It’s a grand tradition of the Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) at W.C. Miller Collegiate in Altona, Man.
After enjoying the HCSA experience from Grade 9 to 11 as a pupil, Grade 12 students are invited to pay it forward by being peer tutors for the incoming crop of academy rookies.
Cole Martens and Ethan Franz were eager to offer guidance to the Grade 9 class during the 2020-21 school year. Unfortunately, the surge in COVID-19 cases throughout Manitoba in August shut down the opportunity. Schools were advised to reduce interactions between students of different grades as much as possible.
Rob Smith, the head of the W.C. Miller Collegiate HCSA for its entire 11-year existence, says it was challenging to sideline the student leadership program for a year. Fortunately, Smith’s role as director of player and coach development for Altona Minor Hockey enabled him to offer Martens and Franz an intriguing alternative.
“The manager of our U11 Gold team, who was one of the parents, told me that he didn’t want to coach,” says Smith. “I provided the contact information for Cole Martens and Ethan Franz, and they responded to the offer by saying they were all in to coach. And they are off to a fantastic start.”
Martens and Franz, both 17, have been best friends essentially their whole lives, and their respective hockey journeys have been entwined since their on-ice baptism at the U9 level. They have suited up together for Altona Minor Hockey, the Pembina Valley Hawks AAA program and the W.C. Miller Aces high school team.
Franz remarks that he and Martens’ friendship provided them with a strong foundation for a coaching partnership, and the fact they played different positions growing up – Franz is a defenceman and Martens is a forward – enables them to provide balanced instruction.
“We put ourselves in a position to make good decisions as coaches because we work hard to listen to each other’s perspectives while we are coming up with breakout drills or are diagraming a power play,” says Franz. “It is easy for us to think about positional considerations and to understand how the players feel.”
One of the advantages of the co-coaching setup is that one member of the duo can physically demonstrate a drill while the other provides oral instruction.
“Me and Ethan think it is a really good idea to let the kids see the drill rather than just hear it. It helps them remain attentive, and it increases their understanding of the drill,” says Martens.
The approach already bore fruit in the three weeks they coached before the Province of Manitoba instituted stricter COVID-19 restrictions in the first week of November that shut down hockey province-wide. In one October practice, the two coaches decided to introduce their young learners to a breakout drill. Martens says all the kids successfully executed the exercise by the end of that session.
Franz and Martens pay homage to their longtime mentor Smith by adopting the skills development approach in their U11 practices that Smith implements in the HCSA at W.C. Miller Collegiate.
Both Grade 12 students – juggling a hybrid between in-person and virtual learning – remember how their skating abilities grew dramatically under Smith’s tutelage because of the educator’s emphasis on practice and repetition.
Smith supported his two students with the U11 tryouts, and armed them with a portfolio of drills and practice plans to set them up for success. He is proud of their confident first weeks as coaches.
“They are well prepared as they come to every practice with a detailed plan and objectives in place. They also excel in creating an inclusive environment by focusing on team-building both on and off the ice. If they see a kid that needs extra attention, they are on it right away. They want the group to be genuinely tight-knit.
“Our U11 Gold parents must smile when they see these two young men get down on one knee to be at eye level with their kid to give a lot of one-on-one attention to kids who need it.”
The Franz-Martens coaching collaboration is primed to be more than a one-year venture. They plan on attending a kinesiology program together in Manitoba with the hopes of working together as community coaches and gym teachers.