Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics is widely regarded as one of the best and brightest minds in coaching today. Two articles in the last week have started to pull back some of the layers surrounding Brad and what makes him successful.

ESPN’s TrueHoop did this piece on him last week, and the Boston Globe profiled him yesterday.

Two things stand out to me from the articles. First, in the ESPN piece, Kyrie Irving made the statement that “…every single possession matters to him”. Second, Brad himself says in the Globe article that, “…the magic is in the work.”

Two small snippets from the stories that illustrate Brad’s commitment to work and his understanding that every detail matters.

What I’m Learning from House of Cards

I’ve recently gotten hooked on the Netflix series House of Cards. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

While I’m enjoying the series as something to relax and shut the brain off with, I am also fascinated by Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood.

Frank is as Machiavellian as they come, seeing life as something to be manipulated in your favor and every interaction as a win or a loss. He is ruthless in his pursuit of power and willing to win at any cost. His ability to manipulate and use people is something you don’t see every day, and he freely discards people when they no longer serve his purpose.

While Frank’s morality and ethics leave a lot to be questioned, there are some traits about him that I appreciate and can learn from.

First and foremost is his ability to plan. Everything he does has a purpose, especially his conversations with his colleagues. He anticipates how people are going to react to the things he does and says. His actions and words are done to prod, provoke and bring out a reaction. While it is never explicitly stated, he has an endgame and an objective in mind at all times.

As coaches, it is very easy to fall into the trap of acting according to how you feel/reacting to what others do or say. The master coach is one who is always planning and looking to manipulate (in a positive fashion) the team to create the best conditions for success. Conversations with players, reactions in practice, decisions in games. The master coach is very precise and understands what will bring out the desired result.

Frank Underwood is relentless in the pursuit of his objectives. He is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone around him that might help him achieve his goals. He is ruthless and not afraid to make hard decisions.

Coaching is a people driven business. But it is also one that requires coaches to make hard decisions in pursuit of their objectives. Playing time, lineup, roster, recruiting – all areas that require a coach to say no or tell someone they aren’t good enough. While coaches should never discard people on their teams, they should be ready to make the hard decisions that will move them closer to their objectives.

Pardon the pun, but Frank has a lot of frank conversations in his job. While it is very much part of what he does, it seems as though he spends most of his day in a confrontation with someone. This is an unnatural human state – we can be hostile and confrontational for a time, but humans are programmed to be at ease for the majority of their day. Frank is not afraid of this aroused state and embraces most of the battles head on.

Confrontation, especially with a colleague or someone you like (friend, co-worker, spouse) is never easy. But it is a necessary part of life and when used properly can help to mend relationships and fix things that aren’t working well. Often, people try to avoid or hide from confrontation, ignoring people or ducking the problem. Facing issues head on, embracing the confrontation and looking to grow from it is the best way to handle it. Frank’s ability to be upfront, honest and blunt about what he wants is a refreshing reminder about the value of confrontation and how it can be beneficial when used properly.

While I just hit on a few key themes from Frank Underwood’s character, there are dozens of things in House of Cards that any leader can learn from. A fascinating drama that shows what the world of politics looks like and might also help you become a better coach.

Systems vs Style

People in hockey talk a lot about the “systems” that a team plays. Phrases like – “I don’t think their systems fit their personnel” or “Their systems aren’t effective” or “We play an up-tempo and offensive system”.

I think too often people use systems as a catch-all buzzword to describe a teams play. What people really should be talking about is a teams style of play. Are they aggressive or passive? Attacking or defensive? Do they like to play a grinding game? A transition/rush game? Are they skilled and fast? Big and strong?

A team’s systems will then make up part of their style. What their forecheck, dzone coverage, etc is composed of helps to ingrain a style of play into a players mind.

Players make decisions on the ice more under the umbrella of a team’s style than their x’s & o’s systems. Aggressive teams will have players who step up more often in 50/50 situations. Defensive or passive teams will tend to back off and protect the middle of the ice through the dot lines. These are stylistic decisions, not systems decisions.

Coaches establish the system a team will play, but more importantly they establish the style that will guide the individual decisions that players will make all over the ice.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: Two Cone Agility

Two Cone Agility.jpg

A simple yet effective agility drill for forwards or defenseman.

Player skates in from just above the top of the circle carrying a puck. The player does a figure 8 around both cones, then passes the puck to the coach standing at the far dot. Coach gives an instantaneous return pass which is one-touched into the net.

The drill is designed to focus solely on the players’ edgework. The variance lies in the skating movement around the cones. First have the player go through on one foot with just inside edges (right at bottom, left at top). Then just outside edges. Then two feet tight turn. Then open hip. Then stop at the bottom, crossover accelerate around the top.

Again, simple drill but change the skating movement to help develop edges, balance and acceleration.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: 2v0 Exchange Shooting

2v0 Exchange

A shooting drill with a lot of passing elements to it – gets the hands and feet moving with a lot of pace.

X’s and O’s all start at the same time. The X & O that carry a puck cross with their respective partner and make a drop pass (inside the blue line). This player then skates into the outside lane while the original puck carrier skates into the inside lane on the far side. The outside lane gives a bump pass to the player skating in the inside lane from the opposite side (the original puck carrier gets the puck back from the other end). The two X’s then go attack the far net 2v0 (the O’s do the same thing).

A little confusing, but in short: Drop pass to your partner. Fill either the outside lane (pass receiver) or the inside lane on the far side (original puck carrier). Receive/give a pass to the other twosome. Go in 2v0 with a long shot and rebound.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: 10 Minute Drill

10 Minute Drill

A 10 minute competition game. Forwards vs D & Goalies. Forwards are trying to score 10 goals (or some other number that you believe to be appropriate).

The drill starts with a 2v1 in one end (right side of the picture). Two F attack one D out of the corner 2v1. After a shot on net or a clear by the D, they receive a pass from their original line and go 2v1 vs the same D down the length of the ice. After the long 2v1 plays out, a new forward starts with a puck from the corner and they go 3v2 (2 new D) down the length of the ice. After the 3v2 hits the blue line, a forward steps out and gets a breakaway down the far end. The drill then starts again with a tight area 2v1 at the net and continues this way for 10 minutes or until the forwards score the allotted number of goals.

A great competition drill, offensive emphasis drill as well as a sneaky conditioning skate for your team.


“Attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind” – Jim Harbaugh.

One of my favorite sayings from a successful head coach.

We face challenges and obstacles every day in life and every shift in hockey. It isn’t a question of if we are going to encounter something in the path to our goal, but rather how we meet that challenge.

Enthusiasm and energy have the power to overcome almost anything that stands in your way. If you’re excited to take on an obstacle, you have a much greater chance of success.

Example: Tuesday night we played a very good UNE team at home. We went down 1-0 early on a deflected point shot off of a DZ faceoff. Rather than feel sorry for ourselves, we answered with lots of energy – we continue to fight when we went down 2-1 after the first despite outplaying our opponent by a wide margin. The final score? 7-4.

I believe we won on Tuesday night not because of talent, not because of tactics, but because of the energy, effort and enthusiasm that our team showed throughout all 60 minutes of the game. It was infectious and spread like a virus throughout our bench. There was no doubt that we were going to win the game, regardless of what the score was.

“Attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind”