Getting School District Buy-In

The game of Floorball has increased its interest in grammar and secondary school play across the United States. I’ve witnessed this first-hand, at The North Thurston School District in Lacey, Washington.

Training 10 North Thurston physical education professionals at the elementary level, Floorball Guru focused on training ways to incorporate Floorball into the PE curriculum, invigorating ways to create standard school play implementation for the broader student body.

During that time we went through a basic background of the sports rules, history, where it’s currently at, and what the future of the sport is shaping into. The majority of the session was focused on teaching them how to instruct Floorball as if they were my students.  Throughout the time there were various Q & A’s and I ran them through a demo of what they would expect in teaching their students.

At the end we spent time scrimmaging and playing the sport.  While all of the teachers play floor hockey in their schools none had seen Floorball.  At first they were a little skeptical about it, and it wasn’t until we started playing the scrimmage where they really understood the difference. There’s something serenely enjoyable about seeing people new to the sport find the same joy I have playing.  In the end everyone wished they had more time in the session to play.  As we were finishing up there was more conversation between the different schools trying to think about how they could implement Floorball into their schools. There was an energy among them where you could see their minds racing on how Floorball would fit into their programming.

The focus of the session was built around showing how Floorball will fit as a viable sport, as well as how Floorball differs from floor hockey.  I modeled my instruction as if they were students and I was the teacher, but I made a point to stop and give them some more insights into what I wanted them to get out of it.  A good base to build off of is being prepared and having the right information available through a curriculum.  A solid curriculum allows the instructor to be mentally prepared to teach their class. Obviously there are times when you need to throw it out the window and adapt, but an instructor should come prepared for such occasions and be able to direct the players accordingly.

Schools are currently offering Floorball programs, though it’s not the norm.  However, I believe it will continue to grow in popularity as time progresses.  One aspect of why I started Floorball Guru was to be a resource for anyone interested in getting started, and have a place where they could be supported in doing so.  While I do my best to get out to schools I’ve developed a curriculum that can be utilized in a variety of settings.  The learning curve to start Floorball is short, and can be easily implemented into current systems.

Youth Player Introduction To Floorball

Introduction of any sport is easy, but the game of floorball causes more kids to remain active for longer than any other sport that I’ve be a part of.

Give a stick and a ball to just about any child regardless of age or skill and they’ll take off without any direction.  The beauty for most kids is that they want to participate in sports like Floorball.  The trick is effectively guiding them in learning the necessary skills to properly develop.  Kids as young as 18months can pick up a stick and move the ball around.  Through this development kids are learning any number of skills that will benefit them developmentally from depth perception, hand eye coordination, and gross motor skills.

I spend a lot of time working with beginners in the sport.  Living in the Pacific Northwest hockey isn’t a regular sport being played by most kids.  Normally the only time kids play hockey is through their school physical education program.  In most cases it’s a 6 week program once a year at best.  When I meet new players I spend more time focused on helping them become comfortable holding and maneuvering a stick and ball.  Floorball is an adjustment.  The sticks are light, as opposed to heavier hockey sticks, and the ball is very light.  What we need to teach is a soft but controlled touch.   This can be difficult when you have a group of 10-20 students all anxious to get playing, but it’s important to take the time to go through basic stickhandling drills.  When I teach a class in this format I make sure they can see me and I demo the skill then ask them to follow.  I’ll walk around giving feedback as necessary.  The key is to continually encourage them and remind them of the skills.  It’s very unlikely that they’ll take to it right away, but given time will develop.  I’ve found as an instructor giving positive feedback and encouragement is beneficial for new players.  Once we go through a few stickhandling drills I’ll move onto one or two more drills before scrimmaging.

I’ve been around youth sports as a whole for a number of years as a coach and a player.  One thing I’ve noticed is that most practices tend to be too focused on the skills and little time promoting and encouraging play.  Remember the group I’m talking about are between the ages of 10-14, and in most cases have never played before and need to hopefully develop a passion for the sport.  One way to do that is to play.   I will go through the basics for the rules and will use a stop start method as we scrimmage as a means to teach and reteach skills, rules, and tactics to the game.  With one ball and 10 kids they’ll all likely run at it at the same time.  It may drive the instructor crazy, but given time and proper instruction they’ll catch on.  Far too often we don’t let the game just happen.  As coaches we want to control or add tactics to the youth game when kids aren’t able to understand or comprehend what they mean.  It’s our job to take a step back and remember our players are learning and we need to walk them through the process.

