Hockey Coaches and Leadership
Updated: Jun 13
I grew up in South Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minneapolis is home to the coldest winters of any large city in the US. The average temperature in December, January, and February is well below freezing. Combine that with 10,000 lakes and you have ice. The perfect environment for hockey.
I started playing organized hockey at age 5. My dad signed me up for the mite league playing for the Bloomington Lincoln Bears. I was thrilled that the team colors were the same as my favorite hockey team, the Minnesota North Stars.
At our first practice I stepped on the ice and fell flat on my face. I got up and then fell again, and again, and again. After 10 minutes of falling I gave up. I crawled off the ice, threw my stick, and told my father I quit! Two days later I was back at practice and didn't fall as much. Soon I got the hang of balance and skating, and I fell in love with the Minnesota state sport.
Life lesson: Failure is part of learning. Overcoming fear of failure is tough, but persistence can lead to rewards not otherwise realized.
Leaders versus Bosses
Leaders support people and encourage their productivity; bosses create mission statements without sincerity. Leaders want people to succeed; bosses watch people fail. Leaders know that people are valuable and people are fallible, and team success is measured by the sum of its parts.
Hockey Coaches and Leadership
In the workplace or in sport, effectively managing others is not easy. It takes a special type of leader to bring out the best in others and create a cohesive team. I've had plenty of coaches (and supervisors) over the years and each one is different. Good or bad, I've learned something about leadership from each one.
When I was 13 I tried out for Bantam hockey. Bantam teams were divided into two groups - A and B - with the A team being more skilled.. I wasn't a lock for the A team but I had a good chance. I'd made A teams at previous levels, PeeWees (10-12) and Squirts (7-9).
The Bantam A coach didn't play hockey at a high level but he'd been around the game for a while. He was outgoing, friendly, and well liked in the youth hockey social circle.
I skated well at tryouts and sure I'd make A. The moment of truth came and I found out I made the B squad. What was worse, my circle of friends had all made A. I was devastated
My year playing Bantam B hockey provided playing time I wouldn't have gotten on A. There was no doubt I'd make Bantam A the following year.
Second year bantam tryouts arrived and once again I didn't make the team. The coach's son (who was a year younger than me), and a number of his friends, made A. Once again, I was left out. I vowed to quit before thinking otherwise.
Life lesson: Sometimes it's who you know, not what you know.
My Bantam B coach was Jim Carey. He was a Vietnam Veteran with a no-nonsense attitude. He coached the B team because no one else wanted to. He knew the game well and was good at coaching.
He turned a bunch of end-hand players into a cohesive group. We competed hard and exceeded what little expectations there was at the start of the season. I have tremendous respect for Coach Carey. Without his leadership and support I likely would have given up the sport I loved.
Life lesson: Adversity can be a blessing in disguise.
My varsity high school coach was Jake McCoy. He spent 40 years coaching hockey and was inducted into the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame in 2008. He had a lengthy hockey background that included D1 hockey at University of Minnesota where he played alongside Lou Nanne and the Brooks brothers (Herb and Dave). He was a two-time US Hockey Team Olympian. His former teammate Herb Brooks coached the 1980 gold medal U.S. Olympic hockey team in Lake Placid. Brooks is played by Kurt Russell in the movie Miracle and he's portrayed as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach who tests the character of his players.
I'd describe Coach McCoy's leadership the same way. His rough exterior made him hard for a teenager to like. He was stern, demanding, and tough on his players. He was also well respected, honest, and fair.
My last year playing Bantam B, Coach McCoy stopped by a practice to look at the next crop of high school hockey players. There aren't many coaches who would scout a B team, especially at the high school level. But to him a kid's past meant nothing. Everyone got a fair shot.
I made the varsity team my junior year in high school. Halfway through the season I was relegated to junior varsity. After two weeks, I was called back to Varsity. Even though I got another shot, I was still angry about my demotion to JV.
Before my first game back, as the team was dressing in the locker room, Coach McCoy called me over. When I got to him he proceeded to scream at me in front of the entire team. The room turned from chatting and laughing to dead silence. He yelled for what felt like 10 minutes. I said nothing. I was an example of what you get for having a bad attitude.
His pregame "speech" must have worked. I scored the first goal of the game and we beat our higher ranked rivel Southwest High.
After my scolding, I made sure not to sulk about anything I thought was "unfair". I stayed on Varsity for the rest of my high school days.
I now realize that Coach McCoy had taught me something that day. There is little doubt his intent wasn't to be mean, but to give me a lesson in how the world works. I'm stronger because of it. He would teach me many more lessons just like so many other kids he influenced over the years.
Life lesson: Leadership isn't always about cheering you on. Negative reinforcement is sometimes needed for your benefit and the betterment of the group.
Coach McCoy, University of Minnesota hockey team
I learned there was a hockey team during my freshman year in college. It was a club team (non-scholarship) but it was well organized and supported. I tried-out for the team my sophomore year and made the final roster.
The Colorado State coach was Steve Chartrand. He played D1 hockey for Air Force, and he knew the strategies of the game. He was liked by the team but also respected. He positioned players according to their strengths and we gelled as a team. We played hard for Coach Chartrand and improved under his leadership.
We practiced three days a week and played games on the weekend - a big commitment for full-time college students. In the end it paid off. My final game, my senior year of college, we won the club division National Championship.
Colorado State University school newspaper article (Rocky Mountain Collegian)
My last home game playing for the CSU hockey program. Club sports program administrator Carol Becker (pictured left) was a big part of the hockey program's success.
My youth hockey jacket with patches commemorating team and personal accomplishments in the Squirt and Pee-Wee leagues.
Washburn Millers high school practice jersey.
Washburn Millers hockey letterman's jacket.