Jeffrey Hewitt played with the Markham Islanders until his Midget year. He’s now stepped into a role behind the bench with his local Club.
“Players can’t be behind the bench without a helmet.”
That was my first and best interaction with a referee as a coach so far this season and it probably won’t be topped. I grew a beard as quickly as I could so I would look older than the players on our team who will be turning sixteen in the New Year.
It was also my first “I feel old” moment behind the bench, and even though I just turned 22 a few days after our first game, there have been plenty more of them since. Some of my friends have even started calling me “Dad” because of my coaching responsibilities.
The first few times I was called “coach” I didn’t know it was being addressed to me and it took a while to get used to my new title. When I decided to come on-board as an assistant coach, I was finishing my degree at University of Guelph. Now doing my post-graduate certificate for Sport and Event Marketing, being a student is one of the last pieces of common ground I hold with our players (who I’m closer in age with than I am with their parents).
There have been plenty of learning curves behind the bench. At first I was a little timid and only really talked to the players one at a time, usually with a whiteboard, to talk strategy or systems. Now I find myself talking to the whole team at once, whether it be in the room before a game, on the ice at practice, or on the bench.
Trying to contain emotions on the bench also can take some time. As a player you’re allowed, to a degree, to get overly excited if goals are scored for or equally frustrated if there’s a goal against. As a coach, however, you have to be an example for the players. For me, that’s not always the case, but I’m still learning.
A lot of the time I simply try to copycat the style of some of my coaches from the past who I enjoyed playing for. Coaches I played against such as Will Carson (Jr. Canadiens) were gracious enough to offer advice.
“You’re going to have a lot of fun,” Will said over a phone call in early May. “You can jump in and take part in some of the drills with them,” which I’ve done, but don’t recommend doing during conditioning skates.
When Will told me I would have fun, he was right, it’s been nothing but fun. Aside from playing, coaching is the best way to stay involved in the game and one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve personally had in hockey. Getting to come into the rink for a practice or a game to coach is certainly a privilege, watching and helping the kids grow not just as players but as people is as good as it gets.