An Inclusive Game

As is the mantra of many organization and people the notion of inclusion is prevalent throughout the floorball community.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to play regardless of where they’re coming from.  We’ve seen this play out through Special Olympics, Paralympics, and Title IX, based on the idea that everyone should be able to play.

As coaches and facilitators we’re tasked with figuring out how to make sports more adaptable and inclusive for our participants.   Whether we need to adjust a piece of equipment or rule the goal should be to create opportunities for all wherever they are.

The International Floorball Federation has partnered with various organizations in order to spread floorball throughout the world.  As a result the IFF launched a number of programs and partnerships in order to bring floorball to the world.  In the past year there have been big stride through partnerships with Special Olympics and floorball being an official sport in the World Games in 2017.  Through these partnerships the IFF is reaching out to developing countries such as the Middle East and Africa in order to educate and help programs start there.  At the 2017 Special Olympics World Games Africa was represented in floorball for the first time.

For organizations or groups looking to be more inclusive floorball is a great sport to help with that mission.  The equipment and rules can be easily modified to be more inclusive allowing more players to engage in the sport.  Special Olympics has taken steps to build more inclusion through their Unified Sports programs which pairs athletes with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.  Their focus is to break down stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities.  The program is relatively new but has grown, and they’re in America they’re in the midst of adding floorball as a unified sport.

For physical education programs floorball can be used as an inclusive sport with all students regardless of ability.  While it may take some creativity to find appropriate adaptations to equipment or rules it can and should be a priority to ensure inclusion for all.

Creative Program Marketing 101

Whether you’re starting a new Floorball program or hosting an event there is a lot of planning that goes on prior to things happening.

Once you’ve made the decision to move forward it’s important to sit down and hash out your marketing plan.  Some key things to consider is revolve around how you plan to inform people about your program or event.  Do you know what your marketing budget will look like?  Do you have access to sponsors that could help defray the costs?  In today’s world we’re in an interesting mix of generations that didn’t grow up with technology, grew up with technology, and those that don’t know a world without technology.  Your marketing strategy will vary depending on your market.

The obvious choice in marketing for most will be to focus solely on digital media including social media sites, and email blasts.  Depending on what you’ve already set up and the followers you have this can certainly be an effective tool.  Sites like Facebook have advertising options available.  You can set a number of parameters to find your target audience within a varying radius to you or your event.  You can set up an ad for one event or by contacting Facebook can set up a sponsored ad.  In my experience this particular marketing option has been mixed, and I haven’t been able to effectively correlate the expense of the ads to income.  In the end it depends on what you feel is best for your organization as well as how it fits in your budget.

While digital marketing has gained significant focus in marketing there’s still something to be said about print materials.  Print marketing has in many cases slowed down, but it is very much an effective tool to promote your program or event.  In the research I’ve done exploring this topic I found that a lot of it depends on your location.  I surveyed parks and recreation departments in Washington State inquiring about how they promote their programs.  What I found was that print marketing, specifically for the city guide brochure, was still favored yet was declining.  In some cities they had effectively dissolved printing their guide, and had gone completely online.  At the time of the survey Bellevue, WA Parks and Rec, the home of Microsoft, went completely online and in doing so saw a small decrease in programs, but nothing substantial.  However, when more rural cities tried to go completely digital they saw a dramatic drop off in program participation.  It wasn’t until they reintroduced their print materials that they saw an increase in participation.

I’ve found that trying to utilize a mixture of print and digital mediums can help provide a more cohesive marketing plan when specifically targeting a program or event in your local or regional area.  If you’re doing youth programming the kids may be tech savvy, but that doesn’t mean the parents are.  You need to get the info to the people who are paying for the program or event.   Either way you choose to market, get creative to get your message out to the masses.

Ball Control

Ball control is the name of the game. And often, the difference between winning or losing a Floorball game.

It’s no secret that to win Floorball games you need to score more than you opponent. How that plays out in a game will vary, but a team that controls the flow of the game has a higher chance of winning in the end.

