Team of Teams

By Topher Scott

I’m currently reading the book “Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal.  I love reading about the military, as I think they do it better than anyone when it comes to “team building”.  Those men and women literally take bullets for one another.  It doesn’t get much closer than that.

One of the big themes of the book has to do with how the structure of leadership.  The military found itself over the past few decades fighting a war that they should’ve won pretty easily.  The US Military had the best of pretty much everything: technology, weapons, training, etc…

Yet they were losing to an opposition that had much,  much less in terms of resources and overall power.  So they took a deeper look into why…and the why to me was fascinating.

The argument went that the structure of leadership the US Military, as was at the time, was extremely efficient…but not adaptable.  Their training, their strategies, their weaponry…They built the best of everything, but their leadership was so top-down heavy that when it came to crunch time in decision making there was a pause in waiting for orders rather than just reacting to the situations that arose.

The opposition army, on the other hand, was incredible at being adaptable.  They were constantly moving positions, changing tactics, and yet they still were able to communicate effectively and trip up and confuse the US Military on a lot of different levels.  Their leadership’s adaptability to situations and events had them beating the most powerful military in the world.

So the US Military started to change the way it thought about leadership.  Rather than having the top-down, wait-for-orders, and then execute mantra…they started to empower their soldiers by training them to make decisions on the battlefield rather than wait for a superior to tell them what to do.  This training in adaptability was necessary in fighting the kind of war that was going on…as the fight changed course seemingly by the minute.

As I read through the pages, I couldn’t help but think about youth hockey and how we should be coaching our kids.  I already can’t stand the video game coaches that scream at their players to tell them what to do during games.  It’s too bad when you see players looking at the bench or hesitating for fear or anticipation of what the coach is going to say.  But McChrystal’s words put it even more into perspective.

We should be empowering our kids to make decisions on the ice, and then correct them when necessary.  Allow them to play the game.  Hockey is a game of split seconds and inches…and if there’s a hesitation for a kid because he or she is thinking about what the coach would want them to do…you’ve lost your split second or inch.

In practices and games…don’t be hollering and telling them what to do the whole time.  Let them figure it out, and then if they can’t, you teach them.  Allowing them to make mistakes and fail…and then correcting…is way better for their development than always barking at them on what to do.  And it’s a lot more fun for the kids.

Take it from the US Military.  They were able to learn from their mistakes.  As a youth hockey coach, hopefully you can too.