Archive for October 2010

Having a (Hockey) Philosophy

October 30, 2010

By now, most of my (55oo+) Twitter followers and (1100+) Facebook friends know that I’m big into motivational quotes.  Yup, I’ll likely broadcast up to a dozen or so on any given day.

Trust me, that each of these have true meaning, and each is aimed at lifting the spirits of my friends, followers AND ME.

This special note:  In the end, I don’t believe you’ll have to be a hockey person to get a lot out of the following.  So, have a read — please, and then let me know what you think…

If there’s a history to these philosophical quotes, it probably stems from my long ago studies — like a good 35-years or so ago, as I delved into the beliefs of men I truly admired.  (I say “men” here, because I was initially interested in what great military minds and sport coaches were saying or thinking.)

Understand that my aim back then was to be one of the best dawgoned hockey coaches in the world.  I mean that.  Oh, I was really just a kid when I started coaching, but I wanted to as quickly as possible reach the status of some of my idols.  And, I mean that, too.

Now, you have to understand that I’m talking about the late 1970’s, a time when there weren’t an awful lot of deep thinkers among NHL coaches.  I don’t intend that to sound mean at all, but I’m only pointing to the fact that a lot of our sport’s earliest coaches arrived in the National Hockey League from prairie farms, most didn’t even complete high school, they lived a relatively sheltered existence during long playing careers, and then they were thrown into coaching jobs whether prepared to lead or not.  Nor am I saying that a lot of those guys didn’t prove to be great leaders.  However, if they did, they weren’t getting the recognition that coaches in other sports had achieved — as in lots of media coverage, book deals, etc.  So again, I’m only saying that the earliest NHL coaches probably weren’t necessarily trained to be all that articulate, and that the ones who were worthy of emulation seldom had their stories told.

And that’s what had me initially digging into the philosophies of basketball’s John Wooden or Red Auerbach, and the likes of football’s Vince Lombardi, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Tom Landry and Don Shula.  In each case, those guys were college grads, and they were afforded tons of media attention and ultimate book publishing deals.

Not that I didn’t eventually find a couple of really, really great hockey books…

  • Punch Imlach, the late, great Toronto Maple Leafs coach, wrote a book describing his rise through amateur hockey and his ultimate climb to becoming an NHL coach and general manager.  What I loved in “Hockey Is A Battle” was Imlach’s almost diary-like descriptions of life in the minors, his first days on the job as an NHL coach and GM, and his day-to-day battles in pro hockey’s trenches.  Ya, while I didn’t aspire to be an NHL coach, what I did appreciate was the insight Punch offered, especially when it came to dealing with management and players.  Best of all, I came away with what I’ve since adopted as my own personal motto:

“I’d rather be shot for a lion than a lamb.”

Putting that into context, Imlach was describing his wrestle between doing things his way or the way others wanted.  For sure, we’d all like to succeed, and if the answer to success could be found elsewhere, I think Imlach and I would both go for it.  The problem is when there’s a chance one might go down the proverbial tubes — or, as with Punch’s and my situations, we might just get our fannies fired.  In other words, if Imlach or I are going to be shown the door, we’d much prefer to have done things our own way.  Personally, I know I could live with that; on the other hand, I sense I’d kill myself if I failed only because I gave-in to someone elses way of doing things.

  • In the late 1970’s the now famous “Showdown at the Summit” (or “Face-off at the Summit“) brought Soviet hockey to the fore.  For those who don’t know, that showdown involved a special (first-time) series played between an all-star team handpicked from the National Hockey League and the USSR’s National Team.  And, while the NHL stars eked-out a slim victory in the end, the Soviet’s “Big Red Machine” so impressed the hockey world that everyone quickly scrambled to discover what they were doing differently in the way of training.  In my view, however, I had — and still have — the sense that the USSR’s unique philosophy had a whole lot greater bearing on their success than the actually drills they were doing.  And, the architect of all that was a gentleman known as “The Father of Soviet Hockey”, Anatoli Tarasov.  Actually, if you want something that might be considered almost a Hockey Bible, it’s Tarasov’s “Road to Olympus“.  Then, much like Imlach’s book, I found one underlying theme — or quote — I’ve never forgotten:

“To copy someone else is to be second best.”

Oh, like I noted above, it’s a good idea to borrow ideas that will help us succeed.  However, Tarasov was explaining why it wouldn’t be a good idea for his Russian hockey program to copy the likes of a Canadian style of play.  No, his boys grew-up in a different kind of society, and they grew-up with games like bandy and soccer.

