The Authentic Coach
This summer allowed me to look at hockey with a slightly different lens. Having decided to move back to our boys’ prep school program for the first time in 15 years, everything that happened “hockey” this summer became the building blocks for our season. In my last two posts I talked about two of the three words that I found meaningful over the past three months. The first was “risk” and in Risk and the Artist’s Advice I explored the great gain that can come from taking risk and doing things differently than you have before. In The Nuts and Bolts of Accountability, I spelled out how a coach can bring “accountability” to a team and a group of players - starting with personal accountability of the coaching staff.
I have to give credit where it is due. The third summer takeaway word for me came from a mental performance consultant. Sommer Christie is a former national caliber rugby player and helps develop the mental side of some of our top Canadian athletes in many sports. We were talking while watching warm-up one day this summer and she mentioned the word “authentic”. I found it such a meaningful, rich word but, I have had some trouble defining what it really means to my team and to me as a coach. So, after having the word rattling around in my head for 7 weeks, here are my thoughts on being “authentic”.
To me, “authentic” first and foremost means being yourself and not trying to be anything other than who you are while you have your coaching hat on. If you are kind? Be kind. If you are funny? Be funny. Players can sniff out phoniness. Trying to be someone you aren’t never ends well and will not fly with your athletes. In fact, the Miriam-Webster dictionary’s third context of authentic reads “true to one's own personality, spirit, or character - is sincere and authentic with no pretensions”. Along the same lines, coaches should strive to be consistent. Nothing undermines trust in you as a coach more than doing things that are out of character, out of the norm, that don’t make sense to your athletes.
When I think of “authentic” I automatically go to the word “real”. But in the last few days, I have moved from the notion of “being real” to that of being “the real deal”. To me, the real deal is a coach that brings their best to their team all the time. Looking back at the last four months preparing for this season and the last twelve days since we started together as a team, it’s occurred to me that I have made four commitments to being the best I can be this season - to being the “real deal”. So, here are my commitments:
1) We practiced the power play at our first practice. When I spoke to all my returning players and to the players I was “recruiting”, I talked about our “offence first” mentality and that we would practice the power play at our first practice. Well, I kept my word. I truly believe the offence first ethos really appealed to all the players who I talked to. Let’s face it, playing “Kitty, bar the door”, everyone is a goalie blocking shots, dump and chase, trap hockey is not a lot of fun. It might win you a game or two more during the season but it doesn’t develop the offensive talent necessary for players to move on to the next level.
2) I have put a teaching plan in place and outlined my curriculum through to the end of the month. Hey! Nothing earth shattering but, I made sure I have two teaching pieces per on ice and off ice session and I am sticking to my plan. I WILL NOT waver from it, and I will re-evaluate and put together a plan for October once we finish off our month end tournament that’s on the schedule. Mostly, I want to make sure that I FOR SURE cover and teach all the pieces I want to in the first four weeks of the season.
3) I take an hour (or so) every day to plan practice. I figure I have run somewhere north of 1000 practices over 30 years of coaching and I can “wing it” seamlessly. No one would ever know that I haven’t planned what I was going to do that day. But, I know that my practices are WAY better when I have a plan. So, I use DrillDraw, diagram all my drills, put them in a practice plan template and make sure I send it to my assistant coaches early in the day. The big upside for me in doing this is that I connect much better all the drills with one or two teaching points. For instance, if we are working on breakouts, I will make sure that all my warm-up type drills (passing-shooting-skating) will include the same type of passes that we will be making in the breakout drills.
4) I go to chapel every day. My prep school players go to chapel four mornings a week at 8:10am. I am committed to going to chapel as well. First, it allows me to see (or rather eyeball) all my players before school starts. They know that I am looking to make sure they are wearing grey socks with their uniform (metaphorically). Second, they know I will be there, so if they need to speak with me it gives them an opportunity first thing in the morning. Third, it makes them more accountable to not skip chapel when they know coach will be there. Fourth, I can often take Father Don’s messaging and apply it to what we are doing that week. Last week’s chapel “theme” was leadership, so as a team, we could talk about what leadership looks like to us. Finally, it’s just good role-modelling. If my players have to be there is no reason I can’t be there too.
I think about the great coaches of all time - Herb Brooks, John Wooden, Phil Jackson, Vince Lombardi, Mike Krzyewski, Pat Summitt, Bob Knight, Bill Belichick, Scotty Bowman. You wouldn’t be wrong if you described any one of them as “authentic”. Striving to be an authentic coach will undoubtedly put you on a successful path with your teams and your athletes.