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.

After the Final Horn-Making the Post Season Positive

The final horn has sounded to end the season. Now what to do? As the head coach you need a plan of attack to deal with the post season. Your emotions might range from utter joy to relief to utter despair, based on the success of your season. If your final game was for the championship, you were likely thrilled about your season, especially if you won. If the final game was the last of a long string of painful results, then the season likely couldn’t end soon enough. Every post season should have two elements: 1. An honest and thorough evaluation system that will allow all involved have a positive experience and a chance to grow within their role with the team. 2. Information gathering system to put things in place for the future that will lead to better results for all. Here are some points to make this happen.

  • End of Season Physicals. Depending on the level, exit physicals may not be required. They are still a good idea. At the professional level they are typically mandatory and players and teams keep detailed records of all medical issues. Deal with all health issues now and institute a follow up system to ensure proper treatments have been completed.
  • End of Season Player Meetings. The coaching staff meets individually with each player. Using notes from the same type of meeting that was held before the season began, and additional notes compiled throughout the season, the staff will review the player’s performance. This should be a meeting that covers all the important issues concerning the player. Allow a free flow of communication between all. Player feedback is an important component of the meeting. Assess the past season in an honest and constructive way. Set goals for the off season in areas like conditioning and nutrition. Look ahead to the next season and start the process of goal setting by giving each player an idea of the expectations the staff has for them. Be sure to get all necessary contact information from each player (phone numbers, email address, mailing address).
  • Staff Evaluations. Follow the same format as the player meetings. This is a great time to get feedback that can help grow the team, your staff, and you personally.
  • Personal Evaluation. Time for self-evaluation. This can be a tough one and it needs to be honest. If at all possible, find a mentor who would give an honest assessment of your performance. This is a great time for a second opinion. Don’t allow the team record to be your main reference point in evaluating your personal performance. Also try to build in personal evaluation questions when meeting with players and staff.
  • Inventory. Before everything is packed away for the summer, take an inventory of equipment, pucks and pylons, supplies, etc. Make a hard copy that you can share with the appropriate people. Then everyone will know what needs to be replenished before the start of next season. Be sure to identify any additional needs for next year.
  • Thank You Notes. This is never a bad thing. The notes might be in the form of a highlight DVD for the players. They could be an autographed stick to a sponsor or a key supporter. It can be a simple as looking into someone’s eyes as you deliver a firm ‘thank you’ handshake.
  • Become a Fan Again. If teams at your level are still playing, try to watch some games. Check out other levels of competition as well and see if there are things others are doing that you could implement and benefit from. This is a great chance to pick up ideas– good and bad. Focus on learning from successful people and successful programs.
  • Take a Mental Health Break. Your players have likely seen and heard enough from you for awhile. Once you use the suggestions in this post, give yourself a break from your hockey routine. Do something different like go fishing or hiking. Leave all the issues related to the past season behind for awhile. You have done your evaluations and have taken the lessons learned from last season with you.

Start to re-energize yourself.