Blame It On The Coach

I’m a die-hard hockey fan and generally enjoy this time of year because it’s play-off season. The games are much faster and more intense. Night after night I am on pins and needles, glued to the television, hoping my team will win. Unfortunately, and despite wearing my ‘lucky shirt’ way too many days in a row, both my teams were eliminated. While the backstory as to why I root for two teams will be saved for another day, I do want to share how my two beloved teams handled the defeat.

The Columbus Bluejackets team will be entering its fourteenth season, which is very young in a league that has been in existence for almost 100 years. The team has advanced to the play-offs only twice and this year was one of those times, and faced a really strong opponent – my “other team” – the Pittsburgh Penguins who unfortunately, eliminated the Bluejackets in the first round.

Despite the play-off loss, I was so proud of the Bluejackets. Watching these young men play each game as if their lives depended on it was amazing. Individual players brought everything they had into each game, at times battling back from a deficit to play yet one more game. The sportscasters and writers alike were blown away at how well the Bluejackets played, even when they lost a game. And after their season ended early, articles recanted the Bluejacket’s spirit and drive, indicating that this team was truly competing at the same level as other top teams in the league. At the end of the day, the fans in Columbus felt really good about how their team played and look forward to a new season with excitement.

On the other hand, the Pens moved on but were eliminated at the end of the second round. All season long, the Pens were heralded for their talent and strong play and were viewed as a contender for the Stanley Cup this year. The Pens have talent on their team that other coaches would die for. They have fans that not only pack their arena each game, but also come out in droves to cheer the team on regardless of the city in which the game is played. While I and other Pens fans were not happy with their early elimination, I was more disappointed in what happened with the team after the season ended.

Rumors began swirling around possible causes for the team’s failure to deliver. The media reported that the coach had “lost the locker room” and was ineffective at motivating the players to perform. Star players complained that the coach was too critical of their play and a television clip showing the captain arguing with the coach during a game was played over and over much to the shock and dismay of the fans. Other players complained about long practices and said they weren’t having fun anymore. Oh, I see, it’s all the coaches’ fault.

Excuse me?

I don’t profess to understand what has been going on in the locker room for the past seven months. Maybe the coach did turn into a jerk, or maybe the team just didn’t have sufficient fire in their bellies to put it all on the line, the way their competitors did. Many of the players on the Pens have won a Stanley Cup before so maybe they just didn’t have the level of passion that translates into the type of play that earns you another cup. Maybe the practices were long and not always fun, but who hasn’t faced that in their job? I would think that making millions of dollars a year might serve as stronger motivation for these young men compared to the average Joe who earns a pittance in comparison, and who more than likely puts in a lot more work hours than these hockey players, but apparently I am wrong.

As I stated previously, I don’t know what happened in that locker room, but here is what I do know and it applies to leaders and teams in business as well as sports. It takes more than the leader to lose the confidence and support of a group. Team members must share in their responsibility for contributing to the problem through either action or inaction. Passion and dedication wane from time to time even with the most dedicated employees. It’s important for not only the leader to recognize when this waning is happening, but it’s also important for employee to recognize it and work together to get the team back on track. Work isn’t always a picnic (for me that would be budget time) but effective teams work together to find a way to get the job done. At the end of the day, when you’re part of the team – leader or employee, coach or player – it’s always about something bigger than you – whether it’s your fans, your family or your customers. And something that big can only be achieved together.

Speak loudly, step boldly!

Image courtesy of Getty ImagesMay 22nd, 2014 11:31am Beth Bierbower business strategy business coaching