While the amount of ball control a team has doesn’t necessarily correlate to winning, unless the team is able to capitalize on quick counter attack.  When evaluating most floorball games you’ll notice that a higher percentage of goals are score in the through a quick counter attack, or the ability to recover the ball in the attacking zone.  This fast paced style of play is what makes floorball so exciting to play and watch.  It also requires players to be more careful with the ball in the defensive zone, and places significant importance on the defenders to be able to control the ball accordingly.  A team that is unable to control the ball through their defense into the attacking zone will have a difficult time creating scoring opportunities.

Each player on the court should at any time be able to control the ball under pressure and either escape through movement or through passing to avoid the opposing team.  The skill of ball control takes time to develop and is one that all players from the beginning to advanced should routinely work to hone this skill.  As a coach there are a number of drill and scenarios that can be done to encourage ball control for the offense and the ability to pressure the opposite team without fouling.   The ability to effectively pressure the opposing team is a key component to a quick counter attack or a turnover in the offensive end.  Again turnovers in these areas give teams a higher percentage of scoring opportunities.

There are many examples of this, but one that sticks out was the final match between the USA and Canada in the 2016 World Floorball Championships.  It was a tight game played well by both teams with minimal scoring and scoring opportunities.  In the end it came down to one play.  With time winding down and Canada set up in the offensive zone the Canadian defense misplayed the ball at midcourt, which turned into a quick counter attack by the USA.  Despite an unfortunate bounce for the Canadians resulted in the deciding goal for the USA.  This is but one example of many on the importance of ball control through a match, and that very small missteps can turn into big goals for the other team.

If you can spend every day with a stick and a ball working and pushing yourself to be better and more comfortable stickhandling in various situations.  When I instruct we spend every lesson starting with ball control and building from there using various situational drills.   While players may not fully understand in the beginning the importance of this skill they will as they develop.

Separating Signal From The Noise

Floorball, especially when considering which equipment to purchase, can be an undertaking. That is why Floorball Guru exists, to separate the hobbyist education on the various components of the sport from those professional brands and equipment that will help you increase your game on the floor. Floorball is often confused with ice hockey, and there creates the need for differentials between the two games.

Stick-based sports have an education level to them. Floorball is no different than ice hockey and floor hockey.

Throughout my schooling and into college we always played floor hockey.  Due to a love of hockey I was always excited when we got to play hockey in PE, and my brothers and I would normally play street hockey at home.  One year we even froze our driveway and built a rink.  Needless to say our parents were not too thrilled to come home to that.  The problem I ran into when playing was that the equipment was without skates and hockey sticks tended to be too long and cumbersome, and you needed to wear extra equipment, which wasn’t as fun in the summer heat.  Then one day in Kelowna, B.C. I came across Floorball.  Instantly I loved the sport, and noticed that it was a more technical and faster sport.

Floor hockey players tend to need to wear protective equipment and can have a similar aggressive style of play as hockey.  Floorball on the other hand uses lightweight stick and ball, as well as rules of play that promote a safer and less aggressive style of play.  While there is contact in the sport, in general the rules are designed to minimize contact.  Floorball is a universal sport that can be played by anyone regardless of age, or ability.  Unlike a hockey stick, Floorball sticks are sized around the waist, and the rules require stick play to be under the waist. With a lighter stick giving more overall control, and rules helping to keep sticks down makes it a friendlier game.

Another difference pertains to the goalies.  In floor hockey goalies wear the same, or similar equipment that they do in ice hockey.  This equipment can be cumbersome and difficult to manage off the ice.  In floorball goalies wear a mask but they wear lower profile padding on the torso and legs and play primarily from their knees.  Floorball goalies are also allowed to grab the ball within their box and throw the ball to a teammate.  In many cases this style of play can create numerous counter attacking options for the offense.

One of the bigger factors between the two is that overall the cost to get started in Floorball is relatively low in comparison.  A stick and ball is all a player needs to get started, and games can be played on just about any surface making Floorball a versatile sport for hockey organizations, University intramural sports, and Parks and Rec departments.

The Way Forward – A player’s perspective

Guest Author: Matthew Coleman-Foster, USAF

Anyone that knows me will tell you that I am an individual who exudes pride for my country. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to represent and serve as a member of the United States Air Force. I have also been fortunate to have had the opportunity to represent and compete for my country as part of the USA National Floorball Team. I am as passionate about this sport and the benefits it has brought me and others as I am passionate about my country. I actively work on a daily basis to educate and implement Floorball programs around me.

For those who do not know, Floorball is an up-and-coming team sport.  There are various divisions of leagues, clubs, and national teams around the world, with the most developed area being Northern Europe.

