The best advice I ever received was from George Armstrong. He captained the Toronto Maple Leafs when they won four Stanley Cups in a row in the sixties. When I quizzed him why his teams were so successful,(he won two memorial cups in succession coaching the Toronto Marlies) I thought he would say he got another goalie, implemented a new system, traded for three new players, but instead he asked me these simple questions that I have never forgotten to this day:
1.” Do your players work hard?”
2.“ Do they have fun?”
3. “Do you tell them how good they are?”
I thought out loud and replied to George , “I think they do work hard.” Then I had to think about the fun aspect. My mind was racing, isn’t fun when you work real hard, get better and learn more and then you score more and do more in the game? Your teammates appreciate you more and people tell you are doing better, and contributing more to your team, isn’t that more fun, I thought? When you are playing like you always dreamed you could.
Keep that boy hood enthusiasm, that is fun!
I remember being five years old in Regina Saskatchewan and all of a sudden I didn’t need to hang onto the boards anymore and I could skate anywhere I wanted on the rink and skate fast, at least I felt I was skating fast. I remember thinking to myself as I raced around the rink hearing Foster Hewitt saying my name, “He shoots, he scores!” I could see myself scoring the winning goal; it was exhilarating and just plain fun. I ask the players to hold onto that boyhood joy every practice and every game. That exhilarating approach to moving fast, finding the freedom of play… that is fun.
I knew I had to think about how to create fun in every practice from then on, and I had to look at fun from another angle. Fun is working on things that will help your game. Make the “He shoots he scores” a reality. We work on scoring techniques every single day. Fun is being supported by your teammates and coaches. As coaches we have to find them doing things right and let them know if they keep working hard they are going to the next level. We need to remind the players enthusiasm comes from that boyhood joy. We need to have high five days, or low fives or fun fives which are the combinations of any support technique. We need to instruct our captains to find good plays in practice and go out of their way to show their support and appreciation. We need to keep score and cheer for teammates when playing small area games. And we have the players play games that are not evaluated, and only intended to warm the players up and prepare them for practice. We need to have a good sense of humour and we need to be genuine and sincere with our praise.
At the time I spoke with George I was a fledging coach in the Western Hockey League. Our team was not succeeding and I was searching for any tip that might propel us into the play – offs. So I thought to myself, it is hard to tell our players how good they are when we were losing so much and well quite frankly we didn’t play that well. Mostly, I was focussed on their limitations. I mentioned this sheepishly to George, “We aren’t that good George, how I can tell them they are?” George replied, “When I was coaching my first year we seldom won, but I told those guys we were going to be good and to just stay with it don’t give up and keep working.” Within two years we were the Memorial Cup champions.”
I thought to myself, that’s it, get them to work hard, have a little fun, and tell them how good they are! I can do that and I did from then on. Since then I have been to 5 National Championships, been coach of the year numerous times, taken teams to zones in basketball, volleyball, badminton and track and seen many student athletes excel. It has been a great deal of fun for me to see young athletes reach beyond their own expectations.
I think of these 3 questions before I construct every practice and then I build the sequences with these in mind. Since I took this advice my teams have been extremely successful. It just works.
Coachsedge.ca will provide more details on how this is achieved in their Team Building Everyday sessions.