19 July 2021
Back to Quito, Ecuador we went, but for a different purpose this time around. Let's backtrack 6 months ago when we ran our first PGKA free clinics here. We had a packed schedule and saw as many people as possible ending the trip with an exhibition game against the Men's National team who participated in the Pan American Games. We also hosted a coaches workshop and a parent Q&A session as we learned quickly the lack of knowledge this amazing country had regarding the Do’s and Don'ts of inline hockey. This time around a request had been made for PGKA to assist in running an official National Tryout for Junior Men, Senior Women and Senior Men teams who are planning to attend the World Championships.
So Pablo phoned me up and said I hope your week off was enough time spent with your family as I need you to fly out in a few days after being 3 weeks away in Europe. So I did what any responsible loving husband would do, I consulted with my wife and agreed to terms. The terms are not important but let's just say the Hammond family will be going on holiday very soon :) So after getting the support I needed from my family, Pablo and I put together the entire plan which would include 5 days in Ecuador and 5 days in El Salvador with a few days in Brazil before and after to further plan our projects.
I link up with Pablo in Brazil and off to Ecuador we go. Last time it took us around 9 hours to get there but this time for some reason the trip was going to take us over 16 hours, which included 3 planes to finally arrive. One can only assume, covid regulations and flight prices were our deciding factors as Pablo also slummed it with me back in economy class. No leg room, a line for the bathroom and limited choices on adult beverages (as in zero) but a small sacrifice to pay in order to make everything work and for me it makes no difference as I sleep 90% of the time as long as I have a window, which my CEO always makes happen :).
We are greeted at the airport by Lewis Cortez (Head National Coach Ecuador) and the man who made all of this possible. We head to the hotel which is across the street from the rink (10m) from breakfast we can see all the action. This turns out to be the best decision we have ever made and here is why. Quito weather is out of this world. One hour its pouring with rain, the next howling with wind. Blink two times and the sun is roasting you. It changes so quickly you never know what to wear. I must admit Pablo and I changed on average 3 times per day depending on what mood the weather gods were in. The convenience and location of the hotel also allowed us to sneak in a few power naps as we were at the rink the entire day. When the rain started we would sneak away and go relax until the court was dry enough to use.
The schedule was agreed upon by all parties and it was decided that each team trialing would have 3 training slots over the weekend to impress the coaching staff and prove to everyone they were worthy enough for the cause. Jr men would go first, followed by Senior Women and last would be Senior Men. We used this recipe the entire weekend which allowed some of the elite junior men to also join the senior skate. The senior skate would feature 6 goalies and over 30 eligible players outside of the juniors which was amazing to see.
For those of you who are unaware, the typical inline hockey team consists of 12 players and 2 goalies, meaning the coaching staff would have some tough decisions to make and lots of players would end up getting cut. Now to the untrained eye, trials should be easy as you just choose the best players and boom there is your team. Unfortunately it's not that simple, if you're looking for a winning recipe. Most all star teams ( teams selected of normally the top point getters) are usually unsuccessful. A true team is made up of a group of individuals all performing different tasks to reach a common goal. There are a lot of important jobs on the rink and a lot of roles that are extremely important but sometimes go unnoticed.
When selecting a team, it is first important to identify a style of play you wish your team to play. How much emphasis do you put on Speed, puck protection, scoring, defensive minded and the list goes on and on.
How many goal scorers do you need? How many leaders? How many puck possession guys, how many role players vs how many star players? Now there is no exact recipe for this and every situation is different but you get the grasp of the whole concept. When selecting your team it is important to choose the best players for the specific position you are searching for. Another huge eye opener is team chemistry. Some players trust other players more regardless of skill. It could be because of an off rink friendship or that player doing the grunt work, whatever it is, some chemistry is just undeniable. My last favorite stereotype is the player who looks great in drills. We all have a few of these guys and they always seem to get such praise by novice coaches as they don't know what to look for. I love debating over a player who does everything right in practice. He or she is the fastest, great hands and scores a ton of goals when the goalies face 100’s of shots, but as soon as the game starts these players disappear and the real players surface to the top. The quick flash in the pan style of players seem to be the easiest for myself to cross off the list and their turnovers are usually too high. Their mistakes heavily outweigh the positives, but you always get the one coach that says, but did you see that goal he scored, I mean he went end to end and popped the bottle off the net, how can we not take him. He is the best guy out here. I usually respond with yes I did, but did you notice how many times he turned the puck over. How many times his poor decision resulted in the other team getting a shot on net and how many times his decision to try and be the hero frustrated his own teammates.
The truth of the matter is we as humans all have certain things we like and certain things we dislike. I like guys who “think” they are sometimes harder to see as they might not be as flashy, but they understand the game so well and usually these are players who will make the right decision 9/10 times. I dislike the “Slapshot guy” , the guy who thinks taking 50 slapshots and scoring on 1 is making the right play. To me mostly of these guys have zero hockey sense as the harder you shoot or the louder it sounds does not make you score more goals. Typically the slapshot guys are either hitting the goalie in the chest or shooting so far wide, either way it's nearly a turnover over 90% of the time.
So there we sat, hour after hour watching hockey. Coaches moved players around to see what parts mixed and what parts didn’t. Some players were given opportunities to lead, while others were given opportunities to follow. Multiple conversions were had by the coaching staff and PGKA provided answers and comfort in times of need. At the end of the trials I am 100% confident the coaching staff has a better understanding of what it is they truly want. I am confident they will make the correct decisions in hopes of building a strong program for the future. It was truly an honor and a big learning curve for myself to witness and understand the thought process of a foreign nation. I would like to extend our gratitude for being involved with this entire process and I am very excited to see Ecuador at the World Championships in the near future.
I will not mention names but we did identify a few gems that we would like to give an opportunity too if possible. Some were seasoned vets and others bright young stars who both myself and Pablo felt had potential. If the correct opportunity presented itself we would be willing to take a chance on them somewhere down the road.
Rule # 5 The best is yet to come.