Canada Sport

Wander and Travel ….and Play with the “Kung Pow Kings”: Interview with Michael Lam

Republished with Permission

Michael Lam, director and program head of Kung Pow Kings Hockey, is leading a small yet growing hockey revolution in Hong Kong, which in turn, has seen more and more children and adults playing the different variations of the game(s) that he loves, namely Ice hockey, Ball Hockey and increasingly, Floorball. 

Lam is one of the highest certified coaches in his field and is a USA Hockey Certified Level 5 trainer whilst also being an International Ice Hockey Federation ‘Learn To Play 2’ certified instructor and a Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association certified coach Level 2 and referee Level 2. 

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Lam, who was raised in Edmonton, Canada, is deeply passionate about coaching and wants to spread the joy of the game he loves to all those who are keen to learn regardless of their skill levels; beginners or advanced players or somewhere in between. 

In an exclusive interview, Lam shared his motivations behind being a coach and the differences between ice hockey, ball hockey along with floorball. Lam first discussed how he decided to follow his heart and become a hockey coach. 

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“When I moved to Hong Kong, I was working for a movie company restoring old films and after that, I was teaching English. I enjoyed working at a couple of tutorial centres and I thought to myself ‘You know I like teaching a lot’ and I thought I was pretty good at it.”

Lam said that a developing interest in teaching children made him consider coaching hockey as a career as it was a game that he loved.

“I used to do a lot of sales work in Canada and I did not really enjoy it and giving back to children was a lot more enjoyable for me so over a period of three to four years as I was teaching English, at the same time, I was playing a lot of hockey and some friends of mine introduced me to some clubs and I got playing and I got better at playing and I spent a lot of time learning my craft; ‘How to skate better’ and ‘how to stop better’ and then a friend mentioned starting a school. They asked if would I like to help coach and administer the programmes and would I help things out at this new company with a proper salary.”

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“I wanted to give back and I love hockey and I thought that is a ‘win, win’. From there, this is how I got into coaching and learning about the craft of coaching hockey and I have been super passionate about it ever since.” 

Lam is adamant that to be a great coach or teacher, you need to show passion otherwise the children will sense the lack of interest and drive. 

“I think you have to have the drive to give back to kids or give back to the sport. For me, I thought you have to have a passion for it as kids can tell when you just think it is a job. You have to give more and when they see this, the kids get excited.” 

Being keen and enthusiastic is not enough as passion can only take you so far at anything in life so Lam was committed to improving and upgrading his coaching skills and certificates which in turn exposed him to the highest professional standards which he hope to maintain at a consistent level. 

“For me at that point, at around 2009, I thought I really have to get better at this. I am good with kids but I need to be better and I found some courses online from USA hockey which is the recognised body for the United States so I joined all their programmes from level one all the way to level five which took four to five years to complete as you do not get the certifications in one go. That was the education platform, I went through and there was also a Finnish summer development camp, a IIHF development camp.”

Attending professional training courses, opened up Lam’s eyes and exposed him to a whole new world of professionalism and he learnt how the best in the world operate.

“The camp was an experience as you could see how it was run on a big scale; they had two rinks and they had eight teams of teenagers who were fifteen and sixteen years olds from all around the world. This place was outside of Helskini (Finland) and on this course, you could do anything! You can go as a coach or you can attend as a player of someone who would run an association! Everything was available there to try. For me, my stream was called ‘Learn to Play’ which coaches how to get children to play so I got more coaching experience but a lot of it is on the job training.”

Lam enjoys the process of coaching and finds it rewarding despite it being challenging at times. 

“I teach a range of children from three year olds to private lessons. It is hard work but it is rewarding as when they start to skate and waddle, you have already won. I teach three year olds to sixteen years olds.” 

Ice hockey is not a core sport in Hong Kong but there is a community who spread the love of the game across Hong Kong and beyond.

“I wouldn’t even want rank ice hockey compared to other sports. It is a sport that I would say, for some parents, is a good jumping board for an application for something else. Some parents want good grades but others think, with hockey, maybe my child could use this to get a good education or get a scholarship.”

Sports does not have to have an ‘end’ result as for some, sport can be a life long habit to simply stay in a community, kit fit and make friends.

“It could just be ‘Hockey for life’ or “sport for life’ but it is quite niche still and I think that the ice hockey population is growing due to the efforts of the clubs and associations in Hong Kong so I would say, in the past, in the last five years, I would say 1500 players and maybe now, 2500 players. It is not super popular but it is growing.” 

Lam has coached for nearly over a decade and he shared the path that many youngsters take whilst they play ice hockey in Hong Kong. 

“I think there are different streams of floor hockey but for ice hockey, when I was at the Hong Kong academy of ice hockey with my mentor, Barry Beck, some of those kids have gone onto either represent the Hong Kong team or continue to play in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong team, is not only due to us, they have joined other programmes, for example, the national association runs the Hong Kong team programme; they joined Typhoons which help build them up at further.”

In the last world championships, Hong Kong came second in their division in ice hockey; that is impressive as the team that beat them; the UAE team, who have good players also had some import players who had lived there for two years and qualified to play for the UAE. You can’t do that in Hong Kong, as to become a Hong Kong citizen, you have to give up your citizenship to become a Hong Kong passport holder and how many people are willing to do that?” 

Ice hockey and ball hockey and floorball, what is the difference? Lam took the time to explain the ins and outs of all the different steam of hockey. 

“Hong Kong has a ball hockey team which is different from floorball hockey. In ball hockey, you use a hockey stick, you wear helmets and some of the gear and you play hockey without skates. The rules are ball hockey based and not floorball hockey based. The team is mainly made up from Canadians. The Hong Kong Floor hockey association are not officially recognized yet by the Olympic Committee but they are seeking the approval to become the national sports association for floorball in Hong Kong. Floorball is different as it requires no equipment except for a stick and a ball. Floorball is not as recognized, in terms of numbers of players, as ball Hockey as floorball is so small. There are only a few floorball teams and the active number of players is about 150 players in Hong Kong.” 

Lam continued to explain the difference between Ice hockey and ball hockey.

“Ice hockey and ball hockey use the same rules except for the lack of skating. Floorball is a hybrid between soccer and ice hockey, you can make changes on the fly and there are some face offs like ice hockey but the penalty rules are more close to football. There are no helmets or pads or nothing; no stick infractions are allowed but in ice hockey, you can.” 

Floorball is slowly spreading across Hong Kong and Lam stressed that the European teams were the best. 

“The Swiss and the Scandinavians are good. There are more and more teams in the world who play now. In the floorball world championships, there is the Czech Republic who are good. For Asia, Japan and South Korea are good and Singapore are improving. In Singapore, they take it really seriously, they have taken two sports halls allotted by the Singapore government and some are used for Floorball. The best teams are in Europe.”

Lam said that these sports were open to all and a player could be any shape or size to enjoy, though he did stress that fitness was key. 

“You have to be fit! For fun, you can be any shape or size but to be at the top, you have to fit as you are constantly running and turning. It is as challenging as any other sport and you have to keep thinking. Most games are fast moving and the best are not even paid that much.” 

Lam also said give his views on nature versus nurture in the development of top level players. 

“You can drill players but a coach’s job is to give players the skills as that is not natural as a lot of the movements in hockey are not natural so we have to do skills and the game comes later. It is a little bit of both, you need to have some talent and you have to have some athletic ability.” 

Hockey, in all its variations are a passion for Lam and he is keen to spread his love for these games further

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