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  • Writer's pictureRick Traugott

Coach Norman Dale and your Power Play

I watched one of my favourite sports movies last night. Nothing like seeing the Hickory High School basketball team come together and get “all pistons firing” in the movie Hoosiers. Coach Norman Dale played by Gene Hackman is without a doubt my favourite movie coach. He’s tough, he’s fair, he’s competitive. There are so many great, usable quotes from the movie. If you are in need of a good motivational movie to show on the team bus that your players haven’t seen, this is the one. (As an aside, there are three other movie coaches that I can watch over and over: Coach Herb Brooks in Miracle, Coach Herman Boone in Remember the Titans and Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights (the TV series not the movie - I found Gary Gaines in the movie to be a tad mealy-mouthed).)

I also received an e-mail yesterday from a high school coach in Massachusetts. While asking for some video editing advice he wrote “(My) high school (hockey) team has some ingrained bad habits. It’s so ingrained, they don’t see it. I need to show them to break the habits, and improve the team overall. Stuff—some very basic stuff—that should have been corrected years ago but wasn’t.”

This morning, I saw an interesting video post on my Facebook feed. It was a father driving behind his son who was running to school in the rain. He had been cited for bullying on the bus the week before so his father took it upon himself to make his son run the mile and a bit to school for a week. The father, who is narrating the video, talks about changing behavior by disciplining those that you truly care about. My first reaction was what a big jerk this dad is but, taking a step back, he has a great point about finding ways to change behavior in young people today.

Coach Dale, in one conversation in the movie, says that what he has to do with his team is to “tear them down and build them back up.” By that he means that they need to work on fundamentals, they need to not be one dimensional in their play, they need to play as a team and be on the same page. One of his tenets is that he wants to see four passes before a shot is made - “four passes!” In one of the first games one of his players goes off script and starts shooting before the four passes are made - but scores a number of baskets. The crowd is going nuts with this offensive burst for the team and cheers the player off the court on a substitution. When a player fouls out and there needs a fifth player on the floor, Coach Dale, with only one player on the bench, famously says “my team’s on the floor” to the referee, and they play with four players the rest of the game.

As coaches, how do we change behavior in our players? How do we get them to change the way they play for the better? How do we break them of bad habits? How do we truly get them to play as a team and “be on the same page”?

Metaphorically, you sometimes just need to sit your best player. Your best players need to be the ones who are buying in. They are the ones that others will follow. They are the ones you need to be clear with about their important roles on the team to buy in. They are the ones that need to be held accountable for their play as well. As former NHL coach Mike Keenan once said, “there is no greater motivator than playing time”. If your first line power play center is not doing what you ask? Find someone else to take their spot for a couple of power play shifts. If your top defenceman keeps trying to beat opposing players one on one in the defensive zone? Find a defenceman who will make the first pass out of the zone the way it should be done.

Reward the players who are doing both the little things and the big things well. Don’t reward the players who don’t do those things or refuse to do those things. But, treat each and every player fairly. And, by the way, having more talent doesn’t have any bearing on fairness.

Do you need to make the entire team run a mile and a bit to school in the rain? Well, maybe sometimes. But coaches, you need to be able to sacrifice the odd battle to win the war. You need to be OK with losing a game in October because you sat your top line in order to win a championship in March. It’s OK to be tough on your team. It’s OK to be disappointed in their play. It’s OK to hold them accountable for their actions. That’s what good leaders do.

Break them down and build them up to be stronger. Get your players to develop new, better habits. Find ways to make your team understand the importance of discipline, good deportment and team-first play.

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