Picking Your Team

Murray Pratt Blog, Business Insights, Life

Hockey players lined up on a sheet of ice

picking your team

We had watched the kids the previous four games carefully, noting their strengths and weaknesses, and trying to recall when we might have coached a particular kid so we could remember how he dealt with others, his character.

Pretty serious stuff. After all, this was the selection of a boys’ peewee house hockey team – something that occurs every year in thousands of towns and cities across Canada.  It’s a very Canadian thing in that all the players are placed on teams. It’s the public school system of the hockey world. There are no ‘cuts’… er ‘reassignments’… and the only kids that don’t make it are the ones whose parents forgot to register!

But as you go through the draft you have this matrix running through your head:

Nice Kid Nice Parent Matrix

The upper right and the lower left quadrants are pretty easy – you try to get the ‘nice kid/nice parent’ combination while avoiding the ‘problem kid/difficult parent’ combination like the plague.You don’t want to say it explicitly but its pretty much running through everyone’s head during the draft.

The upper left and lower right quadrants are more problematic. But if you pushed us coaches they would tell you, in all honesty, and rather starkly, that they would rather take a ‘problem kid’ than a ‘problem parent’.

I remember an article in the Harvard Business Review in which a professor researched the ‘likeability’ and ‘competence’ dynamic of employees working in a company. He showed how there was an inherent bias for ‘likeability’ in businesses. The essence of the article was ‘you may want to take a second look at the competent one’.

I envisioned a conversation like this.

‘Okay so we fired Stretch Cunningham, whom everyone liked, and we kept you. You can still be a jerk, but you can stay only if you aren’t too much of a jerk’.

Time magazine just published an issue on the ‘Professionalization of Minor Sports’. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I think it’s the sign of the times in a world where we can create our own little world, our own little womb, by simply changing the settings on Facebook so we only hear from and speak to those folks who are just like us.  And if we can now engineer our kids experience with a private batting instructor and a private batting coach they too might be able to make $30-million a season when they make it to the ‘Big Leagues’. It’s all about personalization and the self-actualization of the ‘me’ generation’s children.

I was thinking about the irony of the situation.

When I have attended coaching clinics and listened to the real professionals – an NHL hockey coach for instance – I am amazed at how much they work at ‘keeping things loose’, making it fun for their players. They work hard at putting their players in their ‘mid-brains’ and having them tap into the essential joy of the game – a place beyond the ‘neutral zone traps’, or the ‘red zone offences’; getting them out of the ‘x’s and ‘o’s of the game and into the emotion that got them hooked on the game in the first place.

By contrast there are so many coaches and adults in minor sports are trying to ‘professionalize’ the kids – drilling them and driving ‘like the pros’… who… um… actually try to get away from all of that!

Now that we have selected our team, at our first meeting we will discuss ‘values’. This year’s team is the Golden Bears. I always like to ground our team in some animal, something natural, while finding reference points for the team in other areas – in this case hockey and football.

Our three values are part of our “B3 strategy”.

  1. Be all that you can be
  2. Be a good teammate
  3. Be a Hockey Ambassador

I established this framework years ago for my teams, and shortly thereafter I stumbled upon an essential truth.

Those values are not only pertinent to a peewee hockey team but to a business as well – pretty well any organization for that matter.  They are as relevant to our trucking software business here at Tailwind Transportation Software, as they are to my peewee Golden Bears.

  1. Do your absolute best
  2. Get along with your co-workers
  3. Represent our company and brand well in our community and around the world

The only difference here in our trucking software business is that I have much more latitude in the players I pick and keep, and I don’t have to take the parents into consideration… but there are times I wish I could enlist their help!

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