As for an example of how that philosophy might impact me... If the best team around was built on big, strong guys, I’d presume most of those types were taken, and I’d counter them with the fastest, most mobile group I could assemble.  If they were small and quick, I’d likely go with a squad that would beat on them.  (Frankly, I’ve never quite had to do either of those things.  However, I HAVE always developed a unique style for my teams, and I have almost always received positive comments from other coaches — about how difficult my teams were to play, or about how my teams presented far different challenges than their other opponents.)

Still, as I mentioned early-on, those kinds of hockey books were hard to come by some 30-plus years ago, so I mostly had to dig into ones penned by noted football and basketball coaches.

Understand that organization and motivation aren’t exclusive to hockey.  Naw.  So I learned a ton from the way top coaches from other sports did such things.

Then, as I was just about exhausting every coaching publication I could get my hands on, I came to realize that history’s top military leaders shared the same kinds of challenges we hockey coaches do.  Ya, we’re talking organization and motivation again, and I quickly discovered I could learn lots from the likes of George Patton, MacArthur, Rommel and a host of other famous generals.

Now, I know that most folks would just read the books I’ve mentioned or hinted about.  However, what I did was to outline each — sometimes almost page by page, as if I was taking a semester-long course on the given subject (except that each book probably took me a week or a little more to complete).

Did I say earlier that I wanted to as quickly as possible put myself among the top hockey coaches in the world?  Well, I did, and I did…  I mean, I think I achieved that in some regards, and I probably surpassed many pretty famous guys when it came to certain areas of hockey coaching.

This aside…  Philosophy is fine, and absolutely necessary to effective leadership.  However, at no time during my 40-years in hockey coaching have I skipped expanding my knowledge in the areas of skill development, strategies and tactics.  In fact, while I’ll concede that most NHL coaching staffs have to now be ahead of me when it comes to certain tactical match-ups (because that’s a big part of their day-to-day duties), I doubt many of them know the “science of skill development” as well as I.

Next, a funny thing happened on the way to the bank — 😀 …  As my coaching became more and more a business, it struck me that I’d better venture into the teachings of some others.

Actually, I lucked-into a collection of audio recordings by two really great motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar and Earl Nightingale.  And, man, I wore-out those tapes, especially Nightingales’ “ The Strangest Secret“, ultimately gleaning these lasting messages (and I’ll have to paraphrase from memory):

“Almost everything we need to know for success is readily available (at the library back when the recording was done, on-line nowadays) .”

“Most people put more time and effort into the selection of a new necktie than they do their life’s work.”

Likening most folks to a ship at sea, Nightingale suggests that,We shouldn’t expect to really get where we want to go without a detailed map.”

Of course, there’s a common theme in all of those, and it’s hammered at throughout “The Strangest Secret”.  In other words, what Nightingale is saying is that success isn’t really a secret at all.  No, it’s right there for the taking.  The problem is that about 90% of the population won’t even take it.

With all that, today I try to share a lot of philosophical messages with my players — young and old (because most of these can be tapered to help any age group).  I’ve read where humans enjoy stories, and that we tend to remember a message better when it’s related in that way.  Of course, nothing solidifies a message better than when I can get it across to a hockey parent, since he or she is with my player a lot more than I can be.

I find most worthwhile adages are applicable to hockey players, parents and coaches — as in Nightingale’s “We shouldn’t expect to really get where we want to go without a detailed map.”  Actually, that’s a theme that’s usually carried within every entry I make over at, and I even try to get that across in my radio broadcasts and videos.  No, we can’t get where we want to go without a very clear-cut plan.

Okay, so I suggested at the outset that this piece pertains as much to others as it does to hockey folks, and I hope that’s started coming across to each of my other friends.

In fact, perhaps a lot like me, you haven’t quite gotten to exactly where you want to be — at least yet.  Truthfully, I don’t have a particular area in mind as I suggest that, but it could be related to finances, our careers or career paths, a retirement destination or related circumstances, our relationships with others, what have you.

What I do want to suggest here is that (to paraphrase Zig Ziglar), “We have to get away from stinkin’ thinkin’ as best we can” — no matter who we are.  (Oh, boy, do we.)  Still, because it’s virtually impossible to entirely escape the Negative Nellie types — 😀 , we have to all the more feed our brains some good stuff every chance we get.

Finally, we’re all put on the seats of our pants fairly regularly.  Hey, that’s life.  General Patton had an answer to that one, however, something to the effect that, “It’s not important how far one falls, but how high he’s able to rise after falling.”  Ya, hockey players, coaches and business types are going to fail often, but the measure of a man or woman is how he or she responds to adversity.  Come to think of it, I posted a related entry over on Facebook just this morning, this one credited to a man known more for his successes than failures:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways
that won’t work.”

~ Thomas Alva Edison