A few months ago, I was watching the United States Men’s Floorball team play in the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. Prior to the start of one game, the announcers were talking about the two teams and noting where each player came from.  I distinctly remember one announcer pointing out a distinct lack of US based players on the team. For the World Games the entire team was made up of US born players that now reside in and play floorball throughout Europe. I have nothing but respect for those players, as many of them are my friends.  However, as a passionate US-based player and someone that is part of the USA Floorball organization, I feel that we need to be doing more to develop Floorball in the US.

Established leagues and programs

Floorball in North America is largely built around grassroots development, promoted by men and women around the country who are passionate about Floorball and are actively developing the sport in cities, states and regions. In order to build a solid foundation, we must be actively developing and supporting these businesses and organizations. The largest obstacle for us right now is a lack of education, awareness, classes, and leagues to engage and develop players. In order to do that, we will need to leverage positive relationships with local parks, recreation departments, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA’s, etc. These programs, if trained and supported properly, will accelerate the development of Floorball in the US. Developed leagues, clubs, and programs will allow for more development of our National Team system.

A Central Training Location in the US.

I believe the main struggle with promoting floorball in the US is the size of the country. It is a huge challenge building a team from all corners of the country, asking players to travel on their own dime, and be available for training on a regular basis. Having a central training location is integral for USA Floorball. We need a location for the national team to gather to prepare for upcoming events, training camps and selection. This location would also serve as a development center for potential and future USA Floorball athletes to hone their skills. The challenge with this is where do we begin?  What facilities do we have that can host or accommodate the needs of the teams?  Our national teams usually have less time to prepare compared to other national teams and I attribute part of that to there currently being no central training location.

Advocates for floorball within the US

Another thing that hurts the growth of floorball in the US is the lack of ambassadors. As a national team athlete, you are not only an ambassador for your country, you are an ambassador in your country for your sport. Especially if it is a new sport. This is one thing that US-based players can deliver on and foreign-based players cannot. There are many schools, gyms, and programs across the country looking for something like floorball, but they haven’t found it yet. The reason for this lies within the lack of incentive for US-based players. It is also difficult for current ambassadors of the sport to get taken seriously when they don’t have as much experience as foreign-based players.  Because of this, it is apparent that USA Floorball needs more US players. The current and future state of floorball in the United States depends on it. It will be off the backs of those athletes selected that floorball will prosper in the US.

Conclusion

If some or all of these steps are taken in an effort to improve the growth of US floorball, there would potentially be an increase in numbers for attendance to floorball clubs, creation of floorball clubs, development of youth floorball and general interest in floorball all around.  Floorball is an amazing and polarizing sport, but no one will know about it or share their experience with it when it is not effectively cultivated in the US. There are people who care about this sport greatly in the states, people that can properly utilize the experience and opportunity to represent their country. If we do not cultivate that enthusiasm, interest in the sport will diminish. I know that I and other floorball players living in the United States are very passionate about this sport and the growth of it in our country, but if there continues to be no progress in these areas we know that floorball in the US will begin to decline.  Floorball has had a profound influence on my life and I encourage anyone interested in this sport to get involved.

Fostering Team Development

Floorball team development is one of the most difficult and crucial aspects to any successful team.  While there are always players who stand out on teams in the end it is the collective team that wins and loses games.

However, being able to navigate the development of players from year to year can be quite the challenge if you’re not fully aware of what’s going on in group development and how to navigate it in the right direction.

It is widely known that there are multiple stages of group development.  These stages were first proposed by Bruce Tuckman and are the basis for group development.  Effectively teams or groups of people will go through a variety of stages grow, face challenges, tackle problems, to find solutions and deliver results. The stages are forming, storming, norming, and performing. Forming the group is the beginning of the season where players and coaches are still trying to figure each other.  As the team progresses through the season there will ultimately be conflict in various forms (storming).  In working to resolve conflicts the group has thus created new norms in which to operate and understand each other.  An example would be players knowing where each other are on the court and relay passes instinctually.  Now the team can begin to fully perform at their peak with everyone fully understanding their role on the team.  When players and coaches know and understand these phases they will be better prepared to recognize them as they happen and respond accordingly.

