Leaders of the pack
Posted by Dean Holden at February 10th, 2013
Long-time hockey coach Kevin Hartzell shares what he has learned and implemented in the first of this two-part series on leadership
By Kevin Hartzell, 13 December 2012
The topic of leadership is one of my greater passions. I am convinced that we as a society could do a much better job of nurturing our future leaders and that our sports teams are perfect training grounds for the development of leadership skills. We need to make better usage of our sports teams to this end.
I have studied the topic and tried my best to apply it to my students/players of the teams I have coached. While in Sioux Falls (USHL), we began a focused program on leadership development. The results were surprisingly awesome. By results, I am not referring just to the high percentage of winning teams we had, but to the number of our Stampede alums who developed into designated C’s and A’s (captains and assistant captains) at the Division I college level.
Over the past three years, Sioux Falls alums have accounted for no less than nine C’s and A’s in D-I college in a single year and as many as 15 in a single year. At no point in any single year could I find any other team/organization with more than four.
Stampede Alums have been C’s and/or A’s at North Dakota, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Notre Dame, Colorado College, Harvard, UMass-Lowell, Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence, Ferris State, Michigan State and Bowling Green, just to name a handful. Just this year, as I have traveled about, I was able to watch a UMass vs. UMass-Lowell game. Lowell dressed four captains, two C’s and two A’s. Three of the four were former Stampede players.
One of the captains on that Lowell team is a young man by the name of Chad Ruhwedel. Chad is now a junior at Lowell. When Chad first came to Sioux Falls a few years back, he was a quiet unassuming lad from San Diego. Coming from a non-traditional hockey area and being a humble sort by nature, he naturally allowed others to take the lead in his first USHL season.
In year two, he became our captain and a very good one at that. When we asked him during his exit interview how he had become such a great captain, he gave two reasons: the experience of Challenge Weekend and that of the opportunity to witness previous year’s captain, Dane Walters (a St. Paul native-Como Park and currently captain at Western Michigan), on a daily basis.
Challenge Weekend was a three-day event we created to nurture the fundamentals of teamwork and leadership. I have said for years that Challenge Weekend was the single best thing I have ever done for any of my teams.
For Challenge Weekend, we broke the team into four separate teams and executed a series of team challenges. For each team challenge, a new team captain rotated into a leadership position to lead his team in pursuit of a successful end. Being successful in these team challenges required teamwork, problem solving skills within the team and leadership within the group.
Chad told us in his exit interview that being put into leadership roles during Challenge Weekend and seeing how positively his teammates would respond to his leadership gave him the confidence he needed to understand that others would follow him. On top of that, Chad also told us that being able to watch Dane Walters on a daily basis the year before was a huge part of his coming to understand what real leadership looked like. As Chad told us, when Dane walked through the locker room door each and every day, this very likeable and popular teammate was all business and readied to do go work. He couldn’t help but learn what leadership looked like as modeled by a very good leader.
Leadership is most effective when it is based on a “why.” This focus on the “why” is too often overlooked! The “why” is THE factor in tying people’s motivation together and helping to create a true team effort. People/teammates will go to great efforts to support the effort if they believe in the why!
Let’s first look at the “why.” When Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream, his “why,” leaders of all shapes and sizes joined in the effort because they believed in the same “why.” These leaders would often set out to find their own unique ways to employ their energies and that of others to make a positive effect on the civil rights front.
I think it is important to note the Dr. King didn’t tell everyone how to change things; he shared with us why things needed to change. That allowed many others who believed in the same to employ their own ideas to achieve the same general goals.
Too often coaches get into the how to do things, how to forecheck or how to win a game and not often enough reinforce the why. I was lucky enough to play for legendary coach Herb Books and witnessed firsthand what I thought was a coach with better than average skill and knowledge as other coaches on the how. But when it came to the why and a focus on the chemistry it created, Herbie was a master. His results speak for themselves.
If we gain motivation or a belief in why we play or start an effort to begin with, then leadership within the team is a major factor leading to success. First we need to understand what leadership is. No matter one’s position on the team, everyone needs to assume a position of leadership. EVERYONE! Leadership begins with the ability to think for yourself and to act on your moral convictions. It is the ability to use one’s knowledge in the direction or a redirection of any effort and it starts with leading yourself!
Some leadership basics:
1. While everyone may not have the same leadership role, for the team to function at its best, everyone will need to accept and embrace leadership roles. It could be that moment on the ice, when two teammates have to make a quick decision on who goes where or who covers who or who attacks the puck and who doesn’t. In that moment in time, those player(s) have to take charge and lead.
Leading does not have to mean leading the whole group; it most often means leading just one other. This leads directly to lesson No. 2.
2. It is helpful to think of leading as a personal one-on-one relationship. A leader influences one person at a time even when many sets of eyes are on them. When we take whatever action is necessary to lead the effort in a better/best direction, like-minded people will follow and use their creative instincts to lead on similar or parallel paths.
It happens in a marriage and a friendship. It happens within larger groups. It can be taking the car keys away from a friend who has been drinking alcohol. It can be encouraging a friend who needs encouragement, or admonishing a friend who has behaved badly. It can be speaking to or role modeling for many.
Though Dr. King spoke to many at one time, it was each individual set of eye-balls on him that he was leading. Dane Walters walked into the locker room for many to see, but it was that one set of eyeballs, one Chad Ruhwedel who saw what he did daily and learned.
This is an example of why we hear often that the most basic form of leadership is leadership by example. That one set of eyes that are on you will see the actions you take each and every day. You lead by doing the right things, the things you expect out of others. When you do the right things, others take notice, learn and follow and eventually influence others.
3. One of most underrated elements in being a leader is: you have to have knowledge. You cannot lead if you do not know your subject matter.
For example, you want your team to eat properly so they have the best possible focus and energy to perform well and win games. You cannot lead in this area if you yourself don’t know what a good hockey diet is. To aspire to lead and help the team eat properly takes knowledge of what that is.
You need to seek knowledge to be a leader and then utilize that knowledge to better direct the effort. To be a great leader you have to get intimate with your own thoughts about the knowledge you have acquired. This takes time and focus/concentration.
Being distracted by all the messages we deal with today is a problem. There is a need for quiet time to be able to focus. There is a need to allow thoughts and ideas to simmer and evolve.
This understanding of what you TRULY AND HONESTLY believe is at the genesis of how effective a leader you can be. Others will read your sincere and honest intentions and nothing draws others in more than sincerity of mission.
By the way, in today’s culture, teammates need to agree where and when to leave cell phones behind. To enjoy the daily experience with your teammates, one needs to focus on the experience. Time on the phone or computer is time and focus away from your teammates and the experience of being a team.
Teammates need to focus their attention on their team so they better understand the dynamics within the team and the details that will better serve the team. The best leaders understand the internal dynamics of the team.