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  • Writer's pictureRick Traugott

6 Ways to Help Your Team Fail

We all seem to be terrified of failure. Coaches don’t want to ever lose any games. Players never want to make a mistake. Heaven forbid a parent doesn’t manage to get their athlete onto the right team for next season - that might mean failure for that NHL dream!

Take a look at this terrific, quick two and a half minute video by Kerwin Rae. It’s entitled The Key to Success is Failure.

I love his final quote: “Create a healthy relationship with failure. Learn to love the failure. Embrace the pain, embrace the failure.”

In the 1982-1983 Stanley Cup final, the New York Islanders defeated the Edmonton Oilers four games to none, outscoring Gretzky and his teammates 17-6. The Islanders were at the end of their four year run of championships and the Oilers were on the precipice of their five cups in seven years. But, that 1982-1983 series was paramount to the Oilers future success. EJ Hradek at wrote in his article Islanders showed Oilers how titles are won in '82-83:

“Years later, several Oilers stars saw the defeat as a necessary learning experience. In fact, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier both admitted they were impacted by walking past the Islanders dressing room after Game 4 to see the four-time defending champs sitting with ice bags, rather than engaging in a wild championship celebration. In their minds, they were made aware that more sacrifice would be needed to climb the final rungs to a title.”

My guess is that this year’s Toronto Maple Leafs are going to benefit from their first round loss to the Capitals last year. Five of the six games in the 4-2 series went to overtime and I would think that there were some very important lessons learned in that series that will stand the young Leafs crew in good stead for this year’s Stanley Cup run.

Another great quote from Rae’s video:

“We walk around trying to build businesses and be so f**ing precious that we are tiptoeing through our business trying not to make a mistake because, God forbid, we look bad in the eyes of other people around us.”

But there is one thing as coaches we have to keep in mind. To truly fail, and then ultimately learn from failure and succeed, we need to take some risk - and maybe, just maybe, do something different.

Here are some points to ponder as you ramp up for tryouts and season planning:

1) Have you sat down with your staff (and maybe some players) and really, truly debriefed from the 2017-2018 season? Have you thought and discussed what was good? What was bad? What worked? What didn’t?

2) Have you taken that information and made plans to do something different next season? As coaches, we have our way of doing things and often it’s a tough thing to change. As a coach, have you actually sat down to challenge yourself on how you do things? Are your tried and true ways really the best? Is there something you have always wanted to do as a coach but haven’t really had the opportunity? Or had the desire to take the risk?

3) Do you worry about looking “bad in the eyes of other people around us”? Are your decisions as a coach sometimes dictated by what others might think? I wrote about pulling the goalie recently. My bet is that we are often affected by what we think others will think about our decision to pull the goalie, and our decision when to pull.

4) Do you insist that players take risks in practice every day? Do you run drills that are going to stretch your players? Or do you do the same old drills that your athletes can do with no problem? I call it the skateboarding phenomenon. Skateboarders are always falling off their skateboards when they are practicing tricks. It’s a given until they master a skill. Do your hockey players fall down trying to master a given skating technique? Do they lose the puck because they are practicing a new skill that they haven’t perfected yet?

5) Do you put your players in difficult and uncomfortable situations during a game? How about this radical idea? If you have five defencemen and ten forwards, over three games in the preseason next year have everyone play, in rotation, one game on defence and two games on forward. I would bet there might be a little failure here and there but, do you think there will be any learning going on in those three games?

6) Do you schedule games or tournaments that you know you are over your head in? You know, the tournament you are going to be 0-3 in but, because you are playing much better competition, your team is going to improve immensely because they have to step up and be better just to survive.

It’s our responsibility as coaches to teach the game to our players. But, we have to make sure that our players are learning the game as well. Part of the learning process is to fail occasionally. Don’t be scared of failure - either on a small scale or a big scale. Truly, without risk and some measure of failure you cannot succeed as a team.

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