'Sgt. Hockey' coaches more than the game
Last Updated: October 22, 2008 10:12 PM
Lindsey Craig Coach Features
Parents say Polsom's bench is always full since players
rarely miss a practice or game. (Courtesy of Ken Myrtle)When Linden Barnett was 11-years-old and first learned who his new coach would be, he thought, "Oh great, it's the old guy."
He wasn't alone. Lots of other players had watched Stan Polsom from afar too, shouting from the bench, his loud, hoarse voice echoing across the ice.
"When I first got on the team, I'd heard he was the mean coach," Barnett said.
It wasn't long, however, before he realized what most others do - that playing for Polsom means learning to become not only a better player but also a better person.
"You understand why he's doing this, and you really respect what he's going for," said Barnett, now 16 and member of Polson's midget house league squad. "It's the way he coaches you. He doesn't just make you want to play hockey, he makes you want to be good at it."
"He says, what you learn in hockey is what you learn in life, how you should be persistent, punctual, do what you're told and that all of that is important in life situations and jobs, too," Barnett said.
Barnett began playing for Polsom five years ago in North Vancouver. He's been on his team ever since, and isn't the only player who keeps coming back.
"Some of these kids are in their seventh year with me. Most said, 'If I'm not playing for you I won't play at all," Polsom said. "I much enjoy working with kids, it's a pleasure to watch them develop over the years."
Almost 40 years of coaching
With his players now 16 and 17 years old, Polsom is 74 and in his 38th season behind the bench.
The father of three (Russell, 49, Douglas, 47 and Lyle, 45) is a retired contractor originally from Prince George, B.C., who works full-time managing an apartment building in North Vancouver. His entry into coaching wasn't exactly planned.
He was at one of his sons' games watching the coach and didn't like what he saw.
"I questioned his ability to coach, and he threw the clipboard at me and said, 'If you're so smart, why don't you do it?' And right then and there I became the coach," he said. "I've never run from a challenge in my life."
He knows his voice can be intimidating.
"People think I'm hollering at kids and I'm not...I think it's my Welsh heritage, I remember my father, at church, you could always hear him above everybody," Polsom laughed, adding that some have called him Sgt. Hockey.
'Attitude for life'
Anyone who's been involved with Sgt. Hockey knows it's the message behind the voice that's more important.
"The kids just love playing for him...His coaching goes beyond hockey. He sets them up with an attitude for life, that nothing comes without hard work and discipline," said Dan McCartney, 49, who has coached alongside Polsom for five years.
McCartney's son, Spencer, 18, also played for Polsom for four years. He graduated from the midget level last year and can't stay away. This year, he's with the team again, but this time, he's learning how to coach.
"He knows a lot about the game. He can bring out the best of every player, even if they're not the best on the team. He finds out what his weaknesses are and can really help improve that player," Spencer said.
Lessons learned as one of Polsom's players include being accountable for your actions, working hard, and treating others - both on the ice and off - with respect.
Some of his rules include no smoking, no drinking, no drugs and "absolutely no swearing".
"I don't want to see a kid swearing up the ice. When you allow things like that you're not helping to build their character. It's very important that the coach help them establish a set of rules for themselves," he said.
Keeping it clean
No hitting is also a basic principle in Polsom's books. He was taught to play a rough game while growing up and doesn't teach it today, saying too many coaches encourage a "smash and crash" style of play.
"We are injuring far too many kids needlessly...If I'm coaching against your son, do you want me to send a player out to hurt him?" he said. "If he's better than us, we'll learn to play better to stop him, not to injure him so we win. That's not the kind of winning you want to teach."
Instead, Polsom focuses on teaching fundamentals -- skating, passing and shooting.
Being consistent with praise and criticism is also a staple. But the latter is always done in private, and in the most positive way.
"You give them praise in the lead up, and then, where they made the mistake, you don't say, 'You were wrong', you say, 'Next time, try this instead,'. If you say, 'You did this wrong' - you've already turned the switch off," he said.
Ron Barrett is a hockey parent who's seen Polsom in action and says his strategy works.
"His bench is always full, I mean, he's almost always got every single boy out," he said. "He's exceptional. He volunteers to coach because he loves the game. He coaches for all the right reasons."
And he does it with very little time. Polsom typically works 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week.
"I'm the plumber, the electrician, the carpenter, dry waller, painter - I do all the trades myself," he said. "I tried retirement once, but it didn't work."
It's like I teach kids in hockey, learn to enjoy the hard work of what you're doing. It becomes the way you live your life...How much effort you put into it is how far up the ladder you're going to climb," he said.
For more on coach Polson, read his profile.
For coach Polson's breakout drill, click here.
We learned of Stan Polsom through one of you. If you would like to suggest a coach for us to feature, please send a note to OurGame@cbc.ca.