We Live, We Learn, We Move Forward – Part 2
Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to read Part 1 in this two-part series. (Is there a chance there’ll be a Part 3? Hmmmmm…) Trust me, though, that the earlier post is relevant to what I’m about to say.
No matter, this very brief recap…
In a nutshell — and at the urging of others, I came to the realization that I had to stop dwelling on the negatives that so dominated the last several months of my professional and personal life, I had to do a fair accounting of what I had going for me (and against me), and then I needed to start plotting a new course for the rest of my life.
Thankfully, I could list a ton of things working in my favor… A long history and a pretty good reputation in hockey has to rank high on that list. There’s no taking away my 40+ years in coaching every level in the game — up through high school, Juniors and college, as well as my steering hundreds of young players towards the NHL and other high levels. There’s my God given ability to just keep churning out hockey advice articles, manuals and instructional videos. No stranger to Internet marketing, I own over 100 websites, highlighted by CoachChic.com, my Tips & Tricks Store, and this more personal blog — “Coach Chic’s Hockey Diary”. Then, at least in the hockey world, I have to be close to the king of social media, with lots of fairly high level folks even seeking my advice.
Lastly, a couple of things I failed to mention in my previous entry… 1) Noting my desire to remain here in Florida, gazes out across palms remind me daily that my dad seemed to wish I’d eventually settle here. (Darn, but he’s buried about 90-minutes away from me, and he’d enticed me for years to “come on down” prior to his passing.) 2) Totally separate from my outside professional work, I was able to help guide and then follow my son through a relatively successful pro playing career, and my grandson through a record-breaking college career. And, trust me: Every step along the way was a learning experience, for them and for me.
This somewhat humorous reflection… Many years ago, I won a fairly lucrative contract to run skills clinics for a MA-based youth organization in what I thought was an interesting way. As it was related to me after that program’s closed meeting, I guess that a board member ultimately stood and said her piece: “All of these applicants have big names, yet they can’t even teach their own kids how to play, while Dennis has taught his son well enough to be the best player in the region!” (I’m chuckling as I type that, having to delete a whole bunch of expletives I understand were sprinkled throughout her real speech.)
I ended the previous post by mentioning that my son is now staying with Raggs and me for a time, as he attempts to put together a new Junior hockey team just around the corner from where I’m living. Trust me, that this plays no small part in what is to follow…
Part 2 – What I REALLY Want to Do!
Ya, I forgot that message to the left, too, because I’m only a man, and I’ve never claimed to be able to do anything without help.
Okay, so I headed down here to Florida from Massachusetts during the mid-summer, but I’d actually started what I saw as my dream job much earlier. I was no stranger to either the Junior level — having run an experimental program for USA Hockey many years ago, or recruiting — having head coached in college for 7-seasons. I’d also seen the best and worst of that process, having watched Mike and Tony Chic go through similar experiences as teens.
Anyway, starting my new GM/coaching duties back in May, I’m going to suggest that I haven’t really left that job at all. From Day One I began plotting my strategies towards building a “real program”, I’d started the recruiting process, and I’d also started putting together a scouting network that spans the entire hockey world — yes, I said the entire hockey world. I’m even into some scouting services most folks in the business don’t even know about. And don’t forget my social media contacts, because each of my 15,000-ish friends has friends of friends of friends.
Lest you think that my work ended when I left the St Cloud job, think again. At that time, I’d already recruited more players than any other TEHL GM, and I still had a number of them on the way (some later funneled to my son’s team in Daytona Beach). At the time, I was able to still keep a pulse on league goings on. And, within days of the Tropical Elite Hockey League’s ultimate collapse, I proposed to my former owner a way that I might help her still make a success of her organization for years to come. (Here I go chuckling to myself again, because shortly after telling me that she could do it on her own, she folded the Thunder’s tent and limped on back to Alaska. Geeeeeeeze…)
I mentioned in that last paragraph about helping my former owner build an organization that would be successful for years to come. I can’t help it, I guess, but that’s how I’m built — a delayed gratification kind of guy, who isn’t just looking for a quick fix. Pay some dues now, don’t take any needless shortcuts, and it’s possible to have something truly worthwhile down the road.
