Stop Bad: Practice night in Canada
Like many kids who grew up in Canada, hockey was a big part of my life (and still is). I started playing when I was five years old and played for almost 50 years. When I joined the fire service, I noticed similarities between a hockey team and a fire-service team, from pride to hard work, fun, and the desire to become a better team. Hockey night in Canada is part of our culture. In many mid-size to small towns, so is fire practice night.
A few years ago I had the honour to coach my two sons, who were playing hockey at the midget rep level. Once I got into coaching, the similarities between a hockey team and a fire-department team became even more apparent to me, especially when I started to develop and plan hockey practices. Each hockey practice had to be very carefully planned to ensure the best use of the limited ice time (training time). The practices needed to include individual as well as team development time while ensuring a high level of safety for everyone. I have often used the same format to develop fire practices; if I showed up at the rink without a written practice plan, the practice session would not be very productive and the team would not develop or be ready for the next game. I spent hours researching and planning my hockey practices. I thought about past games to see what we needed to improve. I went to watch successful teams practice to see what they were doing. I learned that the most successful hockey teams were the ones that had the best practices. We need to do the same in the fire service. Check in with other fire departments to see what they are doing and steal their best ideas. Train with them.
I would show up at the rink well before the scheduled start time of practice to ensure I was ready to deliver my planned practice and that I had the necessary resources to run my practice. We need to do the same in the fire service. Show up early.
Before a typical hockey practice, I met with the other coaches to assign tasks. We need to do the same in the fire service. We then had a team meeting to discuss the goals and objectives of the hockey practice with an emphasis on training hard but safely. The best fire practices start the same way and include a tail-board safety talk. The hockey practice started with some warm-up drills to get the mind and body ready. We need to do the same in the fire service.
Next we did some individual skills such as skating and shooting; same for fire practice, only these drills might be donning and doffing, or knot tying. From there, we moved into line drills (line rushes, breakouts); again, same in the fire service, except our drills might be stretching a line or throwing a ladder. Then, we worked on some special-teams drills (power plays, penalty kills); same in the fire service, except these drills might be vent, enter, search, or auto ex. With the assistance of additional coaches, we might have worked on more individual skills such as goaltending or face-offs; same as in the fire service, except these individual skills might be driver/pump operator, coaching a new incident command or incident-safety officer.
If hockey practice went well we finished with a scrimmage, allowing team members to use their combined skills. If the practice didn’t go so well, we continued to work on areas that needed improvement. For our fire service practices, the scrimmage would be a scenario or two that encompassed many of the things we had practiced. At the end of the practice we meet to discuss what went well and what needed improvement. We also discuss any safety issues including communications, personal equipment and rehab. After the hockey practice I would make adjustments to my practice plan and put it away to be used later, maybe even next year. You can do this with your fire practices – design a solid practice plan and save it for future use.
The next time you are tasked with putting together a great fire practice, think about it in terms of a hockey practice. Just like a fire, do not show up to deliver a fire practice without a plan: it will not go well and your department will suffer. The best departments train hard using well-structured and meaningful practice plans.
One big difference between hockey and the fire service is that in the hockey world we would know our schedule and opponent, whereas in the fire world we do not know when our next event will be or type of incident to which we will be called. Furthermore, in the fire world, if we do not play well, we are exposed to great personal risk.
Remember, a hockey coach is a lot like a fire-service leader; poor leadership equals a poor team. Our team manager is our local government and our fans are our citizens.
Practice hard and often and get ready for your next big game!
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