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Durham resident shares wealth of knowledge from 40 years of coaching

Veteran coach working with Oshawa hockey

Durham resident Richard Bercuson speaks to members of the Oshawa Bantom AAA team as part of a mentorship program he has developed for Oshawa Minor Hockey. Bercuson, who has more than 40 years coaching experience, has recently released a revised version of his manual, Inside Coaching Hockey, originally published in 2010. (Photo submitted)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

It is not uncommon for people to be proficient in multiple aspects of life, however, it is less likely they will be able to combine them into a successful partnership – but that’s what Durham resident Richard Bercuson has done.

Bercuson recently released an updated version of Inside Coaching Hockey, a teaching guide he first published in 2010 when he was the director of coaching for Hockey Eastern Ontario, one of three branches of Hockey Canada in Ontario, a region which includes approximately 5,000 players.

The Montreal native has coached minor hockey for more than 40 years at numerous levels, served as an assistant coach for Concordia University and coached professionally for a stint in France.

He has also taught Hockey Canada’s national coaching certification program and previously authored or co-authored manuals on a number of hockey-related topics.

In 1994, Bercuson worked with Tom Renney and Dany Dube, coaches of Canada’s national team at the time, in preparation for that year’s world championships.

“That was my 15 minutes of fame,” Bercuson quips.

Prior to moving to Durham Region, Bercuson was a teacher and coach at Ashbury College in Ottawa, a highly-regarded independent school.

With this wealth of experience has come a wealth of knowledge about the ins and outs of Canada’s national winter game.

“Most coaches collect drills, of course, we have a gazillion drills…but I collect ideas and I’m an inveterate thief. I see an approach, I see a style, I see a communication approach, and I go ‘hmm, I wonder about that,” Bercuson explained.

As to why he decided to print a revision, in addition to a few phrasing changes, Bercuson revealed the “framework” of minor hockey he is experiencing in the Oshawa-area is much different than that in Ottawa.

Since arriving in Durham, Bercuson has assisted Oshawa Minor Hockey in redeveloping its mentorship program, which sees members of the public work alongside local coaches.

As someone coming into the organization from the outside, he notes the local association has been overwhelmingly welcoming to his opinions and vision.

“The current president, two vice-presidents and past president – those four men have been more supportive in my year-and-a-half in Oshawa minor than I’d say 90 per cent of the people I’ve dealt with in the previous 45 years put together. They’ve been completely supportive and see development for what it is. When you register your child in a sport or activity, you want them to be provided the best possible experience with the best possible training, that’s the way they look at it and it’s the way I look at it.”

For Bercuson, the mentorship program has created a more streamlined approach for everyone involved.

“We’ve created a curriculum for every age group from the seven-year-olds right up to 14

and a standardized approach to running practices for coaches,” he says. “[This type of program] doesn’t exist anywhere else in Canada in a public area, it’s the only one of its kind.”

The ultimate goal of the program is to help coaches to cease from making the same mistakes over and over.

“I’m trying to get them to think about what they are doing more instead of just going out and doing what they’ve always done.”

However, Bercuson says the circumstances minor hockey coaches face are far from simple.

“There are a lot of things that are being missed, but that’s natural when you’re dealing with people who are not trained in it other than going to their clinics,” he observes. “It’s not the fault of Hockey Canada, that’s the limitations of having a program that has to deal with thousands of coaches every year and you can’t put them through a two-week program, it’s got to be a two-day program, and in some cases, it’s a one-day program.”

He believes hockey is “the most difficult game to coach, and being in Canada makes it even more difficult.”

It also boils down to many people not wanting to hear the advice of others.

“The problem is everyone thinks they’re experts. Everyone knows better. The parents know better, the convenors know better, everybody thinks they are tacticians and technicians when they’re neither,” he says. “You still have coaches who think because they know what a forecheck is because they watched the Leafs game last night that they are now ready to coach at a higher level. And they have absolutely no clue of what goes into coaching at a higher level.”

Inside Coaching Hockey was far from Bercuson’s first foray into the craft, as he is also an accomplished writer and journalist.

In the past, he has penned for The Hockey News and served as a sports reporter at The Montreal Gazette, the latter of which was a lifestyle he wasn’t a huge fan of.

He’s written a number of award-winning fictional short stories and several plays as well as serving as a contributor and columnist for newspapers and magazines.

“I’ve dabbled in a lot of things, when I grow up I’ll figure what I want to be,” he jokes.

With the tools of both trades well established, Bercuson initially began sharing his hockey wisdom through blog posts on his website, but soon came to the realization he could share it on a larger scale.

After conversing with several publishing companies, he found that wasn’t the route he wanted to take.

“I guess I was impatient; I just did not want it to sit there, so I got Hockey Eastern Ontario to publish it for me,” he recalls.

The manual was originally available in a free PDF format and made available to coaches in the area.

While financial success was never the intention of the manual, Bercuson says he still felt he should make something off the manual and so eventually he released a print version (again published through the HEO) and gave back a portion of the proceeds to the organization.

Bercuson is quick to point out that Inside Coaching Hockey is not intended to be a drill manual, but a teaching guide.

“There is no manual that exists that takes a minor hockey coach through the various things they need to do to survive the season,” he says. “I don’t teach people how to do plays, I don’t teach people how to teach skills, there are tons of places to go for that. This is more like the nuts and bolts of how do you start a season, how do you plan a season, how do you communicate and how do you plan for things.”

Inside Coaching Hockey is available for $20 through richardbercuson.ca or by contacting him directly at richard@richardbercuson.ca.