I must admit that the whole TEHL thing was a nightmare to those of us who put our faith in one man and a special concept. And, in a way, my son and I were probably torched as badly as anyone involved. At the same time, there’s the chance we’ll both do much better in the end, mainly because we have staying power. True enough, that I was close to ruined, and I’m sure my son feels no better off. Yet, no one can take away the hockey knowledge in our heads, nor the passion in our hearts. (I’m always reminded of a line from an old football movie, whereby a smaller guy looks up at a giant and warns, “You may beat me, but you’d better bring your lunch!”)
As I just hinted, a number of teams attempted to make it on their own as independents once the TEHL folded. I predicted in an earlier blog post the kind of future I foresaw for each of the seven teams, and I think I was dead-on with all but one of them (and I was right about the St Cloud team’s chances, based on whether they brought me back or not).
Hardly breaking stride, I switched from my Thunder job to helping my son behind the scenes with his Daytona Beach team. Not a lot changed, either, because I was helping Mike by doing special assignments, scouting, and trying to beat the bushes for some new recruits. I also continued to keep a pulse on Junior hockey, from AAU happenings to USA Hockey procedures to what was going on in most of the Junior hockey leagues across North America.
You might find it interesting that I also never stopped gathering information. In other words, I kept working as if I was still a Junior team GM, or in charge of a Junior team’s hockey operations. I am an incessant hockey information gather, ya know, and my files and folders on all the related topics have just grown and grown, right through this morning.
Let me also share a bit of advice with anyone who is a professional — at anything… Never limit yourself to studies having to do with just your own special field. In fact, little innovation ever comes about in that way. I learned that in my earliest years, studying the likes of great coaches, great businessmen, and great military leaders. In one of my favorite hockey books of all-time, “Road to Olympus“, the late and great Soviet ice hockey coach, Anatoli Tarasov, cites more famous people from the theater than those in hockey. In fact, you might borrow one of Tarasov’s favorite lines — and one that has been a guiding force for me, in that “To follow someone else is to always be second best.”
So, while I’ve been leaving no stone unturned in studying the right ways to put together a winning hockey operation, I believe I’ve been wise enough to also grab some slightly related ideas — from other kinds of recruiters, other business types, etc. (I have a lady friend who is trained in Human Resources, and it’s just a matter of time before I start picking her brain, and maybe even asking if she recalls any suggested readings from her college days.) The other day I downloaded and saved two different approaches from a publication every business thought leader has nearly memorized, and I also watched a documentary on that same classic, “The Art of War“.
So again, while it’s absolutely necessary to know your own field exceedingly well, you’re not likely to be tops in your profession without venturing outside for some new and innovative ideas.
Now, having perhaps beaten to death the idea that I’ve yet to really leave my job as a Junior hockey exec, here’s a bit more on that… As I mentioned earlier, my son is now staying with Raggs and me, and it should come as no surprise that we constantly talk hockey. Hey, it’s something we both know as well as anyone, and it’s something we never tire in discussing. Our conversations might start over morning coffee, they’ll likely continue with the many phone calls that go in and out — with recruits, league or federation execs, or other GMs or coaches, and they’ll often pick up again late at night when Mike returns from his duties at the local rink. Oh, those duties: He’s Director of Hockey Operations for the one remaining TEHL team. The fact that his organization is basically a startup, and wrought with all the challenges and craziness that comes with such, I’ll suggest that it’s the best kind of training he could ever get, and it’s the best stuff I could ever observe. (Ya, my son is likely to get some gray hairs as he deals with all that can happen in a first season, but I’m thinking he’s learning more right now than could ever be found in a college text. Come to think of it, that goes for me, as well.)
In most instances, I’m doing all the listening, and I’ll only on occasion offer my thoughts on a given subject. Hey, it’s Mike’s neck in the noose, and he has to deal with things in ways that help him sleep at night. I’m still feeling I’m on the job, though, as the discussions go from recruiting to fundraising to roster moves to dealing with ownership to the selection of team coaches and other staff.
