Regroup May 13th | What Can Hockey Coaches Learn from Mike Gillis?

In Coaching Hockey, The Regroup by Kelvin CechLeave a Comment

Former Vancouver Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis has returned to the hockey scene after a self-induced exile to the furthest reaches of the sports world. Australia. Geneva. California. Spain. What sounds like a well-earned vacation was anything but for Gillis, as he used his time to learn tricks of the trade from various sport organizations in each locale.

But it wasn’t strictly positive tricks he picked up. Gillis also learned about what not to do, how not to organize an organization, how not to treat people.

The problem with culture is we never think our own is bad until we look at it through an unfiltered lens, and usually the only way to do that is to get fired.

So what can we learn from Mike Gillis? The job is the journey. Commit to the process and learn as much as you can. You never know when the next opportunity will present itself, and you’ll want to be prepared when it does.

An excerpt from last week’s post announcing Mike Gillis’s presentation at the 2019 TeamSnap Coaches Conference in Toronto:

Gillis interview with Pierre LeBrun from The Athletic

Lebrun: I can’t think of a better way to start this conversation than for you to let the world know what exactly you’ve been up to since you left the Canucks.

Gillis: I went back to school, Pierre. I travelled around the world learning best practices, looking at the best sports organizations I could find and finding out what was working and in some cases what wasn’t working. And why you had consistently strong performances out of certain teams and consistently weak performances out of other teams. So I’ve had a great few years meeting and speaking to lots of people and understanding the environment for really strong human performance.

What kind of places have you been to?

I spent a lot of time in Australia with the Aussie Rules Football guys. I spent a lot of time in California at Stanford. I spent a lot of time in Switzerland in Geneva at a place called the Biotech Campus, which is a cutting edge philanthropic place where they’re doing extraordinary things helping people who are disabled or having physical struggles. I went to China. I spent a lot of time in Spain, you know, really just going around and looking at what other people were up to and how they were approaching high-level performance in sports. It didn’t matter what the sport was, it just mattered how they were driving performance, how they were communicating, their daily training environment and talking to a lot of smart people.

If you had one key takeaway from all those experiences, what would you say that you now know that you didn’t know before that has really left a deep impression on you?

I think the one thing that has made probably the biggest impression on me is the emphasis that really high-end, high-functioning organizations have on leadership and culture. Which is a daily part of their training environment. So it isn’t like you decide to focus on that for a short period of time and hope that it’s going to work out. They drive leadership, they drive culture every day that the players are there. It’s totally aligned from the top of the organization to the bottom of the organization that they’re always in a teaching mode, they’re always teaching about how to be proper leaders, and how to maintain the culture and what culture is defined as. It’s clearly one of the biggest differences that I saw. The top organizations are removing hope from the equation. They’re implementing plans and implementing a strategy that constantly drives leadership and culture. As a result, they take players that may not be successful somewhere else and they become successful there. There’s only so many top players to go around. But if you get the highest utility out of every one of them that’s on your team because you’re communicating properly, they’re training properly, but they’re also learning about how to be better. That was definitely the biggest takeaway I’ve had.


From last week, in case you missed it…

Read the rest of the Mike Gillis announcement:

2019 Speaker Series: Mike Gillis on Culture, Sport Science, & Successful Organizations

Mike Gillis 2019 TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference



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About the Author
Kelvin Cech

Kelvin Cech

Former editor in chief of The Coaches Site, current head coach of the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.


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