AMHERST – A hockey coach wears many hats. He can be a coach, a friend, a counsellor, a confidant, and even a financial advisor, but one thing a coach doesn’t have to be with the Amherst Ramblers organization is an education advisor.
The job’s already taken.
Ross Thompson has been providing education advice to hockey players for the Maritime Hockey League’s Amherst Ramblers for the last two years.
“He worked (as an education advisor) with the Mooseheads for 10 years, I had him in Bridgewater for two years, and then I brought him up here,” said Jim Bottomley, Ramblers coach and general manager. “He has a great passion for hockey but he’s also very dedicated and concerned about the kids advancing in their education.”
Born in North Sydney and raised in New Glasgow, the 76-year-old Thompson graduated from Mount Allison in 1958.
“I did arts, and there was a lot of science because at one time I wanted to be a doctor, so I was doing some pre-med stuff. Fortunately, for the world at large, that never came about.”
Thompson held jobs as an educator throughout Nova Scotia, including a teaching stint at Amherst Regional High School for two years in the 1960s.
“It was a great experience,” said Thompson.
He also taught at Dartmouth High School.
“The coach of the (QMJHL Moncton) Wildcats, Danny Flynn, he’s a former student of mine at Dartmouth High School.”
Thompson now lives in Halifax, and as an education advisor for the Ramblers he spends two days out of every two weeks in Amherst. “I catch them on the bus trips as well, and we e-mail, fax and phone to keep in touch.”
“He has a great relationship with the players,” added Bottomley. “He’ll work with them on the bus during road trips and assists them with anything they need. He’s available 24-7 for them and he’s probably one of our top fans, too.”
Thompson deals with all the players on the Ramblers roster.
“There are sixteen actively taking courses, and there are some that have just arrived that are registering for second-term courses,” said Thompson. “We have seven at Mount Allison, three at NSCC and three at the high school. There’s a couple doing online schooling, one at Memorial (University in St. John’s) and one at New Brunswick Tech.”
Thompson says the education opportunities in Amherst are second to none.
“You have Mount A and you have a great college set up here, and the high school is terrific,” said Thompson. “It’s a good place to seek out options and make them work for you.”
Hockey players need to maintain a 65-per cent average in all their classes to maintain financial support from the Ramblers organization, and Thompson helps them set their priorities.
He keeps track of their marks, attendance and commitment to education, and speaks with educators delivering the programs at ARHS, NSCC or Mount Allison.
“The ones not in school or enrolled in anything, we still talk about their future education and progress in that direction.”
Thompson says the key to success for a hockey player is time management.
“There’s the hockey, and for some of them it’s all-encompassing and takes up a lot of their mental energy,” he said. “I try to help them manage their time better and prioritize their time.
“Education has to be near the top in terms of a priority list,” he added. “Those who master that and are able to put education in their schedule, along with social time, can be very successful.”
Kody Blois, a goaltender on last year’s Ramblers roster mastered the balancing act between hockey, school and social life.
“He’s at St. Mary’s now, and when he was here he took five courses at Mount A,” said Thompson. “He had really good time management skills, so he was able to take that many courses.”
He says Ramblers captain Kody Orr is also good at time management.
“There is little doubt he will ascend to play hockey at the university level.”
Thompson says most hockey players come from middle class backgrounds, but not all.
“There is a predominance of middle class kids but there are some who have had it more difficult economically, and hockey is sometimes seen as means to an end in some cases. It becomes a dimension, or a bridge from one life to another.”
But no matter what their background, keeping focus helps hockey players mature.
“The fact they are able to focus at all with some of the off-ice distractions is to their credit. It’s a good step along the maturity line.”
Being a successful hockey player also looks good on a resumé.
“The fact they are involved in something as meaningful as the hockey experience and attend to other matters of life, that’s something very much to their credit.”
Bottomley says having an education advisor can attract more players.
“Having an education advisor adds a lot to our organization,” said Bottomley. “Especially when it comes to recruiting and dealing with the players’ and parents.
“It shows we are concerned with the players education. We don’t want the students that are in school to be wasting their time. We want them to get their credits.”