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Satoshi Takano

Are you a coach, or are you a teacher? 5 simple lessons from Latvia

I’m in Latvia this week, where my son is attending a hockey agility training camp with Dr. Smushkin, an 84 year old “professor” (and former National Soviet Union coach) with a track record of producing more NHL hockey players than anyone I know. He is also well known for his honest (and very vocal) feedback, and an incredibly strict discipline, synonymous with the training of athletes of the former Soviet Union.

Yes, the training is close to what you saw in the movie, Rocky 3, and I too, was a student of Dr. Smushkin from when I was 10 years old.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve been coaching for the last 4 years now, being behind the bench of various competitive teams in the Toronto area.

During practices, my focus is on the player development program, teaching the mechanics of power skating, balance, working with edges, agility training, and puck control.

This week, the Doctor and I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about the game of hockey and how it translates to work and life. I thought I would share a few thoughts.

1. The Coachs’ only job is to play their lines, not to develop them. That’s the job of a teacher.

With all due respect, Dr. Smushkin would not be a good coach, but is an incredible teacher of the sport. He has 67 years of experience of teaching, and he has been the go-to person for improving hockey skills, with surgical precision of knowing exactly what a player needs to work on.

If a player needs extra help in development, they should go seek out the best teacher of the sport, not a coach.

If we need to develop new skills for a role, it’s our responsibility to seek out the best teacher of the topic, not a manager.

What makes your heart sing? Are you a coach or are you a teacher?

2. The Players’ only job is to perform during every 45 second shift. Otherwise, the Coach will play someone else.

This is a harsh reality, and to some extent, many will disagree. We all want our kids to have fun, but in the same vain, want them to be their best they can be. Confusing huh?

But in the workplace, if we don’t perform, we get outsourced or out-tasked, that’s life.

Put in your best in everything you do.

3. If you are serious about the sport, fame comes before fun.

This is synonymous to work hard, play hard. In the new, distracted world, it’s easy to say, “I’ll get to that just after I do .” In the world of sport (and in fact, many other disciplines), distractions could cost a country of medals, trophies and potentially fame.

Focus on what’s important right now.

4. Surprise yourself, and you’ll definitely surprise others.

Dr. Smushkin forced us to really extend beyond our comfort zones, and un-learn what we know about hockey (right down to a player becoming left-handed vs. right).

Remember when our friends and families surprised us with something totally new? I would bet they surprised themselves too. As we continue with our journey of life, we often forget to surprise ourselves in exchange for observing others.

We grow in the world of the unknown, and you will too.

5. Don’t just love hockey, have hockey love you.

This perhaps is the best thing I’ve learned this week.

Every professional athlete has a passion for their sport, that it extends beyond themselves and into the lives of others. The sport loved them.

Who is your favourite player in any sport? See what I mean?

Dr. Smushkin has been known to make many players cry (including me), but the secret is beyond his vocal feedback and opinions. Once we learn to look beyond the weeds and look at the bigger picture, the rest lies in ourselves to be our best.

Best of luck.

Satoshi Takano