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The Death Pool – Coaches Who Kill Player Development – The Bottleneck

Today isn’t our average Monday here at The Death Pool.  I have been trying to learn scouting over the last year or so, and the boss gave me an assignment close to four months ago to help me learn.  Basically the assignment boiled down to studying 20 different teams in various leagues, with various wins and losses.

In that study though I had to go back and research every player on each team, and see where they had come from and what they had done before, as well as where other scouts projected them.

Well, not only was this an ass load of work, but it sure opened my eyes to what some people here call the “Development Bottleneck.”  I didn’t know what they meant by that term until I got done doing the work and now I know.

At the junior hockey level, no matter which league you may be in, the whole purpose is to develop better hockey players.

The definition of Development is;

: the act or process of growing or causing something to grow or become larger or more advanced

: the act or process of creating something over a period of time

: the state of being created or made more advanced

There are two kinds of “bottlenecks” in hockey.  The first is a natural one that has to do with players peaking at different points in age as it relates to development.  It is one that see’s some players accelerate their development to higher levels earlier than others.  That bottleneck is one that most players experience in one way or another throughout their career.

The other type of “bottleneck” is one that occurs when coaching technique or systems congests the development of players.

When looking at the teams, and researching the players past performance as well as where they were previously projected, and what other scouts had been saying about them, it became very clear that there are coaches who either by choice or poor design kill development.

I do want to make it clear that even though a coach may kill some players development, that does not make him a bad coach, but rather a bad coach for a particular player.

While I studied 20 different teams, and close to 700 players, with cuts and trades, it took a while to see the bottlenecks, but after watching games live and on film, some became pretty clear and then some became glaring.

One team I found had one player who was a very balanced player offensively coming out of midget AAA.  Had all the offensive tools, and needed a little defensive zone coaching, but was a steady producer.  Moving to junior though, he was buried on a third line role in a defense first system.

This player was not alone either.  There were four other players in the same situation.  Different skill sets, but all very talented, but each having something to learn.

The problem I found watching 8 games live, and two dozen games on film was consistent.  The coach was so focused on “his system” he didn’t take advantage of the players already developed skill sets, and it was costing the team games to losses.

This is an example of a coach killing development for the sake of his system.  The coach was more concerned with being “right” than he was about developing the player geared to get the most out of his ability.  While the player learned the “system” he also did not further develop the ability that got him on the team in the first place.

An NHL scout told me during this research that “if you have a thoroughbred in the barn you need to let them out to race once in a while”.  From a 20 year NHL scouting veteran, that sounds like good advice.

In another instance I found the exact opposite.

One coach took a chance on what he saw in a players more removed past and not the last season.  The previous season saw the player caught in a “bottleneck” similar to the first example, and the player did not develop his potential.

This coach saw the previous potential, and put the player in a position to develop that and become a bigger piece of the team success.

Not all players are meant for all systems or all coaching styles.  While every player wants to move “up” what should be most important is every player wanting to continue to develop.  Moving up does not always mean more development.

Some coaches will sacrifice development in order to win in their system.  Before moving up, you need to make sure that the coaches philosophy matches your goals.

A case in point is the NAHL’s Janesville Jets.  One of the teams I studied.  A team that has been very “young” traditionally.  A team focused on development that regularly moved players on to the USHL and NCAA.  A team that had a “belief system” that was not centered on the “game system”.

Talking to former players from Janesville they all said the same thing, that the core value of the organization was that if they developed each player skill set and pieced each one together within a team that accentuated that skill set, eventually the wins would come.

This season, the Janesville Jets have proven that development, moving players up, and winning can go hand in hand because a culture of success has been created.

There are other examples of great organizations, but Janesville is easy to see in this years results and previous years transactions.

So when searching for that new team next year kids, make sure you are looking for the right place.  No one remembers who wins junior championships except the team that wins them.  No one remembers how many fans show up at the games.  What people remember are the players who get better, the players who continue to develop.  Be sure you don’t find yourself in a bottleneck next fall.

Hate to break it to some of you coaches, but if your not winning under your “system” you might just want to change your system to fit the talent you have.  Get over yourself and learn to identify that a talented player will beat a plug who can only play a system.

David Wagner – The Angel Of Death – For Those Who Live Stupidly I salute You

*The Death Pool is a mix of comedy, and satire in connection with recent events.  It is not an official report of current events although it may look as though the news is so accurate that it could one day happen or may be happening.

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