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!

Training Days

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To be the best at Floorball, you have to put in the work.

Science tells us that in order to master something we need to put in 10,000 hours focusing on our craft.  While being a master of your craft is important that’s just one piece of the puzzle.  In order to continue to improve it’s equally important to keep your body and mind in optimal health.  Preparing your body and mind will help you improve your overall performance.  If the Boys Scouts of American have taught me anything it’s the motto “be prepared” that has served me throughout my life.  As I prepare for different competitions it’s important to use anything tangible as motivation to keep pushing and working.

How one prepares for competition will vary depending on their current health and age.  I’ve certainly learned that as I’ve aged it has taken me longer to recover, lose weight, or improve that I did when I was younger.  Through my own training for floorball and in working with a personal trainer we boiled down our training regimen to focus on explosive speed and stamina.  Through this training one of the things I’ve learned and taken to heart is the importance of the hips.  Having played any number of sports I never specifically trained the hips, or the smaller muscles surrounding them.  What I found in focusing on this area was reduced back pain, better flexibility, and improved performance.  As a result of improvement in these areas I gained more confidence in myself as I prepared for competition.

What I love about floorball is that it combines a number of sports into one and the training techniques are similar to other sports.  If you’re already playing soccer, lacrosse, and basketball you’re already working on the physical training for floorball.  In order to keep my training high I tend to cycle through 3-4 weeks of varying exercises focused on improving my stamina, quickness, and explosive speed.  Some of the equipment that has been helpful for me when training include a foam roller, stretch band, hurdles, and agility ladder.

One of the great things about our age of technology is the ability to have information at our fingertips.  While not everyone has access to a personal trainer or strength coach there is an astounding amount of information out there to help you.  While there is information focused on floorball don’t be afraid to look at other sports to help you improve.  The important thing is to stay focused, keep working, have fun, and don’t forget to rest.

A Sleeping Giant

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In the world of Floorball the United States is a sleeping giant.

It is loaded with athletic and talented athletes looking for opportunities to play at competitive levels.  When people see floorball they tend to gravitate to hockey or hockey players.  While many aspects of the game carry over directly to hockey players and they’ll naturally gravitate to it many will still see it as a training tool to their true passion, hockey.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all.  In fact that’s great that they’ll use it as a training tool to help them get to where they want to in hockey.  Right now floorball will rely heavily on ice hockey players to push the growth of the sport.  However, floorball is not a sport only for hockey players.

The bigger market and reach for the sport will come from the non-traditional hockey player.  At the youth level parents and kids have options to explore related to sports.  Hopefully as they develop at a young age Floorball will be part of their athletic development.  Eventually the sport will grow to become a standard throughout schools as basketball or volleyball currently is. Players who excel in sports such as basketball, soccer, and football and have natural athletic abilities will find in time a natural fit in Floorball.  The difference right now is that hockey players have the advantage of already having stick handling skills.

The likely mistake the majority of hockey organizations will make in the beginning is using this as a tool for their players without thinking about how to engage the broader audience.  I predict that over time participation numbers in Floorball will far outpace that of ice hockey.  In looking at USA Hockey in 2015-16 they registered 542,583 players, and 555,175 for 2016-17 (USA Hockey Statistics).  According to the National Federation of State High School Associations in 2014-15 (survey results) the number of high school athletes across the country sat around 7.8million.  While some of that included ice hockey the percentages of ice hockey participation is quite small, specific to high school sports.

Floorball is a great tool for ice hockey players helping to develop and improve a variety of skills it is more likely that we’ll see non-ice hockey players outpace their ice hockey counterparts over time.  This will become especially true if youth development is emphasized not for the growth of hockey players but floorball players.  Eventually players who compete in both sports will have to choose between following a path in ice hockey or floorball.  However, ice hockey programs can utilize Floorball as means to attract and retain players within their system.  With a lack of ice hockey throughout the country and with more available space to play Floorball, and a overall lower cost to play it is more likely we’ll see Floorball outpace ice hockey in the future.  I’m hopeful that more in the world of hockey will see the value of Floorball across many platforms and use it as a tool to further their programs and player development.

Importance of Officiating

(photo: adam troy)

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Floorball officiating is a valued tool in helping grow the game.

Without a doubt the people on the court who catch all the grief from fans, players, and coaches are the officials.  However, without them you can’t play organized matches or tournaments.  They are the keepers of the rules and masters of their domain.  What we tend to forget in many cases is that they’re people who are just as serious about their craft as the players.  Officials by and large want to be perfect, strive to make the right calls, and make mistakes.  Depending on the setting and skill level of the match, they’re also in a constant state of learning, evaluating, and re-learning to improve.  When developing new officials and new leagues we need to make sure that we’re giving them an opportunity to learn and grow.  Too often players jump all over the officials for calls made, and while those call can lead to goals or games lost in the end they’re still people.

As more clubs and leagues develop it will becoming equally important finding, training, and developing officials.  One of the great things about the internet age is that there are a number of resources readily available in print and digital form to help with the development process.  If you’re not sure where to start begin searching.  The International Floorball Federation has a variety of resources on their website to help including PowerPoint presentations on officiating.  In the US there is more planned in this area to help develop officials.  The US Nationals tournament traditionally has an officials development portion, and there are more clinics scheduled throughout the year.  This is encouraging as it will become key to the success of Floorball going forward.

To be an official the first step is to read and understand the rules and the varying nuances of the sport.  Spend time watch videos of matches to study up on situational plays and the fouls called.  The more time spent watching will help when the official goes to make a call live.  Once you have a grasp of the rules it’s important for officials to understand the various hand signals and what they mean.  It’s just as important for field players to know and understand these concepts as well.  One of the challenges developing countries face is getting people together for training.  Development and training for officials is a vital component to ensure consistent calls and growth of officials across the spectrum.  In the US this topic has come to the forefront as more groups begin to play Floorball around the country.  The challenge is both distance and cost to regularly fly to a training, which just isn’t a feasible option.  Ideally as this grows more and more people will be trained and the process will continue to grow.

