Being a great teammate is a vital part of being a great hockey player
By Matt Schoepflin
Most coaches and players alike stress the importance of being a great teammate. But how many of us can honestly say that we have an entire team of great teammates?
Sadly, probably not too many of us. The good news is that it is possible, and when it happens the results are amazing. In fact, I’m a big believer in that having great teammates is often the deciding factor for the best teams. In other words, the teams that win championships are usually those that are filled with the best teammates. And I believe this to be true even up through the highest levels of hockey.
For me as a coach, there are three things I look for in a player that shows what kind of teammate they are. The proof is in their actions.
1. Do You Block Shots?
Maybe not what most of you would expect for the first point in what makes a great teammate, but it’s true. Blocking shots is simply hockey courage. It’s willing to sacrifice your body for the rest of the team. It’s potentially putting yourself—and your body—at risk for the betterment of the other players on the team. To me, it’s the ultimate way to show your teammates how much you care.
Besides scoring a goal, what do teams get most excited about on the bench during the game? A huge shot block. From a player’s perspective, it’s a way to prove to your teammates that you’re laying it all on the line. You’d be hard pressed to find a player who’s constantly sacrificing their body, day in and day out, that isn’t highly respected by their teammates.
On the flip side, think of how you feel when a teammate “flamingos” a shot, or is intentionally just a little too slow in trying to block that shot from the point. Most hockey players would start to question where the commitment to the team really is.
As painful as it can be, the pain you feel from blocking a shot will never be as bad as the feeling of skating back to the bench after you had a chance to block a shot and didn’t, and the other team scored.
One thing that makes a great teammate is putting their team first, and one of the best ways to show that is to “eat” a few pucks from time to time.
2. How Do You Celebrate When a Teammate Scores?
As a coach, this is always one of the most interesting things to observe. How do players on the bench react when your team scores a goal?
Some of you might be surprised by this point, but if you’ve been around the game for a long time you’ll know what I’m talking about. It almost seems like a crazy notion because we naturally think that if our team scores, we should all be excited and celebrate. If only that was true.
Great teammates celebrate every goal their team scores. And you can tell it’s a genuine excitement for the team. Because, let’s be honest, if you’re a great teammate it doesn’t matter who scores, as long as it’s someone on your team.
Those who aren’t good teammates don’t get excited for the others when they’re on the bench. They may give a subtle cheer, but usually their body language betrays their true feelings. It’s usually either, Why wasn’t that me? or, If coach gave me that ice time I could score too… or it could be something like, Man, that was such a lucky play.
The reality is, if you’re a great teammate you don’t care if it’s a dangle, a rebound garbage goal, or plain old luck. You’re just excited that your team found a way to put one home.
Again, this is another example of where body language tells a huge story. It’s not only about saying the right things; it’s more about showing the right things.
3. How Do You Respond When a Teammate Makes a Mistake?
What’s your first response when you see your teammate turn the puck over? Are you the type that instantly is yelling “Come on!” or “What are you doing?!” Or are you that teammate who says “Don’t worry, we’ll get it back,” and at the next whistle skates over and gives that teammate a tap on the shin pads and says, “We’re good; shake it off?”
When you read it that way, it’s pretty easy to decipher who’s a good teammate and who isn’t.
I’m sure there are some who’d say that players who react negatively do so because they are competitive and care so much. To me, that excuse is nonsense. Just because you are competitive and like to win doesn’t give you the right to be a bad teammate. In fact, if that’s how you react you’re only hurting your team, not helping it.
If you’re a good teammate, you realize that no one is perfect and mistakes do happen. Hockey is a game that thrives on mistakes. The team that can stick together through those mistakes, and pick each other up, is usually the team that will end up winning.
It Doesn’t Take Much to Be a Great Teammate
These are just three unconventional things I look at as a coach, which helps me to understand who’s a good teammate—and who isn’t. The cool thing is that they literally take no talent to do.
I’ll admit that blocking shots is definitely an art form, but the reality is that the biggest component to being great at blocking shots is simply having the hockey courage to throw your body in front of pucks, and do whatever it takes for the team.
The truth is that all three of these points are a choice; they’re a choice for each and every player to make. And what I like most is that they are instantaneous: They aren’t just asking someone a question and giving them the opportunity to make sure they say the right thing. Rather, they are a gut reaction. They show the true colors and character of the individual.
So… are you a great teammate?
Matt Schoepflin is a frequent contributor to CrossIceHockey.com. He is passionate about coaching and giving back to the game that has given him so much. His website, Boost Hockey, helps hockey players grow into the individuals they want to be.