Trust me, that I quiz Mike an awful lot… And one recurring question has had to do with how many of the challenges — and especially the annoyances — could be avoided as a second-year organization, or under different circumstances. From my observations, a lot of the things he has to endure are huge distractions, or they take away from his ability to deal with the most important matters.
Mike and I have also bantered around visions of the ideal organization. And, since good players make up a huge part of a successful Junior program, we’ve attempted to list all those things that appeal to the decision makers — meaning the players and their parents. (Trust me on that one, too, in that players and parents have some very different concerns, which means that the wisely run organization is going to touch all of those bases).
Interestingly, the cost cutting measures I’m hearing about down here for some Junior programs were used in my summer hockey schools a kzillion years ago. As a matter of fact, I sense that few hockey guys in Florida have dealt as creatively with ice-time, scheduling and very large staffs in the way I learned to do.
At this stage of the game, I’ve seen an entire league go under, and I’ve had the chance to watch at least 7-teams deal with varying degrees of adversity. (See my post on the House of Cards for a few of my thoughts in that area.) Mentioning earlier my stabs at predicting which teams would fail and which ones had the chance to succeed, I believe I now know what it takes to build a Junior organization for the long haul.
And that brings me back to the reason I gave up just about everything back home to relocate so far away… Of course, I saw the chance to develop a new Junior hockey organization as my dream job. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m the creative type, and that I can get kinda possessed when taking on a really worthwhile challenge. That mindset started the night I was hired by the Thunder — back in May, and it hasn’t subsided all that much while I’ve been on the sidelines. I hardly slept a wink that first night on the job, or on many subsequent nights thereafter. Actually, I haven’t had any set “work hours” in probably 40-ish years; I mean, I love what I do, and the job is only done when it’s done.
So, what is it I REALLY want to do with the rest of my life? I want another crack at that dream job, and I want the chance to develop as good a Junior hockey organization as anyone has ever seen. Would I coach? Only if it helped the organization. Would I want to GM, or be in charge of hockey ops? Ya, that’s what I’m talking about, a chance to put a program on the map.
The truth is, I do have a VERY DESIRABLE location in mind, and one that projects to be a huge success, both in the short and long term. Again, read my post concerning the House of Cards, to gain an understanding of why so many TEHL teams failed. Down the road, maybe Mike Chic can also ultimately share his thoughts on why some startup hockey operations might more than struggle in the beginning.
I will let friends in on one secret, however… Time is of the essence. One HUGE mistake made by the TEHL Commissioner had to do with the short window given before all teams had to be in full swing — like 4-months for the earliest members, and closer to a couple of months for the later arrivals. Not fair, and not right. In reality, time is needed to put an organization in place, to establish an identity for the organization, and to start entertaining players — exactly in that order. New players and their parents are looking for tangibles, and they’re not likely to make the commitment a club asks without sensing that club can produce all it’s promised. (In my mind, it’s getting late already, because no one does any job rightly when they’re having to rush important steps.)
Yet another aside… As I got around the recruiting circuit this past summer, I discovered a wide array of offerings by different Junior programs, with just as wide a difference in what they’re charging their players. Perhaps the “going rate” for a basic program might be in the vicinity of $8000 for a season. However, would you believe I came across one organization that charges $25,000 to their members, and they were supposedly turning players away? You can spell the difference: A-M-E-N-I-T-I-E-S, plus the reputation for keeping its promises.
Okay, so I’ve sorta been dreaming out loud or musing through most of this entry. Ya, because if there’s anything wrong with all I’ve said to this point, it’s that I couldn’t possibly undertake my dream job on my own. Oh, I can definitely design a plan that will work. And, I can definitely carry out that plan — right to the first puck-drop, and ultimately to the hoisting of a championship banner. What I’m no longer in a position to do (sigh) is fund such an undertaking.
What I’m getting at is the need for an investor, or more likely a group of investors. Given the time — and resources, a new organization can step into a prestigious playing schedule, an upbeat city, and a welcoming arena.
Do I have a Plan B and a Plan C? For sure. But, at least for the next few weeks — or until the window of opportunity appears to be closing for my plan, why settle for anything less than my dream job?