It’s Hockey Coach Firing and Hiring Season

With four new NHL head coaches being announced recently, and two on Friday the 13th, I guess we can’t call hockey coaches and management superstitious.

Most coach hirings come with the usual quotes from owners and GM’s; “…he is he right fit for our team”, “…he brings discipline”, “…brings intensity”. They are all touted as the best man for the job. Typically, at the pro level at least, the ‘best man’ has about a three year shelf life.

At most levels of the game a hockey coach has a similar job description. Knowledge of tactics and strategies, the ability to develop players, run quality practices, handle the stress of game situations, and the ability to motivate players are common traits that we look for in a coach.

There are a couple of traits that will set a few coaches apart from others-communication skills and integrity.

Communication skills are important at any level of coaching. Most coaches are good talkers. The great ones are also good listeners. Mastering the different forms of verbal and nonverbal communication will be a tremendous asset for anyone.

Integrity speaks to the core of the person. The elite coach will base all his coaching on his integrity. There won’t be any attempts to fool players, staff or media. Players will be the first to see through a coach. Others will soon follow.

Strong organizations make great hires almost all the time. Coaching is rarely easy, but a coach in a quality environment has a far better chance to be successful. During the hiring process, the first place an organization, or the individual doing the hiring, should look is at the structure and culture of their organization. This is a key factor in deciding who should be hired and how successful the new coach will be.

“Coaches are hired to be fired”. Bet you heard that one before. There are all kinds of reasons why coaches eventually hear that the organization is ‘…going in a different direction’. Lack of regular season or playoff success is a common reason. One that grates me is ‘the players didn’t like the coach’. When the inmates are running the asylum, nothing much good gets accomplished. Sometimes, the coach just needs to be replaced. Maybe the reason a coach gets fired is the most common reason for a firing-the boss just doesn’t like you.

The coaching profession is no place for a superstitious person. Neither is it a place for management who don’t start the firing and hiring process with an honest look inward.

Honesty and Mentoring: Trademarks of a Successful Coach

Mike Babcock is the very successful head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. An excerpt from a recent newspaper article points to two reasons for his success-honesty and mentoring. In the article, he appears to have little problem accepting part of the blame for his team losing a game in the Stanley Cup finals. No excuses or coach speak here. Just an honest assessment of what happened. Refreshing, don’t you think?

The article also mentions how Babcock also talked with Dave King, former NHL head and assistant coach, and former coach of Canada’s National Team. He is one of the most respected coaches in hockey. Babcock uses King, Scotty Bowman, and several others as mentors.

Following is a portion of Eric Duhatschuk’s May 30/08 article in the Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail.

PITTSBURGH — Mike Babcock woke up yesterday morning after the Detroit Red Wings’ first loss in the Stanley Cup final and did what he usually does the morning after a game: He talked to his wife and he talked to a fellow coach, Dave King.

It wasn’t necessarily in that order.

Babcock does it for reasons that he patiently explains all the time: That lifetime learning is a core belief, and that no matter how long he stays in hockey, he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

Babcock was blunt about where part of the fault lay for Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins – a loss that cut Detroit’s lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1. He admitted to overplaying his two best forwards, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, although he added that they didn’t do a good job of keeping their shifts short enough.

Honesty is a ‘must have’ quality to be successful. It might take people awhile to find out you are not honest, but they will eventually figure it out. Players will be the first group to see any lack of honesty. An important rule for coaches- Never try to fool your players. It can’t be done for any significant length of time.

Mentors have the ability to bring the best out in your coaching. We don’t have to learn everything ourselves. Get great mentors and find out what they have learned. Share ideas, ask questions and be sure to listen.