Kevin Cassese on Building a Program

Kevin Cassese, Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach at Lehigh University spoke at LaxCon 2015 about Building a Program. US Lacrosse was nice enough to post video highlights of his talk on their YouTube page. I highly recommend taking a look at it – some really good stuff in here about culture and program building.

AHCA – Ron Rolston Hot Stove

A favorite part of the convention for me is the “Hot Stove” talks given by a handful of coaches. Designated coaches will talk about their year/career/topic of their choice and then answer questions. Here’s what Ron Rolston (former HC of the Buffalo Sabres) had to say:

  • Ron was in the college game for 13 years as an assistant coach prior to moving to the NTDP to be a head coach
  • Working as a HC at the NTDP allowed him to do his own thing, the job changes dramatically from AC to HC
  • He was hired in Rochester (AHL) when Buffalo (NHL) wanted to change their minor league format to a more developmental system similar to the NTDP
  • After he was let go in Buffalo, he spent the year travelling and looking at different programs and how they operate – NHL, AHL, NCAA – he’s learned that the better teams have a few components: an organizational philosophy that is well mapped out and everyone sticks to it – attention to detail in everything they do
  • Leadership philosophy is that leaders drive the height of the organization but you have to bring in guys who have good leadership abilities and a commitment to accountability – these guys drive the bus from the inside
  • When moving around in coaching, you have to go somewhere where you are comfortable with the mindset and the approach – there’s risk in everything you do in coaching and you have to know that you’ll get knocked down at some point – only you know when you’re ready to take the next step
  • College coaching vs Pro coaching – in college, the coaches are the GMs/Player Personnel guys, in the Pros, you have to take the players you’re given and coach them – guys have to want to learn and you have to show them you care about them
  • Player Distractions: In College & at the NTDP you have to know what guys are doing and you have to stay in their business – at the Pro level guys are driven to be there and you trust them until they hang themselves…distractions are limited because it impacts their careers in a much different (more public) way

AHCA – Championship Coaches Panel

Every year, the AHCA invites the four finalists from the Men’s DI and DIII Frozen Four to speak on a panel. Each school gives a summary and some talking points about what made them successful and how they were able to get to the top of the mountain. This year, the DIII teams were SUNY-Geneseo, Wisconsin-Stevens Point, SUNY-Oswego and National Champion St. Norbert. The DI teams were Boston College, North Dakota, Minnesota and National Champion Union.

There were some common themes among the coaches, including:

  • Goaltending has to give you a chance to win every night, and sometimes steal a few games
  • Leadership – all teams that make it to the Frozen Four have good leadership and a senior class that buys in
  • Losses are often used as learning experiences and opportunities to grow – every team had an experience that pushed them over the edge
  • Overcoming Challenges – every team faces challenges, the Frozen Four teams really overcame them with poise and aplomb
  • Every team seemed to have an identity that the players and coaches bought into and embraced – they moved forward with this identity and believed in it

Some team-specific notes:

Union spoke a lot about how their previous experience in the Frozen Four helped them to stay focused on the task at hand. Their first time, they were excited to go to the Frozen Four and were wide-eyed and soaking it all in. This year, they had a hunger to win and an understanding of what that took. The veterans had seen it and done it, so it was no longer a brand new thing.

BC had a very talented offensive team. They had a tough weekend early in the year where they tied and lost to Minnesota. This early setback challenged the team and helped them to understand where the bar was in terms of being a successful team.

St. Norbert built their culture through using peers. The players help to set the standards and then they are responsible for holding their teammates accountable. They have a leadership that includes the captains and one leader from each class, they meet to talk about academics, social life, etc.

The Right Fit

Recruiting is as much about finding the right fit between player and program as it is about getting the most talented players. There is a number of reasons to choose School A over School B, or School B over School A. Facilities, academic reputation, financial aid/scholarship, coaching staff, winning, location, etc. The list goes on and on. Logic can dictate which school you choose to attend. Or you can trust your gut – your stomach will tell you when you’re at a school where you fit in and where you can find success.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

But who is going to work harder? A player who is convinced to go to a certain school by a coach or a player who goes to a school because it is the right fit? Finding players that fit the culture and mentality of your program are far more likely to help you have success than players that improve your talent level.

Happy players will go through a wall for you. Unhappy players will quit when it gets hard. Choose the right players over the best players.

The Grind

A great promo video by TCU Baseball, and a FANTASTIC speech. “Welcome to The Grind”