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Therien's Take: Gratitude for my Coaches

by Chris Therien @ctherien6

I think every person involved in any workplace, whether it's pro sports or an office building or blue collar job in Philadelphia. deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. 

I cannot and will not condone the behaviors that have recently generated a wave of publicity in conjunction with the firing and/or internal team investigation of several coaches. I applaud the NHL for the league's establishment of its Declaration of Principles and zero-tolerance policy as relates to some of the recent cases that have come to light. 

That said, I can only speak from personal experience. I am not here to throw anybody under the bus. I can truthfully say that I liked most of my coaches; loved a couple of them, disliked a couple while I played for them, but learned from all of them for different reasons.  

In fact, I'm thankful for the journey I was placed on and I'm thankful to the coaches who tried to make me a better player, however that may have been. Never once was I physically confronted, attacked or felt threatened by one of my NHL or pre-NHL coaches. 

Yes, I was verbally berated many times in my career; sometimes more vehemently than others and sometimes at a louder volume than others. I never took it personally, even if I wasn't happy about it. It was always hockey-related, never an attack on me on as a human being. 

 Additionally, once I took a step back from however I felt in the moment, I was usually able to understand the wider purpose of their words. As a young player, it was to make clear what I needed to do to help the team. As a veteran, it was make sure than everyone was kept accountable. That included tenured players on the team.

As most readers know, Bob Clarke was a player I greatly admired when I was a kid and became one of my favorite people when I got to know him during and after my playing days. That, however, did not spare me Clarkie's wrath when he was the Flyers general manager and I played for the team.

Bob always, always, always operated through a team-first prism. When he felt someone wasn't contributing their absolute best to the team, that person would know about it. 

More than once in my career, in fact about once per season, Clarkie would call me to his office. I can assure you all it was not about him telling me how great I'd been playing or to just shoot the breeze. In fact it was quite the opposite. He'd greet me in a cordial way, exchange a pleasantry or two, and then immediately get to the point. In no uncertain terms, he would let me know that my play had been lacking of late and it was time to get back on the horse. He'd challenge me to start playing the kind of hockey that he expected from Philadelphia Flyers players. It wasn't said in a gentle way. 

Every player, whether it was a star or a role player, is accountable to the GM as well as to feedback from coaches. The 82-game season is a marathon, and every player has his peaks and valleys.

This was how I took the feedback from Clarkie: One of the greatest leaders in the history of team sports was trying to get me going. How could I not listen to him? 

Something else I learned: focus on the central message and not the delivery style. Some of my coaches were more blunt than others. Some tried to sandwich positive feedback before and after offering a critique.Some were very sparing on positive feedback at all. Some were equally kick with a pat on the back or a kick in the butt. Some were more inclined that others to raise their voice. 

Specific to Clarkie, I can honestly say that I left feeling motivated to improve from his feedback. You know what I learned? I learned that about 95% of the time he was right and the other 5% of the time he was just trying to do his job to keep guys on the edge of their seats and make sure that they were not getting complacent.

When you're too comfortable in pro sports, almost inevitably it means that someone will be creeping up behind you, looking to take your job. That's the nature of the sport. 

I clashed with many coaches over the years. I'm man enough to tell you that I was not an angel off the ice and far from flawless on the ice. I probably deserved most of the things that were said to me. You live and you learn, even if it's not always the easiest thing in the world to hear unpleasant things about your performance and preparation. 

Being a professional athlete, including playing in the NHL, brings with it a lot of rewards, accolodates and perks. It also brings a lot of pressures and potential distractions. It's a macho universe in that zero excuses are tolerated. Whatever else that's going on, whether it's a personal situation or a nagging physical issue, does not relieve a player of accountability to 100 percent focus at the rink on preparation and performance. 

There's an old saying in this sport: "Are you hurt or are you injured?" If you're hurting, you still had give your 100% to play and play effectively. If you're injured -- physically incapable of playing -- rehab the hell out of it to become available as soon as possible and then play effectively once you're back. 

People on the outside see all the glory but they do not necessarily see the body of work that goes in to a game day for an entire season. Due to the pressures, I think that can be a frustrating time for players and, yes, a very frustrating time for coaches as well when things do not go according to plan. The inclination at those times is be aggressive in trying to correct whatever issues arise that get in the way of peak performance and team victories.

I'm not here to throw anyone under the bus. Were there times that I got my feelings hurt by things that were said? Yes. Were there times where certain buttons were pushed, specifically to produce a desired response? Yes.

But in my experience -- not speaking for anyone else's experiences -- it was never personal. I never felt demeaned as human being away from the rinl. How would I have responded if I had felt that way? I can't say. I can only say that I felt that as long as it was hockey-related, I was OK with it and I think that most of my teammates and opponents would agree. 

I'm now more than a decade removed from my playing days. Perhaps I was just a product of a different time, and I think that we have to understand what a different time means. The players of the 1990s and early 2000s had different expectation and were often treated far better and with more dignity than by coaches in the 1980s, and they had different norms than those of the 1970s, and so on for every generation dating back to the early days of the sport. 

Likewise, now that Gen-Xers like me are no longer playing in pro leagues (well, unless your name is Jaromir Jagr and you own the Czech team for which you play!), I think we need to understand that today's players have different experiences and expectations than the players from my generation. 

Times change, and so do people. I am very thankful now to all of my coaches for all of their instruction and feedback. I've passed some of the things that i was taught on to my own kids. 

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