One thing people don’t know about me is that while working on my Master’s Degree I was employed as a team building instructor at George Williams College in South East Wisconsin.  I was fortunate to work with a variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds from corporate groups, schools, and sports teams.  The group that stood out to me in my time there was working with an elite volleyball club.  It was memorable for a number of reasons, but mostly that we were doing high and low ropes development in January and February where the temperature hovered below zero.  Needless to say being able to pull a team together while outside in 0 degree weather all day was a challenge.  While the athletes never touched a volleyball the entire time they were with us we were able to challenge them in various ways in order to bring out the stages of development.  In the end this form of training became a useful tool for the players and coaches to recall upon later on in the season.  At the time I know some of the players didn’t fully understand what was going on or why, and likely didn’t want to be there, but hopefully were able to recall the experience and use it later on.

While many sports teams focus on the development of the player there are many who forget to develop the team as whole.  Part of the job of a coach is to develop humans who will learn, grow, fail, and succeed.  At times this process may feel uncomfortable it is important to not shy away from it.  While I’ve won many games, and been part of many different experiences in my life the things I remember are the teams I was part of whose experience transcended simply winning.

Enlivening The Routine

For many players, even Floorball can avoid monotonous and routine training of other sports athletes.

While routines are great they can lead to players losing interest in their development.

At the time changing the training schedule can have a positive impact on the team as a whole.  In many cases this can be in the form of varying drills or more open play during scrimmages.  Training also needs to vary off the court too.  While many may focus on weight and cardio training it’s equally important to train smaller muscles and improve overall flexibility through Barre and Yoga training.  From a team standpoint that will likely mean contracting with a local instructor to come in and teach basic principles of these fitness skills.  This isn’t unusual as many athletes train in these skill sets.  For the NFL many players take ballet to improve strength and flexibility in their core.  While many players think sport specific in their training there are a lot of training techniques out there that are valuable for athletes as a whole.

I’ve used floorball in this way to change up the routine for collegiate athletes in basketball, volleyball, and track and field.  While those athletes are very much focused on their sport floorball in this manner is used to add a fun component to their training regimen.  Each coach comes at it differently in the end they know their athletes will still get a workout in that day.  The important things to take away is that players are learning new skills, working different muscles, having fun, and building comradery with their teammates.

When we change the environment or even the goal of the day we allow more opportunities to learn and grow as people, athletes, and teammates.  As a coach or player it’s important to take the time away from the routine.  For many the season is long and the work put in the off season to develop athletes and teams takes a lot of time and commitment.  I would recommend that coaches and players look through their training schedules and consciously add in time to mix things up.  The benefits may not be readily seen in the beginning, but can come out later on during the season when it’s really needed.

Why Hockey Players Love Floorball

When most people see floorball they think ice hockey, or some version of that.  Given the current growth of the sport in the US, ice hockey plays and more specifically the NHL has the possibility to help explode floorball into the main stream.

Hockey players are going to be drawn to the sport because it’s similar enough to what they already know.  However, if it gains mass appeal beyond hockey it will spread like fire.  While the argument can be made on which sport is the “fastest growing sport in America” floorball certainly has the potential to take that role.

Floorball and the NHL has already gained support with a handful of teams jumping into floorball.  The Dallas Stars were the first to get into Floorball, followed by the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils.  These efforts are part of a broader community outreach by NHL teams and local elementary schools.  The programs will vary from team to team, but the overall effort is building community and camaraderie with the players and residents.  Floorball is a natural fit for these programs.

With the NHL being a major sports league and their desire to attract more and more views and fans, Floorball can be a catalyst to reaching new fans.  While there are currently small groups and organizations playing Floorball that with a boost in education about the sport from the NHL we’ll likely see more organizations pop up to meet the new demand.  Because Floorball has more capability to attract a broader audience it’s equally likely that savvy investors will see the potential for the sport, and minor and/or professional leagues might begin to take shape over time.  As the NHL looks to expand it’s audience overseas, mainly in China, it would be beneficial for them to use Floorball as a dry land tool to attract their audience.  Floorball is growing in popularity throughout Asia, and the NHL should at least consider using this as a way to gain more attention, especially from younger players. The sport of Floorball will likely follow a similar growth pattern as sports such as lacrosse and soccer, which grew out of grassroots programs to become full-fledged professional sports.

If you are a student, or a parent that has kids and lives near an NHL team it’s likely you’ve seen this program implemented already.  However, be on the lookout as floorball is coming to your schools at some point or in some way.  Use the excitement to get involved and get playing.  See you on the court!