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‘Little Man’ Packs Big Message

By Harry Thompson, 08/13/09, 12:00PM MDT

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It may seem odd to talk about football coaching at a hockey coaches symposium, but according to Glen Mason the characteristics that make a good coach transcend sports.

Mason, the former head coach of the University of Minnesota football team, stressed the three C’s of coaching – character, communication and caring – during his speech, entitled “Beat the Little Man,” to more than 580 coaches during the National Hockey Coaches Symposium today in St. Paul, Minn.

Mixing a series of one-liners with inspirational stories from his 35-year coaching career, Mason said a person’s greatness is determined by how well he deals with the “little man” inside his head.

"That little man is a voice that we hear, the voice at 5 a.m. that tells us that it’s too early or too cold to go for a run,” said Mason, who compiled a 64-57 record during his 10 seasons with the Gophers. “When the little man starts talking, you have to talk back to him. How you deal with the little man is all about attitude.”

Mason was one of a several high-level speakers who addressed the crowd on the second day of the National Hockey Coaches Symposium. Others who spoke included USA Hockey’s Bob Mancini, 1984 Olympic Coach Lou Vairo and Willie O’Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL.

The symposium, which is open to coaches looking to achieve their Level 5 certification, the highest coaching level within USA Hockey, runs through Saturday and features a prestigious lineup of presenters, including Olympic coaches Ron Wilson and Mark Johnson, as well as current and former NHL coaches John Tortorella, Mike Sullivan and Peter Laviolette.

Adding a football coach to the lineup provided a different perspective that seemed to hit home with the hockey coaches.

Mason’s introduction to head coaching taught him a valuable lesson that he carried with him the rest of his career. Taking over a losing Kent State program after the head coach suddenly died during spring practice, Mason’s team was picked to finish last in the Mid-American Conference. His first course of action was to change the culture of losing and turn around the program.

“I believe that attitude is a choice,” Mason said. “I’ve been around athletics long enough to know you don’t change people physically but you can change them mentally.”

Now working in the financial industry, Mason still misses many aspects of the profession.

“When people ask me what I miss the most, I give all the canned answers. But what I really miss most are the coaches. I’m jealous of everyone in this room,” Mason said.

Still a popular figure in and around the Twin Cities, Mason cherishes his time on the sidelines and the impact he’s had on young players’ lives.

“Hopefully I had a positive impact on some kids’ life like the coaches who had positive impact on my life,” said Mason. “I’ll run into a former player and they’ll say thanks for all you did for me. That’s worth more than one million dollars to me.”

Harry Thompson is the editor of USA Hockey Magazine

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