In the end having a core group of trained and knowledgeable officials will help everyone.  Players want to play where they know the league has quality officials covering games.  Without it leagues will falter or stall in their growth.  However, nothing should come at the expense of treating officials poorly, especially at the youth levels.  This is where we must make a stand.  We must protect the officials and work to change the trend of abuse towards officials, especially young officials.  Without a development system of willing and engaged participants officiating games the sport will stall.  In the US we’re in a unique position because we’re all new and learning the sport.  Be kind to the official because they do help grow the sport in the end.

A Worldwide Sport

There’s an entire world playing the game of Floorball. As you look to expand you rec league or club programs, realize that Floorball is the next level of athletics already occurring internationally. That creates demand like no other.  Let’s break this down a little more.  You’re a program manager of a facility or collegiate program.  You’ve been on the lookout for new programs to engage your current customers while attracting new clientele.  Everyone does the same thing and for the most part they’re successful.  Soccer, Basketball, Football, and Volleyball programs have become a staple.  However, it’s likely that you might be missing out on attracting new clientele to your programs.  Floorball has the potential to attract current and new clientele to your program.  Overseas Floorball is catching on in a big way.  Given the play of Thialand and Singapore in the last Men’s World Floorball Championships they’re currently on the right path to be a force in the future.  In short, they’re investing in Floorball development at all ages.

While floorball is popular in Northern Europe on the other side of the world it has grown in popularity.  Countries such as Australia, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and Japan have built strong programs that continue to improve in competition.  Aside from the World Floorball Championships another major tournament is the Southeast Asian Games, or SEA Games.  The SEA Games is a biennial multi-sport tournament involving 11 countries, and is supervised by the IOC and the Olympic Council of Asia.

Floorball is a relatively new sport at the SEA Games debuting in 2013 in Myanmar.  At the time, it was not an official sport, but was used as a demo.  Moving forward to 2015 the sport has grown to be officially recognizes for both men and women.  Now, there are three countries competing on the women’s side (Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia).  On the men’s side, there are found countries competing (Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Philippines).  One thing to note is that both Singapore and Thailand competed in their first World Floorball Championships in 2016.

Unfortunately for Singapore their first WFC was a tough one ultimately finishing 16 out of 16 teams in the competition.  While Singapore defeated Thailand in the 2015 SEA Game 9-0 it was a completely different story at the WFC losing 8-2.  Singapore’s most notable win was over the USA, but by then they were already out of contention to clear the group stage.  Thailand on the other hand finished 14th with the majority of their team having trained in Europe leading up to the WFC and it showed.  In the end the growth of floorball in these countries is growing steadily and as time goes on it is likely they’ll see positive growth in the SEA games and WFC in the future.

Coaching the Women’s Team at US Nationals

(Photo: Adam Troy)

Every year the United States Floorball Association hosts the US Nationals Floorball Tournament.  This year the tournament was hosted in San Jose, CA at the Silver Creek SportsPlex.  The facility was a great location to host such an event, and in my mind sets the bar for future locations.  The US Nationals Tournament is also paired with a US National Team training camp.  This year the Coaches from the USA Men’s Floorball team (Stefan Hedlund, and Joel Olofsson) and USA Men’s Floorball player and MVP of the World Championships (Robin Brown) were there to train and teach prospective players for the US National Teams.  While time was spent working on training and skill development, a significant amount of time was focused on better understanding the game.  All of this served the players well moving into the tournament.

The US Nationals Tournament had eight teams from Reno, Menlo Park, San Francisco, San Jose, a mixed team with players from Colorado, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, and an all-women’s team.  I was on the multi-state team and I was excited to play with such a diverse group of people.  I was also asked if I would be willing to coach the all-women’s team, which I gladly accepted.  Given the current set position of Floorball in the US we’re normally converting players from other sports to play Floorball.  With that conversion comes a learning curve for all players.  In fact some of the women players were pulling double duty on other teams.  In the end while many players played 3-4 games a day they were playing 6-8.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the first day with the team.  We had many new players, and various ages on the team.  At the same time they’re going up against more experienced players and teams.  Going into the first day I spent most of my time working with the team on defensive positioning.  Building on the lesson from Stefan Hedlund’s instruction the day before, we focused on playing the percentages.  He’s statistically found that 70% or more of goals are scored in the middle of the court.  Given the competition we knew we weren’t necessarily going to out run them, so we had to be smarter.   In the development of the team the focus was not on the score, but on finding the little things that player were doing right and getting them to focus on that.  Each period of each game our goal was to be a little bit better as a group.  In the second game the girls showed progress and were able push forward and attack.  They created chances and worked well as a unit.  In the end it served them well.  Going into the teams last game the focus was on playing well, but they really wanted to win.  In the end the team did come out on top against a good team from Reno, NV.  In that game we lost half of our subs, but they worked hard and came out on top. 

I couldn’t have been happier for the team.  To end the tournament on a win was a great end to the weekend as a team.  They worked hard, they learned, the listened.  As a coach all you can ask is that players be willing to learn, try, and perform.  They were coachable.  This is a skill that is lost on many.  They put their heads down and worked hard.  As the only all-women’s team in the tournament they showed what they could do.  It is my hope that they are the start of something bigger.  Through them more women would see Floorball as a fun and exciting sport.  Hopefully we’ll start seeing more and more all-women’s Floorball teams compete at tournaments.