Voted #6 on Top 100 Family Business Influencers, most influential expert on Wealth, Legacy, Finance and Investments: Jacoline Loewen LinkedIn Profile

January 3, 2018

How Babcock will Get the Leafs to Win the Stanley Cup

Mike Babcock and Jim Heller with Toronto Maple Leafs
Being a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan, I often hear that "The Leafs can never win!" This negative view is echoed by the media and Twittersphere. Reasons given are that the players are too young, they don't get rid of players like Bozak, if Matthews gets injured the whole team collapses, we are too reliant on one player  - that Matthews again- and where is the defense?

How does a recently-hired coach like Mike Babcock break through that mindset? Such a defeatist view of the Leafs' destiny is a deeply ingrained habit for the players to not believe it. Each player gets on the ice with their own thinking and analysis. They are pattern recognition machines checking their team members for body language and style of play in order to predict their own next ten seconds of play. Each player builds up their own habits of play and their habit of psychology during the game.

One of the first changes I noticed when Babcock arrived as the new coach was that he began to break down the habits of each player doing their own thing. He set team plays, particularly in the first ten minutes of the game. It became evident that a team doing set plays was far more effective than one star player being expected to win the game. For the players, these team formations yielded improvements quickly.

Yet, when the opponents kicked in their plays, the Leafs would still fall back on its old psychology, particularly when playing home ice, in front of the Leafs fans.

Jim Hiller - The Leafs
Belief is an important part of team sports and in the book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, the author, credits belief with the biggest part of success. Duhiggs discusses, "laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Procter and Gamble, Target superstores and NFL winning teams." Implementing so-called keystone habits can earn billions and mean the difference between failure and success, life and death. Duhiggs gives the Alcoholic Anonymous process as one of the examples about how to change patterns and the controversial piece is the belief part. For habits, Duhigg writes that the highest impact piece to solid habits is belief.

I would agree.

Mike Babcock and his passionate but intense leadership style gave the team quick successes. For the first time the team wants to believe, but when things get tense, their body language slumps, they look depressed and they fall back to their own game style and their old habits.

Then came the game changer. The Capitals were in town to play the Leafs at the ACC in front of their fans. This season, the Leafs had a string of failures when on the home ice and the rumour was it was due to nerves in front of the fans. The Capitals were a particularly tense opponent as they had taken out the Leafs in the playoffs and had played an aggressive game. The game began badly as the Caps scored early. Then again. By the end of the second period, the Leafs' deflation was evident.

After the break, Babcock had got the team energized again and the Leafs managed to pull back to get just one behind the Caps. In the final five minutes, the Leafs were at the Cap's net battling it out when Babcock made a big scene. He pulled the Leaf's goalie from the net. I was shocked. What the heck... Then I could see Babcock's reasoning - to add another player to the ice to escalate the pummeling on the Caps' net. Babcock's public decision to up the ante on the final push to get the needed goal showed the Leafs their coach believed.

Babcock burnt the boats.

Unbelievable! Would his team step up to give the Caps a pounding? Not just Matthews? By golly, they did. Every player gave it their all. They played as if it was the Stanley Cup finals. There was no holding back.

The Leafs started to believe and what a final five minutes. at the eight second spot, the Caps main player scored on the Leaf's empty goal. A fan threw a hat on the ice to recognize the hat trick. Until the final moment, that night, the fans stayed riveted in their seats. They watched as each of the players gave Babcock every squeeze of their energy.

Most teams are not teams. They are a group of guys who play together. Babcock's symbolic strategy where he put himself out in front of the fans and the media for a public drubbing made a difference. I wondered what would be the mood and atmosphere in the changing room that night after pulling the goalie? Would the Leaf's mood be different if Babcock had not created that drama with the Caps?

Jacoline Loewen
Babcock changed up the feelings. (Am I allowed to say feelings when writing about sports?) He not only showed that he believed, he put his own credibility on the line. Babcock gave the Leafs fans a spectacle and my favourite photograph from 2017 - see above. The tweets and the media had a different tone. There was excitement and appreciation.

When you see belief in other people's eyes, it seems real. The Leafs players saw their fans stick around to the end and the support given. That will remain. The power of a group to reach each team member to stay strong is immense. Babcock's gesture will have been significant enough to change the psychology of the team. The next time they face the Caps, they will have the fortitude to power through the game and bring their practiced plays.

Since then, the Leafs are playing differently. A conviction is emerging about the strength of Babcock's strategy. The Leafs are playing a tighter, precision game.

Habits change with a group. Babcock's belief is compelling enough that the young Leafs players are getting behind him and giving it their extra talent. Maybe this year it will be enough to get the finals? Here's believing!
Post a Comment