Healing and Hockey: Youth Win

One Roof Foundation and Kraken Youth Hockey Association stage learning sessions for coaches who seek their teams to be more positive, less stressful and decidedly inclusive – By Bob Condor @ByBobCondor nhl.com/kraken

November 01, 2023

In early September, more than 60 part-time and volunteer coaches with the Kraken Youth Hockey Association gathered at the Northgate Community Center across the street from the NHL team’s training center. The topic for the 90-minute evening session, wonderfully, was “Healing-Centered Coaching and Inclusive Coaching Strategies.”

The night was right on target for the Kraken Youth Hockey Association mission to “create a fun, positive and inclusive space that offers access to the ice, cutting-edge curriculum, and impactful coaching.” Plus, equally a perfect fit for “creating access and opportunities to youth so everyone who wants to play, can play,” one of the three pillars of action for One Roof Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena.

That such a session attracted those 60-plus coaches is a testament to the grown-ups who attended—and the Kraken staff deeply involved in youth hockey and the social impact endeavors of One Roof. Better yet, the coaching volunteers came prepared and eager to use their time to both learn and teach.

Adrienne Moore, director of movement building for the Center for Healing and Justice through Sport (CHJS) was co-leader for the night. She was quickly impressed with the coaches group as she dug into the topic of how kids’ brains process stress and how trust is an antidote and why “patterned repetitive rhythmic activity” (in hockey’s case, one example is the sound of pucks on sticks) is a direct route to transforming sport into a healing medium.

The idea that sport can teach and heal “and not harm is something most coaches understand,” says Moore, who played softball for Western Washington University before embarking on a career that blends the principles of youth cognitive development and sports.

“They get into coaching youth sports because they think that way,” says Moore when asked about audience intention and participation in September’s training. “Because there is not enough coaching education out there so when people get concepts or strategies that really resonate with that philosophy, they lean forward in their chairs.

“There were lots of questions, lots of feedback, and what we [Chris Reed, CHJS lead consultant was co-presenter] love to see is the room talking to each other. We pose a question or a concept and a coach would ask a question and we’d hear lots of wisdom in the room that’s not just us at the front. So coaches are sort of brainstorming back and forth: “Here’s what I do that works.’ It was really hockey-specific and really specific to the context of One Roof. That’s top-tier stuff for us.”

Moore will facilitate a “makeup” virtual session for Kraken youth hockey coaches on Nov. 13.

She will start the session the same as she does for coaches at all levels of sport from the Chicago Bulls through parks and recreation leagues throughout the country – with a short look at how our brains, specifically those of young people, react to stress – and what coaches can do to counteract the chaos that can be inside the mind of young athletes trying to fit in and perform and, yes, always the end game, have fun.

“Folks enjoyed that foundation [of the physiology of stress] and understood what it looks like when a young person’s stressed out and not able to do what the coaches are asking,” says Moore. “It was helpful for people to be able to assign some biology to what’s going on there and then understand how to think a little bit differently in those moments, which are usually pretty challenging.”

Moore and Reed streamlined years of wisdom and personal sport experiences to equip the youth hockey leaders with tangible coaching tools to create a healing-centered youth sports space, including strategies for working with non-binary and trans athletes. Specific points of emphasis included principles of inclusive coaching like unconditional positive regard, forego ‘leave it at the door,’ edicts (“bring your whole self instead”) and that language matters in all cases.

“Language matters” is one of 10 tenets the CHJS espouses. Here’s a sample: “Make sure that players are referred to the way they want to be – with proper pronouns and only nicknames they’ve approved. Watch for the default masculine language in sport and use gender-neutral language, such as ‘y’all’ or ‘folks’ instead of ‘guys.’”

Side note: After talking with Moore and studying the CHJS tenets, I am vowing to stop using “guys” when speaking to female, male, and non-binary co-workers.

The other tenets include “be predictable.” “plan for tough moments,” “create connections,” “share power” and “be brave, not perfect” (suggesting a Bravest Award).

One more tenet that shows CHJS educators’ experiences as athletes and coaches themselves: “Fair, not equal” in this context means “Equal is everyone getting the same thing. Fair is everyone getting what they need. This means differentiating instruction (with technique and social and emotional skills) AND differentiating reactions to and consequences of challenging behavior. Every player is on their own path and has to be treated that way.”

Moore says the Kraken organization asking for training specific to non-binary and trans athlete issues greatly enhanced the conversation among coaches in September and anticipates the same for the Nov. 13 virtual session.

“It’s impossible to do in a single session, but I think just raising it up and letting people ask questions and talking about it openly is a really good step towards making it part of your team culture,” says Moore. “People aren’t scared of talking about how they feel if they are competent enough to trust their judgment on creating safe spaces for kids.”

“That’s the first part of building that foundation of culture. Lots of the coaches probably know more than they think, but they think they need to know more than they do. Lots of their coaching strategies for creating safe spaces for kids will work, with little tweaks, for kids who maybe are traditionally excluded.”

If you’re a youth hockey coach and would like to attend the Nov. 13 make-up virtual training with CHJS on Healing-Centered Coaching and Inclusive Coaching Strategies, please contact [email protected] for more details.