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This article was published 9/3/2021 (194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The efforts of a St. James hockey coach made to connect with his players throughout the pandemic has earned the admiration of parents and peers.
Reece Cretton, coach of the St. James Canadians AA U13 White hockey team, explored new ways to interact with the aspiring hockey players and their coaching staff, which also includes assistant coaches Jason Campbell, Bryan Mackenzie, John McCammon and Preston Phillips, and team manager Kathryn Day.
"When we were no longer able to use indoor ice at the end of October, shutting down all practices and games, we as a coaching staff and team decided to move to Zoom team meetings, like so many others, as our form of communication and interaction," Cretton said.
"We set up four 45-minute Zoom calls a week as a team. A typical week would include two interactive video sessions where we would watch hockey-related highlights and clips to help increase our understanding of the game as well as relating it to our practices and how it applies to us as individuals and a team."
The third meeting focused on a team workout or skills session, such as stickhandling or shooting. The players did these workouts and skill sessions several more times during the week on their own or through video interaction as a group.
"The fourth meeting would be used as our floater. It included items such as a hockey-related scavenger hunt around the house, a show-and-tell day to get to know your teammates and coaches better, instructor-led yoga, hockey trivia, as well as more serious topics like mindset, breathing and mental health," Cretton said.
"The highlight, however, was when we were fortunate enough to have Winnipeg’s own NHL player Cody Glass (of the Vegas Golden Knights) join us for a (question-and-answer session) with the team.
"We also issued a Team Canadian fitness challenge over Christmas break with a reward for meeting our team goals - coaches included."
The team also engaged in a friendly individual competition featuring a bingo card of activities to complete over the holiday season.
Since this is the highest level of organized winter hockey available for players at this age level, Cretton said it’s a big part of their lives and something they look forward to daily.
"They are used to a routine and being at the rink five to six days a week. We wanted to do our best to still give them that sense of belonging and connection that they get from playing hockey," he said.
"Each year at their age can also be crucial in their progression and growth as a player and person.
Overall, we wanted to give these players an opportunity to continue to grow, learn and develop both as hockey players and people, all while having some fun."
Through these virtual connections, they’ve fostered a sense of pride and accomplishment as a team and as individuals, he added.
"We have witnessed new friendships develop. We have watched the players mature in being responsible for their own schedule and their confidence in participating during meetings," said Cretton, who thanks the players for their hard work and parents for their support.
"I think the players have also learned about accountability and how to motivate and push themselves and each other in new ways. Ultimately, we feel the players have learned to adapt and discover new ways to learn — not only about the game of hockey but about themselves as well."
For parent J.J. Ross, Cretton stands out as a role model during this unprecedented season.
"He has shown the team some valuable life lessons of resiliency, leadership as well as time and dedication to a team. A virtual season is not what volunteer coaches signed up for at the outset of this hockey season," he said.
"But, in true Coach Reece fashion, he led by example and showed the players what it means to be resilient."
It’s refreshing to see selfless volunteers like Cretton, who are crucial to the delivery of sports, Ross added.
"He stepped up and dealt head-on with each public health measure and made the best of an unfortunate predicament," he said.
"He was able to create a four-day per week routine of virtual meetings and some normalcy that is so necessary for 11- and 12-year-olds."
The dedication of Cretton and his coaching staff created a positive impact on Ross’s son Jack and the other players.
"He has learned valuable life skills of time management and accountability to his team, both in meetings and his own time. He has been given unique and true leadership opportunities by leading team meetings and running workouts," Ross said.
"Coach Reece has inspired both him and his teammates to not only better athletes but a better people as well. It was amazing that Coach Reece was able to capture a true team atmosphere without being on the ice — a true bright spot in the pandemic for our family."