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Coach vs. Athlete: Development responsibilities

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The value of giving a fair opportunity to every prospect

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

"The rest is up to our support staff, development staff, to help them develop and for the players to take it upon themselves to learn how to be a pro and to become a pro. I mean, we see something in these players, but we can't take their hand and guide them down to the promise land. It's up to them, it's gotta come from them now." - Trevor Timmins

We often hear the word development tossed around at this time of the year. With development camps taking place post-draft, and training camps beginning in about a month's time, all eyes are on the Habs prospects and if they are taking strides forward in their young careers. So, what makes or breaks an athlete's progression and where do development staff come into play?

Young athletes are impressionable. While some may argue that their many years in various junior leagues have eased them into their new careers, the reality is that the stress and expectations in the NHL are vastly different than anything these athletes will have previously experienced. For this reason, the quality of coaching and development is of great importance.

The Montreal Canadiens' development staff includes Martin Lapointe and Rob Ramage. In addition, the club boasts some very successful and knowledgeable coaching staff, most notably the goaltending guru that is Stephane Waite. The Canadiens also understand the importance of the mental side of hockey and work regularly with sport psychologist Sylvain Guimond, and depend on the AHL staff to mould prospects into NHL-ready athletes. While these professionals will work with the majority of the organization's prospects at some point over the next season, the most important aspect of an athlete's development is the expectations that these professionals place on the prospects.

Coaches will have their own expectations as to where a prospect should be in his development. Interestingly, many coaches have unrealistic expectations based solely on physical size, race, or gender. For example, assuming a player would be best-suited for an enforcer-type role simply based on the athlete's physical size could produce an athlete who is not utilized properly, due to a lack of appreciation for his full skill set. These inaccurate expectations can then lead to poor coaching behaviours.

The frequency and quality of the coach/athlete relationship, the quality of the instruction received by the athlete, and the frequency of the feedback all influence an athlete's development path. Coaches tend to spend more time with athletes they deem to be 'high level,' which in turn leads to higher quality instruction and more constructive feedback. If 'low level' athletes are not receiving the same development opportunities as 'high level' athletes, what can happen is a type of cyclical trend where 'low level' athletes do not produce at a pace required by the coaching staff, reinforcing their opinion that the they not deserve their attention, therefore creating an athlete who hasn't been given a chance to fully develop.

Coaching and development staff need to produce athletes who will succeed in the NHL. When prospects come into the organization, they are (most often) fresh out of high school, and can thrive when given the proper development opportunities. The quality and quantity of the coach/athlete relationship will greatly affect the development of young prospects. If certain athletes are receiving less favourable treatment than others, it can greatly stunt their personal growth. Taking the proper steps to ensure that each prospect is handed a fair shot during his development can produce a few diamonds in the rough that may not have been highly considered elsewhere.

1. Montreal Canadiens. RAW: Trevor Timmins. Retrieved July 29, 2015, from http://video.canadiens.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=831208&catid=66

2. Weinberg, R.S. & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of Sport & Exercise Psychology. (5th). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.