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Ex-Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock Shows Up and Expounds on Hockey and Accountability

What does Mike Babcock have to say about hockey and team culture?

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This morning, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox wrote a wide-ranging post on a number of tops. In that post, he talked about a Mike Babcock sighting and even noted that he “kinda missed the Babtalk.” Anyway, Babcock showed up to an online seminar sponsored by the Friends of McGill Hockey and spoke to participants along with other presenters Peter Smith (coach of the McGill Martlets) and Jamie Kompon (associate coach of the Winnipeg Jets).

Babcock keeps a low profile these days after he was fired six months ago by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he was there in full-force during this presentation. Here’s what Babcock had to say about the following topics:

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Topic One: About Team-Building Activities

Although Babcock didn’t exactly dismiss team-building activities, he noted that “I’ve been to every kind of professional thing you can think of, from ropes courses to camping to curing with gold-medal skips to canoe racing. Often the group of players you have determines the success of a team-building event. It isn’t the event; it’s the people.”

He went on to say that for him team-building was paying the price and gave the example of a 250-pound defenseman bearing down on a forward stuck on the wall and about to get ramrodded. His note, team-building was getting the puck out of trouble. Another example? Laying down to block a puck speeding toward your own net.

Team building was to him making each other better and more accountable. Then your “people” will love you for doing it. Finally, he noted “Sometimes we get confused with what team building actually is.”

Topic Two: About Managing Superstars

Babcock admitted that, to him, managing superstars wasn’tas big a deal as you might think” because “The best players want to be the best players. They want to be great. They want a partnership with you.”

Then he named names, noting that Patrick Kane’s rules were different than someone else’s rules, as was Pavel Datsyuk’s rules, and Auston Matthews’ rules, and finally Mitch] Marner’s rules. They have different rules because they have different skillsets. He also noted that, because of their drive, they “don’t need you every time something goes wrong for you to be reminding them. But what they need is parameters.”

He believed the best players only needed parameters for them and having a partnership with you is what it’s all about.”

Topic Three: About How to Tell if Your Team Has Curated the Right Culture

Here Babcock noted that, if your team has the right culture, when you “play the last game in pro hockey and you know you’re never going to be together again — the guys don’t want to take their equipment off. They don’t want to leave; they want to be together.”

He also used the metaphor of “family,” noting that teams “create a family culture where everyone can be important. Everyone’s accountable. Everyone’s committed. In the end, those are the pictures that go on your wall, because the ones that you didn’t create that in, they didn’t win.”

Topic Four: About Turning Practice into Internal Competition

Finally Babcock noted the competitiveness of NHL players and translated that into solid practices. He noted that “The harder they compete against one another, the better they’re going to become. … As soon as you keep score, the energy level goes through the roof. And that’s what they want to do — they want to compete. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-on-one, small-ice game, a two-on-one, a forward versus a D, a line competition, it doesn’t matter. But they want to compete. That’s where the fun is.”

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In Summary

One concept that kept coming up in Babcock’s talk was accountability and the need for it. Perhaps this is interesting, but it makes me wonder whether, if Babcock were the general manager of the Maple Leafs when he was coaching this season, he would have fired himself.

Honestly, I apologize if it seems as if I’m mean-spirited here, but in the NHL accountability translates into winning on the ice, and Babcock’s own teams weren’t doing it. Hmmm. It makes me wonder.

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