Now when someone yells at me, I take it differently. I prefer that they come up to me and be like, ‘Hey, I know you’re better than that. Before, I loved proving people wrong, now I love proving them right.”

This idea fuels one of Vincent’s proven teaching techniques. This season, Vincent was an assistant coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the youngest teams in the league.

“Even if a player is struggling, there’s a reason he’s here. [in the NHL]”, said Vincent. “So you have to find out what this player is good at and then strengthen him. When you lose confidence, you go back to the basics of what you’re good at, and that helps them get it back.”

Many players interviewed for this article pushed back against the idea that practice has to be positive all the time — or that the NHL has completely transformed.

One player for an Eastern Conference team said, “My coach reads me the riot act about twice a week. And that’s fine with me, if I deserve it.”

Another player described a “passive aggressive” style from one of his former coaches, who is still behind an NHL bench. “He was saying mean things about you out loud, while you were within earshot so you could hear him,” the player said. “Obviously because he research it’s up to you to hear it.”

Some in the league see a downside to the ultra-positive approach. After the Maple Leafs’ disappointing second-round loss to the Panthers, a narrative emerged in some circles that Toronto management created an environment where its star players were over-pampered and therefore ill-equipped to deal with the adversity of the playoff hockey.

A long-time league veteran said he’s noticed a gradual change over the past few years and “it just doesn’t sit well with me.” “It’s not to be the ‘back in my day’ guy, but…I definitely feel like we’ve gotten softer as a league,” the player said. “There are certain dinosaur practices that need to go. I would never advocate mental or physical abuse. But these are professional sports, and it requires a level of responsibility and tenacity. It’s okay to be yelled at or called out when you don’t meet the standards. It’s what makes you stronger.

Former player Ray Ferraro, an 18-year NHL veteran and current ESPN analyst, put it bluntly: “Sometimes you have to be demanding, but not an asshole. Because the old way definitely doesn’t work.”

Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, 26, called himself a “younger guy” but said “I don’t mind the negative [coaching] Sometimes.”

“I think the positive way of seeing is better, but not everything can be positive; there has to be a balance,” Rantanen said. “[Colorado coach] Jared [Bednar] does a good job of that. When we don’t play well, he shows it. Even when there is a game where you just fall asleep for a few games, he will show it the next day and be crazy. And that’s how it should be.”

After Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Dallas Stars coach Peter DeBoer said he bet a little on his players after their loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

“There are certain pressure points with your team that you have to decide as a coach,” DeBoer said. “Is this a time to support and appease the voice of reason, or is this a time to turn the screws and get in there a bit? I think you can only go to the latter so often. “

Coaches have also adapted to another trend coveted by young millennials and Gen Z: transparency. Young players don’t need to be okay with what’s going on, they just want to know why. Bednar said he adapted by being clearer in his communication.

“The trend, and it makes sense to me now, is that if guys don’t get any information, they’ll go into the negative thought process,” Bednar said. “I’ve always thought that if I don’t comment on something, then you know you’re doing well. I like my guys to know: if I don’t come to you, that’s a good thing .”

But in recent seasons, Bednar has noticed that this approach doesn’t always work, especially with younger players. If players received no feedback from him, they would assume the worst or turn to other places for feedback, such as social media, which can get risky.

“If a guy plays 10 minutes a night usually and then all of a sudden he’s got a 7½ game, he’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, what did I do wrong?’ Then the negative thoughts come,” Bednar said. “So I try to interrupt that. You have to try harder. Now I try to brush up on them in the locker room and just say, ‘Hey, good job last night’, so they have something. thing, even though I don’t have meetings with them.”

Lalonde said he has made transparency a top priority for the Red Wings.

“I never had a roster until I told the player he wasn’t there and exactly why,” Lalonde said. “You have to be honest.”

Lalonde cited the example this season of a game where he skinned one of his forwards.

“We spent as much time as a coaching staff putting together three or four points for the guy who wasn’t in the lineup as we did planning the game the following night,” he said. .

Maurice is still thinking about his tape study but is not ready to draw any big conclusions.

“I don’t know if there is a solid theory for every team,” Maurice said. “Every team is different, every player is different. The most important thing is to understand the human side of it all.”


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