August 12, 2011
At the end of every season, there's an awkward handful of minutes somewhere around locker clean out day that all players have to endure — the exit meeting.
From Junior hockey to the NHL, it makes sense to have a little de-briefing session before parting ways and preparing for next year. Most players like to leave a team on good terms, being that they usually aren't 100 percent sure where they're playing the next season, so it's good to get the loose ends tied up, say your goodbyes, thank you's and any additional comments, and be on your way.
Often, coaches use it as an opportunity to let the player know how they'd like them to improve over the course of summer; and in turn, the player has the chance to nod and fidget and wait for the forced conversation to end. A few (short-sighted) players take the opportunity to call the coach an A-hole, if that's their opinion and they know they're not coming back. It's not like he can take away your ice time after the season.
Here's a look at your standard exit meeting, or more specifically, an example of the type of exit meetings I usually had.
The player walks in to the coach's office, where his two assistants are awkwardly flanked and exposed, while the big cheese is behind the desk. After some awkward group greeting, coach will then proceed to make some even-more-awkward "hey the year's over we can be buddies now sorry about that time I called you F'ing loser" conversation.
"You and the boys get into one last night or what big guy? I bet you did. Haha, right on!"
(As I mentioned, I realize not everyone had the same experience as myself at these exit meetings, but my understanding is that this "we can be friends now" intro was not specifically assigned to me.)
This is where I would usually start to sweat and feel uncomfortable, for no other reason than horribly forced conversation does that to me.
With a segue like comedian Steven Wright (none), you launch into the season — "Did you enjoy the year?" "Were you happy with your opportunity?" "How do you think your season went?"
After those questions are launched, here's where the coaches would put in their imaginary iPods, and set the dial to something cheery like "Just Call Me Angel in the Morning" (or whatever), and begin to hum along in their heads, nodding along with you. They've made it a "conversation" now, but in reality, the exit meeting is just their chance to tell you what to work on, so they'll wait their turn.
When your mouth stops moving, they tune back in. "Yeah yeah, that's great, totally agree. Annnnyway…."
Commence with some variety of: "I thought you improved a lot this year. You have a bright future in hockey, you just need to work on….
• Getting stronger
• Your play along the walls
• Protecting the puck
• Getting to the net
• Filling waterbottles, washing jerseys
• Your resume
My exit meetings were usually a mix of faint praise mixed with what I imagine players feel like on the wrong side of arbitration, then compliments sandwiched by the fact that I'm a "good team guy" or "easy to have around."
In other words: "Thanks for not murdering anyone and making us have to deal with the repercussions."
As you move towards the closing statements, things finally get more comfortable — "Where are you planning on living this summer?" and "How's the girlfriend/wife/family?" and stuff that feels less business-y. By this point, those topics are welcome.
I always got along well with my coaches, so the meetings really weren't as miserable as I made them sound, but in today's age of texts and emails, sitting face to face for a performance review is something you look forward to putting behind you.
I'm sure it's no fun for the coaches either, but it is nice to leave that room knowing what they just said wasn't designed to be manipulative, as so many things throughout the season tend to be.
You rarely get to directly communicate with your coach for more than a few minutes here and there throughout the season, so you take what you can get.
Hockey is a small world, and nobody can afford to burn many bridges, so they usually end the same way.
Great job all around this year guys! Let's all shake hands.