Are you counting down the days to the start of the NHL season? I am! I think my favorite team, the Washington Capitals, are going to have an outstanding season. No, really! Well, I always think that, but from what I have seen and heard so far, this year they seem to have one extra special item in their toolbox. Not any particular super player, although they did make several significant acquisitions in the off-season that should really make a difference. No, it is their new coach. Barry Trotz, a veteran coach who is an undeniable leader. There are coaches who coach, and there are coaches who lead. The noticeable difference goes far beyond skills and drills. When players are inspired by their coach's philosophy, when they internalize and make his vision their own, that is the result of quality transformational leadership. The team is empowered and can take their collective skills to a higher level. Here is how he is doing it so far:
1. Coach Trotz is meticulous, detailed and highly organized. His every move is calculated and deliberate. From start whistle to finish, everything is done according to plan. When this is communicated to the players, there is trust. No surprises. He tells them what they will be doing and when, and that is what happens.
2. He has assembled a team of coaches and staff who he trusts to work at a high level, who buy in to his vision and own it. These individuals are at the top of their respective areas. Mitch Korn, for example, is a guru of goalies. His style and original training props (mini-pucks, white pucks, a curtain of hanging strips and more) simultaneously raise eyebrows and inspire motivation to perform among the players. The consistency among the coaching staff in their approaches to training and play is necessary to maintain credibility and trust of the players within this system.
3. Coach Trotz has a clear vision and philosophy. He communicates this to his players verbally and by example. He communicates his expectations for the team and expresses confidence that the players can meet and exceed these expectations. His belief becomes their belief.
4. Coach Trotz nurtures the team atmosphere, the "we're in this together" feeling. He personally invited select players to form a leadership group. The group members are players who can lead by example on and off the ice, who can help teammates manage their emotions so they don't get in the way. They can ensure everyone plays as a team. If there are issues, players are encouraged to speak to the leadership group, which acts as a middleman between players and coaches. Leaders were paired as mentors with rookies at training camp, even assigned locker stalls next to one another to further drive the point home that they are all one, all part of a greater whole. Everyone matters.
What these things have done is to break down barriers common in teams--veteran vs. rookie, superstar vs. fourth-liner, management vs. player. It has produced an atmosphere in which they have not just a team, but a band of brothers. The players want to play with and for each other. They have each others' backs and support each other. They fight for each other. Now out on the ice, whether they're a first- or fourth-liner, it's personal. And they're all in.
You will probably notice players reiterating these points in their interviews with the media. That shows how deeply Coach Trotz's message runs. Through repetition, example and trust, he encourages the players to make his vision their own. The players will exude more confidence, feel respected and feel like they belong to something great. They will make decisions based on the greater good of the team. This is the mark of true leadership. And it is what is going to make this season unlike any other the Capitals have had. I like what I've seen so far of Coach Trotz. I can't wait to see how it plays out!
What diehard Caps fan didn't hold his breath or shake her head in disbelief watching super goalie Braden Holtby allow 8 goals on 45 shots as this season started? Who can we count on now? What is going on?? But one person wasn't worried, and that was Holtby himself. Confidence intact, this student of the mental game of hockey understands exactly what is happening, and knows that in a short time he will be all he ever was and more.
Even the greatest athletes can find room for improvement, though often are reluctant to make any tweaks or modifications, for fear it will interfere with their continued success. In fact, the changes, if applied, practiced consistently and internalized, will only enhance success in the long run. But the resistance persists for many. An athlete may look to a coach, veteran teammate or professional such as myself, for something they can do to improve, to get the edge over the competition. But if that "thing" is a change in style, position, anything the athlete has been doing for a long time, the walls can go up.
It is true that initiating change means what has become a habit needs to be "unlearned" in favor of something new. Research has suggested for anything to become a habit it must be consistently applied for at least 6 weeks. Most athletes say, and rightly so, that they don't have 6 weeks to experiment with their performance. So timing is indeed a consideration. Ideally when an athlete is performing, he wants the movements to be automatic. He shouldn't have to think, just do it. When something new is in the mix, inevitably thinking goes along with it. "Wait, I have to do this instead of that." "Now how was I supposed to stand?" So we need to remove the conscious thought in favor of automatic responses.
Holtby has been fortunate to be able to work with goaltending coach Olie Kolzig, himself an outstanding netminder, who has made some "tweaks" to Holtby's game--mainly footwork and positioning. Holtby says, "I think any changes you make that you haven't used your whole life take a little bit of work." And of his slow start, "It's just one of those things that when you start to struggle you go back to your old ways and get in even more trouble." Old ways, old habits, former automatic moves. The key is to make the new moves automatic, to completely replace, write over the old ones. Holtby is an amazing athlete, and fortunately also a willing student, eager to soak up expertise wherever he can find it. Obviously the new elements make sense to him; he has bought in to them. This is a very important point. You need to trust the source of the new information, believe that the changes will indeed work, and completely understand the reasons behind them. Now it is just a matter of making the new elements automatic. Holtby gets it, and will be that much better for embracing the changes. There is no need to fear change in your game if you plan for it, devote yourself to practice it and internalize it to make it automatic. You'll know when you're there, because suddenly there will be no "old ways" to fall back on in a critical moment. I like the saying, "Don't practice until you get it right. Practice until you can't get it wrong." Pure automatic.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Personal Best Sports
The sports world is filled with stories of perseverance, failure and success, personal struggles and public triumph. Each story provides insight into the mental side of sport and activity.