Lessons from the winningest collegiate hockey coach

Jerry York, the head coach of Boston College hockey, won his 925th game as a collegiate hockey coach a few weeks ago. The win gave York sole possession of the all-time record for collegiate hockey victories. Given that college hockey does not get the media coverage of college football and basketball, it was an event that may not have registered on the radar of many people. But it is quite a milestone.

According to a report Brion O’Connor on ESPN.com, this is just the way York would have wanted it. York has never been concerned about the spotlight. He is focused on shaping the lives of young men and, while he wants to win, he only wants to win if he does it the right way. A number of friends and colleagues quoted in the article commented how York is the same great guy he was years ago as a player and a young coach. One even added that York has proven wrong the old adage that ‘nice guys finish last.’

So what are the keys to York’s record breaking successes? I identified these keys from O’Connor’s article:
One: York loves what he does. He loves coaching, being around the team, and helping players to get better. Lesson: As a leader, it is important that we love our jobs and our organizations more than anyone else on the team.

Two: York brings energy and passion to the team everyday. Lesson: People are motivated by energy and passion. They will follow a passionate leader anywhere.

Three: York loves the details and focuses on teaching the fine points of the game. Lesson: While leaders create and communicate the vision, we also need to pay attention to the details.

Four: York gets everybody on the team involved and makes sure they all share in the team’s successes. Lesson: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So work with the entire team, not just your superstars. Get everyone involved and make sure all celebrate in your team’s successes.

Five: York establishes a culture that is consistent from year to year. Everyone understands this culture is not going to change. The culture is based on “team before individual, energy and passion, and being good citizens.” Lesson: As leaders we need to be true to our culture. Determine what we want our culture to be and be consistent. It takes time to create culture, so your persistence and determination are key.

Six: York has adapted his strategies as the college hockey game has changed. Lessons: Organizations that succeed in the long-term have leaders who can adapt to the changing environment. Change is inevitable. Organizations that don’t adapt will be left behind.

Seven: York promotes continuous improvement. He recruits great players, but strives to find players who want to get better everyday. He reminds players that if they stay the same, they are falling behind. Lesson: We can set the tone for continuous learning and continuous improvement. If we model this behavior ourselves, the members of our teams will also seek continuous improvement.

Eight: York is always optimistic. Lesson: Leaders must be optimistic, especially in the face of adversity. If leaders are positive and optimistic, their teams will be also. This optimism can help lead the organization through difficult challenges.

A former Boston College player, Tommy Cross, had this to say about his former coach, “The culture doesn’t have a lot to do with hockey and the x’s and o’s. It’s more about attitude, commitment to the program and selflessness. Those kinds of things that happen off the ice but also affect the result on the ice as well.”

Jerry York’s success in terms of wins is well documented. I hope this blog post lets you know that his success is due to more than just hockey strategy. There are many things York does off the ice that help his teams compete successfully. As leaders, we need to spend time on strategy, but not at the expense of other team building tools that are just as important as strategy. Jerry York is proof of this.

Thanks for reading,
Jim

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