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What should we expect of a modern-day hockey coach…and partly also of all other types of coaches? My answer is easy: We expect, as a German speaker may say, an “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” (literal translation: an egg-laying pig with woolskin that produces milk ;-) ).

By Thomas Roost

As we live in 2017, I want to present you 17 qualities (or the “secret”) of successful coaches in the future. Here we go (in random order):

1. Diversity and empathy

We tend to believe that North American hockey players need to be coached by old-school and “my way or highway” type of guys; Russian players, on the other hand, need endless skill drills and rather rustic treatment to play at their best; Swiss players need to know why they have to do this or that; and Scandinavian players are used to be part of the coaching, so coaches ask the players how they would fix a certain problem.

So, we notice: completely different cultures, different individuals, and these days, when a lot of players with different nationalities and personalities play in every league, coaching a hockey team seems to be a demanding job if one wants to make sure the players reach their best level possible. This multicultural composition of modern hockey teams leads us to the first skill a modern hockey coach needs to have: He needs empathy; he needs the ability to understand completely different characters, nationalities, and individuals. He needs to be a person who is interested in other people, a person who can ask the right questions and who can honestly show the players that he cares about them.

2. Always growing and focusing on improvement

A great coach understands that it is all about becoming a better coach every day; it’s about supporting your players to become better players every day; it’s about supporting everybody in your organization to become better employees every day. A great coach understands that joy and success do not come from comparison, but from advancement. A great coach knows that he can never ever relax and rely on what he knows or on what he has already achieved. A successful coach knows the difference between, on the one hand, just working hard and being productive and efficient and, on the other hand, improvement. He focuses on improvement with everything he does.

3. Life-long learning

A great coach should know that he, too, must read and learn every day until his last day as a coach. It’s about lifelong learning, every single day. I repeat: every day! A lot of successful people take their time and read for at least two hours a day and spend an additional hour just for thinking.

4. Being brave

A great coach is never afraid of failing. If he is afraid, he kills the game; he kills the improvement of his players; he kills creativity. A great coach is a brave coach who is not afraid to take risks.

5. Asking smart questions

A good coach should still be able to ask a lot of smart questions. The ability to ask the right questions will be an important skill in the future. Frankly, it is already an important skill now.

6. Humility

A successful coach needs to have humility. He needs to be able to ask himself critical questions, to deal with constructive criticism, and to always be critical. At the same time, he should always re-evaluate everything he thinks he knows.

7. Self-critical

A successful coach stays away from pointing fingers at others. Instead, he tries to find solutions and not the person or thing that is responsible for this or that mistake. And he is self-confident enough to admit his own mistakes.

8. Trial and error

Successful coaches know that they won’t have this ONE great and successful idea; they know that successful people usually experiment a lot with new things. They spend approximately 20 percent of their working hours on experimenting with new ideas. The trial and error method is by far the most successful approach! A great coach knows that his last mistake is his best teacher and he has to try a lot of different things until he might find something really great.

9. Passion and love

As a successful coach, you have to show that you are as passionate about your job as you expect your players to be. You really have to love hockey, and to love hockey means you love every single practice, you love to watch and analyze tons of hockey games, hockey players, and “hockey-sayings.”

10. Reduce it to a minimum

Analytics, which came from North America, lead to a comfortable but highly difficult situation.
Too much information; learning about the 10 percent of the available advanced statistics that are useful and important; learning the smart interpretation of these statistics…. And, most importantly, which stats should you discuss with a certain player, and how should you do it?
Reduce it to a minimum; try to communicate the important analytic results in a pragmatic way, so that players with rather simple minds will understand it, too.

11. Cognitive flexibility

A successful coach has highly developed cognitive flexibility; he knows how to adapt his knowledge to everyday situations.

12. Solving complex problems

This is difficult but very important in a world where populists still want to make us believe that there are simple solutions in life, politics, and sports. In reality, however, we live in a world that is very complex and that not even the brightest brains fully understand. The future belongs to smart, nuanced problem fixers.

13. People management in general

Develop players, make them better, identify certain jobs in your team for certain players and make sure that your players stay motivated. By the way: I don’t believe that you can motivate players; you can only demotivate them and that’s why your ultimate goals should be to avoid doing this.

14. Creativity

Maybe the most important skill of a modern-day coach who wants to be successful is creativity. These days, a lot of new products and technologies become available in such a short time. Hence, coaches need to have a plan on how to transform all of these new possibilities into results. “How can I use all these new tools to make my players better?” Creativity might be the number one skill because if you are successful, others will catch up to you very soon. So, successful coaches have to change what they do time and time again; and to do this, they need a high level of creativity and the ability to learn.

15. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is another important aspect of successful coaches in the future. In a time when technical systems, software programs, and robots will do a significant part of your job, you need to stay up to date in terms of, for instance, player information: These systems cannot understand and read human beings. So one of the game-changing skills of a coach will be the ability to read the reaction of others, to predict their reaction to certain events, and to have empathy and understanding for different kinds of personalities.

16. Service-orientation

At first, this may seem strange for a hockey coach, but I believe that a great coach also needs a service-oriented approach. This means he actively looks for ways to support others: the players, the assistant coach, the back-office staff, and so on. Not the players serve the coach; it’s the other way around.

17. Judgment and decision-taking

This is also very important: the ability to analyze complex data and being able to take decisions. We already have (in the NHL) and soon will have (in our leagues) an incredible amount of data, way too much data. Successful coaches have to be able to decide what is useful and what data should be considered for a decision. Plus, another very important point: A great coach first does the important things before he does the urgent ones. A lot of managers and coaches usually do it the other way around.

Last but not least: Because my joke in my last blog was so unbelievably successful, I will now tell you another one… ok, maybe not ;-)

Enjoy!

Photo: Thomas Roost

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About the Blog

Rule the Roost

Thomas Roost, CHRO and Executive Board member in a intl. tourist company, NHL-scout for Central Scouting Europe since 1995, scout for SC Bern from 2007-2010 and EHC Biel since 2010.

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