Coping With A Crisis

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The North American ice hockey league (NHL) has a yearly event that they call the Winter Classic, which is when they play a game outdoors in a football/baseball stadium in front of a huge crowd.  This year one of the US cable networks has prepared a documentary series leading up to the event showcasing the teams involved and how they reach/ed that point.  The first two episodes have already aired and while I don’t subscribe to a US cable TV provider, the shows may or may not be available to illegally download.  But I digress…  To prove that sport is the first and best reality TV the beginning of the series finds the teams in contrasting fortunes.  One in the  midst of a winning streak and one in a losing streak.  Seriously they couldn’t have scripted it like that, especially as the match up was decided months ago.  But again I digress… It is interesting to follow the teams as they attempt to continue/break their respective streaks.  In this context, the General Manager of the Washington Capitals (the losing team) makes the following statement with regards to coping with a crisis…

“You have to have the guts to do what’s right and to be patient”.

While this wisdom may seem self explanatory, my (past) experience of similar crises is that it is anything but.  When a team is losing there is enormous pressure (and I can only begin to imagine how there must be in this instance) to do ‘something’.  The pressure is both internal and external and this ‘something’ is never specified.  Externally (press/management/fans) it is held as self evident that what you did until now is wrong, so you must change ‘something’.  Acoach can rarely get in trouble by changing ‘something’ during a losing streak, as you are then perceived as doing ‘something’ (unless of course they continue losing, in which case they ‘panicked’).  Internally there is doubt.  Lots of doubt.  And it all adds up.  In this moment the most important thing is to have a philosophy, a set of principles and a concept.  With these factors in place the coach can judge performances objectively (wins and losses are NOT objective) and act (rather than react) appropriately, as GM above says, to ‘do the right thing’ rather than to do ‘something’.

A coach can only work effectively in the long term with a philosophy, a set of principles and a concept.  Only then can he/she do what’s right.


  1. The Australian cricket team is in a similar position at the moment!

    One of the best things I ever did as a coach during a match was to do nothing. I ended up not making a sub and the player I didn’t take out ended up playing a great tournament from that moment on.


    1. And it seems like the Australian cricket team is responding in exactly the ‘wrong’ way.
      But maybe that player’s replacement would have played even better 😉
      On balance I would say that leaving the guy in for an extra rally brings more benefit that taking him out straight away. But it also comes down to knowing the player. There are guys who fight their way out of slumps and guys you can take out after one error.


      1. Its funny – I’d never thought of that. In the 14 years since ‘doing nothing’ it never occurred to me that the replacement would have done better! What a fool I was!


      2. That’s the beauty of it. You never know what would have happened, even if yhat you actually did turned out well.


  2. Downloaded the first 3 episodes after reading this, very interesting in how the NHl differs/is similar to how Volleyball Clubs are run in Europe. Obviously very professionally run organisation over there in the NHL. Always great to get an insight into the coaching as well. (never heard the F Bomb said so many times!!) Looking forward tom the final episode to see who wins, purposely haven’t looked at the results yet.


    1. I read one review of the series that said the coaches used the F bomb so much it sounded like a different language.
      Apart from obviously things like facilities that are purely a function of budget, it always interests me how many similarities there are to European volleyball… and of course differences to Australian volleyball 🙂


  3. Similarities……yes there are plenty, but it entirely depends on what European league (or even team) you are in at the time. Unlike the NHL it can all differ so much from club to club.


  4. Found part 1 quite interesting. NHL players seems very different from the athletes in NBA and NFL. They seem like down to earth guys. They graduate from college, drive normal looking cars, live in normal looking houses, don’t dress in gaudy clothes or have lawsuits and paternity tests pending. Must be all the Canadians playing in it. Can’t really take the F-word seriously in a canadian accent.


  5. Just finished the series and I have to say I really loved it. Following the teams was really interesting and I loved the contrasting styles of the coaches (although you can’t really know how much of that was real). I found myself wondering whether they would come across differently if the roles were reversed (ie the winning/losing streaks). My favourite moment though was the losing coach at the end, shattered saying to the changeroom in general but noone in particular…”I really f***ing wanted to win that one”.


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