Who's Fault Is It That Yakupov Is Gone? | Oilersnetwork.com - Edmonton Oilers News and Rumours

Who's Fault Is It That Yakupov Is Gone?

Let’s consider Nail Yakupov for a minute. The Oilers just traded him for virtually nothing, ending what has been called the Yakupov experiment. We hear that Yakupov was a good kid, but not a great hockey player – he didn’t have the skills to make it. But, let’s consider another angle – the angle of coaching.

I have a PhD, am a retired university professor (40 years as a professor), and an educational researcher whose job was to consider education’s impact on children and young people. Here’s the transition – when a young man of 18 or 19 years of age, regardless of his immense talent, is drafted into the highly stressful environment of competitive sports – especially hockey, which is also extremely physically challenging –the challenge of anxiety and stress is present. Such stress ruins a young man’s chance to perform at his peak.

Nail the Player

Here is what we know about Nail Yakupov. During his first season (2012-13), he played 48 games. He scored 17 goals and had 14 assists for a total of 31 points. He didn’t set the world on fire, but he played well enough that Oilers’ fans looked forward to his future. Then, the future came.
During his second season (2013-14), Yakupov played 63 games and his scoring shrunk to 11 goals and 13 assists. His third season (2014-15) was worse. He played 81 games, with 14 goals and 19 assists. Nail Yakupov stayed the same: what changed was his coach. During 2012-13, the Oilers coach was Ralph Krueger. During the following two years, when his scoring and success slid, his coach was Dallas Eakins.

Coaching Styles

I know little about each coach – but I do read. On September 27, The New York Times, contrasted Mike Babcock, the coach of the Canadian team at the World Cup of Hockey, to coach Ralph Krueger, the coach of Team Europe. The reporter noted that Babcock runs a tight ship. On the other hand, Krueger is freer at the helm, allowing for course corrections. Babcock is the cold technician. Krueger is the soothing force.

So what, you ask? The research clearly found a significant relationship between a coach’s anxiety and an athlete’s anxiety and performance level. Furthermore, a great deal of research on young athletes found that psychological characteristics and environmental conditions play a major role in the development of athletic success.

Consider it. In a highly stressed environment, where winning and losing matters so much, a young hockey player’s expectations of himself, his relationship with his coach, and his teammates’ expectations are all factors that cause anxiety. We are talking teenagers here. In a young male athlete, constant pressure from his coach for successful competition causes especially high levels of anxiety. On the other hand, a coach’s support reduces anxiety and stress and leads to improved performance.

Fear of failure, a sense of inability, a fear of losing control of the game, and psychological stress increase a player’s anxiety. In research terms, a negative significant correlation exists between a coach’s anxiety and an athletes' performance. This means that, as the coach’s anxiety increases, the athletes' performance falters. Research shows that anxiety not only involves the mind but also affects the whole body’s reactions. In other words, when an athlete is too stressed and anxious – regardless of skill – that athlete no longer can perform well.

Anxiety vs Performance

A coach’s anxious behavior, which includes undue and excessive feedback, causes mental imbalance, upsets a player’s focus, and leads to poor performance by the player and the team. Other research found that a player’s actions, memory, and attention are impaired by high anxiety. Anxiety becomes disabling among youth – of which Yakupov was.

People tend to believe that, when a player like Yakupov is so highly skilled, which one expects of a first overall draft pick, that player will be successful simply because he is so skilled. But this forgets the impact of an athlete’s age. Here research found a statistical relationship between age and anxiety level of the athletes. Specifically, as athletes age, their anxiety decreases; and, younger players are prone to stress and anxiety.

In summary, research shows a significant relationship between coaching and an athlete’s anxiety and performance. Any type of anxiety can affect a player’s performance. But a coach's relationship with an athlete can create a safe environment where players grow. A coach – especially of young men - must be relaxed to understand and control their anxiety if the team is to win.

What Does it All Mean?

So what do we know? We know that Ralph Krueger was a relaxed coach. And, we have Eakins’ own words – from a 2016 Toronto Star interview. When Eakins reviews his mistakes coaching the Oilers, he notes that one mistake was to “make the players accountable.” The article quotes Eakins:  “I look back and I’d like to slap myself, going, ‘You tried to speed it up.’ “We just went too fast. And the group wasn’t ready to go too fast. They were immature. And they are going to be an excellent hockey team there in a couple of years.”

My point: when we look at Yakupov’s tenure with the Oilers, let’s not forget to look past Yakupov’s talent and skills as a hockey player. Let’s also look at the Oilers’ environment during his first three years. So I ask this question: had Krueger stayed the Oilers’ coach, would Yakupov be leading this Edmonton Oilers’ team? Would he and McDavid be part of the best forward line in hockey?

I like Yakupov. I wish him well in St. Louis. I hope he finds a coach who gives him space to regain his confidence. And I remind myself how hard it is for very young men to play the complex and stressful game of hockey we have all come to love.

Guest Contributor - Jim Parsons

3 Responses to "Who's Fault Is It That Yakupov Is Gone? "

  1. Thanksgiving so you took the day off and called in dad?? Lol. Just kidding though, excellent article. I've always felt Ralph should have been given a much much longer rope to work with as well. Hindsight....

    1. I'll actually be posting something later today. My pops was excited to contribute and we're excited to have him writing more often in the future. Readers can expect some posts pop up from here on in. I hope you enjoy his work and welcome him to the site!

      Krueger was a unique coach and at the time, I believe what that Oilers team needed.

  2. It's yaks fault no one else's look at all the other 1st overalls we had they played good under all coaches except yak he can't play worth shit so no one to blame but him he didn't wanna put the work in and try to play defence all he thought about was offence stands around watching the puck glad that kid is gone