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Blashill: Cultivating a winning culture

By Michael Caples, 10/18/16, 10:15AM MDT

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Jeff Blashill’s “Earn It Every Day” speech has become a must-see video for hockey players and coaches of all ages and skills.

The Detroit Red Wings head coach – a bench boss who has won titles at the junior, college and AHL levels during his own career ascension – certainly knows how to motivate players. According to Blashill, that starts by creating a winning culture on and off the ice. It’s not about the wins and losses, of course – it’s about cultivating an environment that pushes players to be their best and to continue growing as players and individuals.

Foundation of excellence

“I think anytime you’re talking about culture, whether it’s youth or junior or college or the NHL, you’re talking about foundation pieces that produce excellence,” Blashill said. “That can be excellence within your individual players, it can be excellence as a team. As a coach, you have to decide, first of all, what your foundation pieces are. For most coaches, it’s going to run involve work ethic – establishing great work ethic in every situation and never allowing short-term success to get in the way with creating a culture of work ethic.

“If you have a player who chooses not to work hard – and this goes to step two – it’s accountability. There isn’t a way you can have a great culture, and I don’t care what age kids are, really after 8U, they’re starting to learn life lessons. Work ethic and accountability to me are two foundational pieces you need to have an excellent culture. Every coach is a little different; you may word things a little different, but you have to figure out what your foundation is and make sure everything you do, every action you take, adheres to those principles of your foundation. Never take a shortcut to win a game in the short-term.”

Accountability

How does a youth hockey coach who has limited time with his or her players build that sense of work ethic and accountability? You make sure they are doing everything right – every single time they step on the ice.

“I think, every practice – and I watch this with my own son’s 10U team – make sure your guys are working. If they’re not working, make sure they’re held accountable. It’s as simple as that. How do you do that? Well, let’s say you tell the guys to skate to the red line and back. As the players get close, they stop two feet short of the red line. Make them do it again. If they don’t do it right, make ‘em do it again. You’re teaching both of those things in one. Everything that you do, every moment of the game, make sure you’re emphasizing those.

The same approach applies to games, according to Blashill.

“When you get into games, and what is important, let’s say it’s skating hard all the time, and a kid is not skating hard, then you have to make sure he misses a shift. He doesn’t miss a shift because he made a mistake, he doesn’t miss a shift because he got scored on. Those are results. It’s a foundational process, especially at young ages where you’re not trying to punish kids for maybe not being as good as another kid, you’re making sure that they all learn those life lessons and those important foundation lessons within your own team.”

Don’t forget the parents

Everyone has to be on the same page if you’re going to build a successful culture for your team. That includes the parents. Blashill, himself a youth hockey parent, said that it’s important to be clear and direct with the parents early on, and define what you are expecting out of their sons and/or daughters.

“I think my advice is to be direct, not to beat around the bush at all, to be as direct and honest as possible from Day 1,” Blashill said. “Make sure you set forth from Day 1 what the standard is. I think if people know a clear standard, it’s easier to handle those situations when they come out through the year. If the standard is muddy at all, then it becomes a lot of ‘he said, she said’ back and forth, so make sure the standard is real clear right away.

“I’m a big believer in communicating. I’m a parent. Every parent sees their kid a little through rose-colored glasses. It’s always going to be that way. But I do think that when the standard is clear and it applies across the board equally, then it’s much easier to get those points across. That doesn’t mean that every player plays the same amount of ice time. That doesn’t mean that every player gets the same opportunities on the power play and the penalty kill. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is your standard for your principles and your foundation. If it’s work ethic, if it’s discipline, if it’s those types of things, then every player, no matter how good they are, has to be held accountable in those situations.”

Remember your role

Blashill also wants to remind coaches of their primary responsibility for each season – to help their players reach their goals.

“I can’t say it emphatically enough – when you’re coaching a team, you have the responsibility of what the end goal is for the players that you’re coaching. This is no different than when I was coaching in the American League, it’s no different when I’m coaching here in the NHL, it’s no different when I was coaching in juniors, and it’s no different for youth. What’s the end goal of your players? It’s your responsibility to help them reach their end goals. There isn’t a young player in the country whose end goal is to be the best player at 12U. Most of them dream higher than that. They dream of doing things in the NHL.

“The other part of it, in terms of your responsibility, is the lessons you’re teaching them. Helping them grow as people. I think the biggest thing you can have as a coach is a great impact on a young person. Winning, to me, is a byproduct of the right approach. Winning is a byproduct of process. Winning is a byproduct of having that foundation and teaching the right principles. It’s a total byproduct of that. Everybody loves to win. We want to win as much as we can, but if I’m not helping our players get better, I’m not doing my job. If I’m not helping them grow as men, I’m not doing my job, and that certainly applies to youth organizations.”

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