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Does Being Young Have an Advantage in Coaching?

Youth Coaching from a 20-Something-Year-Old

Roof Top Ice Rink - Toronto, ON

It’s probably the question I think most about when I am around my teams. I fully believe it has its positives and negatives. Being the youngest coach not only in the Webster organization but even in the last three years of league play, sets me apart from the other coaches. I haven’t met a coach that doesn’t have a child on the team—easily putting them in the 30+ age bracket (sorry guys). I love being the young one out there, I can step on the ice during any clinic or our try hockey for free events and immediately connect with the kids much easier than any of the other coaches on the ice. Not saying it’s because I am a better coach, I’m saying it’s because of the age difference.

For example, last year I assisted a U16 NTB girls team—for the non-youth hockey engulfed reader, NTB is non tournament bound, otherwise a house team. I was turning 24 while coaching that team, the oldest girls on the team are 16 years old—thats a difference of 8 years. Compared to the head coach and other assistant coaches that were in their 40s, that's a huge difference (again sorry)! Not to mention these girls are only a few years younger than my sister, I had the edge when it came to getting through to the girls during this rough age in their lives. Right away being the young coach placed me as the good cop in the “good cop bad cop” routine. The head coach would come over and make a comment about their last shift, and then I would swoop in behind him and ice the wound. I wouldn’t by any means undermine him, I would just re-word what he said in a different way. The downside? They refused to call me Coach Olesh because of the age difference, I can deal with it…

Now fast forward to this year, I am coaching 10 year old boys—these kids were born in 2006, I was just a sophomore in high school starting my young road to coaching. This year the age difference is 15 years. I am old enough to looked at as a role model, but still young enough to be the cool coach and try to be followed on Instagram (which is another story in itself). The issue I run into, this year more than ever; where do you draw the line between coach and friend? You want to be liked, but on the other hand you want that sense of intimidation when you walk into the locker room and all goofing around stops because you walked through that door. At the end of the day, I still consider myself to be a kid too!

From a lacrosse stand point, I deal with high schoolers on a daily basis. That requires a different connection, where the kids know I have their back if they ever need anything on and off the field, but they also know that if they are putting themselves into a bad situation to come to me first and I can try to help or if need be I will go to the higher ups on the staff for help as the middle man—I’ve become pretty good at putting fires out before it gets to that point though. What’s that saying? What Mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her? I think that applies to sports as well, “What Coach doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” Yeah let’s go with that..

Back to hockey—another year older, another year of experience, still a lot to learn. I will never turn down learning especially as a coach. My team this year is really starting to click, we have a long way to go but every time we step on the ice there is improvement from the prior practice. We just hit the 10 win mark this past weekend with 5 league games to go in the season. Large part of that is thanks to my assistant coach Rick; an older coach and a role model of mine that has been on his fair share of winning teams, losing teams as well as professional teams. Having played for the legendary Don Cherry for the Rochester Americans straight out of high school, Rick’s knowledge reaches farther than just coaching, its playing as well. With his old school very vocal, to the point and for 10 year olds, occasionally harsh style of coaching I am once again able to play the good cop role. Once again, trying to keep that fine line of friend and their head coach, I can come over after Rick has torn through them about how they are lacking the hustle on the previous play and give them the “hey you got this buddy let's go” quick pick me up that gets them ready to go for their next shift. Not only are the kids learning something from Rick every time we are out on the ice, but I pick something up from him every practice as well.

My biggest battle with age comes into play with the parents. As time goes on the parents are starting to trust the decisions I make on a day to day basis more than in my last two seasons. I’ve always had that one parent that will ask me to make an executive call on something only to go with their own decision instead. This is my first season where I can say all the parents are on my side, granted I am sure an undefeated season this year compared to their 20+ loss season last year helps tremendously, but know they have my back in any decision I make is an amazing feeling.

So does being young have an advantage to coaching, specifically in youth sports? Yes I fully believe so. Being able to connect with the kids on a different level, able to ask them questions about the newest trend out there or just being able to poke fun of them because I know it will get a laugh out of them on a gloomy day. Our lacrosse coach always says that his goal is beyond sports, it's to make a better husband, neighbor, and all around citizen in the community and that sticks with me anytime I am around my boys. I know they are young and have a great deal of growing yet to do in their lives, but if I can tell them a story, share an experience, teach them something that will in turn change what could have been a negative decision into a positive decision when they walk out that locker room door, then I know I have done my job.

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