Building a Program

Building a new successful hockey program is kind of like trying to build a fire on a wet rainy night in the woods. You have to get a little something going for it to burn. You can’t keep striking wet matches against the box or everyone throws up their hands and says this is impossible. You need to find some accelerant. Diva creative energy got our program going not a coach. The Divas had something good going on long before I showed up. They have some good hockey going now too, but we’ve been doing this for a while, and we know what striking wet matches is like.

Your mission should be to provide a safe, fun learning environment for your players to enjoy the greatest game ever invented.

When starting up focus on your culture early.

Someone has to get the fun going before you worry about the hockey. In business terms ask what kind of product or team are you trying to create? Coaches will come and go. Players will come and go, but the Diva program will go on if everyone has created the right culture. The Diva program is all about fun, winning the party, and having confidence in skills, on and off the ice. The Diva Swagger comes with time, talent and experience. Creating the culture or atmosphere for creativity to flourish is key.

The leaders are already in the room. The Divas have everything they need to make their program work, and they know how to ask for and get what they don’t have. Their most important question is, “Did we have fun?”

Figure out what inspires or motivates those in your program. The Divas theme song could be “Girls just want to have fun,” but that has evolved over time, and there are many new songs they sing now.

You know your own situation best.

For us we live in a cold coastal climate — sometimes it rains, sometimes it snows. It is usually dark. There isn’t much to do in the winter if you don’t cross country ski, ride snow bikes, or go to the gym. We have a rink (the Kevin Bell Arena) we are trying to sustain with user fees. Every time I’ve ever come in the Kevin Bell arena from the darkness outside, the lights are bright and the ice is prefect and inviting. A new program in Arizona or California will have a different set of drivers and inhibitors. Maybe just securing ice time will be your problem.

Every program has to contend with their rink. We have been able to utilize ice times that are convenient for the Divas, their schedules and family commitments, because we are the biggest user of the ice. Divas command respect. It doesn’t hurt that two of the four past presidents of the hockey association have been Divas. We skate after dinner but early enough to get home at a reasonable hour and get the kids tucked in. It is always a good idea to have women’s and men’s ice times back to back if possible. We get more interest and more spectators that way with the single crowd or with spouses watching each other. We also like Saturday night co-ed hockey where we can all play together and turn this into another social night.

Do you have experienced players who have come up through the youth hockey ranks? Do they want a competitive program for the top players? Who will they play against? What will you do with the players who want to learn a new sport? Will you be able to incorporate both experienced players and novices? These are all questions you will have to answer as your program evolves.

Don’t underestimate the financial commitment

Hockey is an expensive sport. This is why I spend a great deal of time examining motivations. This is not a sport where anyone can easily flip in and out. Association fees, USA hockey fees, ice fees, equipment, etc. all add up, and for some this is daunting and for others they couldn’t live without the sport at any cost.

Our rink maintains an equipment exchange. If a player needs gear or wants to play goalie there is most likely some used gear she can use to get started. The Divas also offer some scholarships from time to time in order to keep a player in the program who is on the borderline financially. Sometimes to reinforce skill development they grant a month’s ice fees to the first Diva to shoot 1000 pucks in the off ice shooting corner. The honor system applies.

Twenty players on the ice feels about right for one coach and is probably going to be affordable to the players. If there are more than twenty players on the ice for a practice, it will be better to have more than one coach.