Leadership – the Dan Bylsma perspective

Dan Bylsma coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in...

Dan's the man. Image via Wikipedia

I have always believed that those of us who have played sports at a high level have a distinct advantage in the leadership department. Leadership has very little to do with what you say, even less to do with what you write in an email, and much to do with the inspiration (or dis-inspiration) that you provide, mostly related to the example that you set. Successful high level coaches seem to get that.

If you think about it, it would make no sense to tell a high level athlete how to throw a pass, see the field, or make decisions. Even an experienced coach would be foolish to try to turn Ben Roethlisberger into Tom Brady. For the Europeans, Wayne Rooney will never play like Lionel Messi. If a coach tried to radically change their games, they would be less effective.

If the Steelers had tried to tell Ben R. to avoid interceptions at all costs, they might have a more statistically efficient quarterback, but would probably have two less Super Bowls. Ben R is who he is, which involves interceptions, but also involves making great plays out of hopeless situations. Kill his spirit and you have an average QB.

So does that mean that a coach has no ability to impact games? Absolutely not. The high level coach helps even the high level player prepare, promotes a culture that does not harm the confidence of the players, and does his real coaching face to face, man to man (or woman to woman). Respect goes both ways. When it doesn’t, that’s when you start hearing the coach call individuals out in the media and and players give interviews in which, through gritted teeth, they try not to be overly critical of the coach.

With Dan Bylsma, the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, there seems to be genuine respect that goes both ways. This situation is no accident…at least from this outside perspective. Some highlights from the most recent evidence of that will follow. For the full article by Shelly Andersen in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, click here.

I’ll leave you with some quotes that are very telling of the type of leader that Bylsma is…they all may seem obvious, but think about your job. Is this the way things are?

“I think the biggest thing is that he knows how to be demanding of guys, of the team, in a way that the team rallies around him, knowing that he genuinely wants us to do well. Being positive and demanding at the same time, you know he’s in it for us.” (my emphasis) – Brooks Orpik

“I think there’s a certain amount of respect between the coaches and players, which always has to be there. Once that’s lost, usually you lose your success.” – Brooks Orpik

“I certainly have an idea how I want to be and how I want a team to play, but that’s not a constant, not a set-in-cement situation. You have to be fluid. You do change. And you have to adapt” – Dan Bylsma (My comment: Goes back to encouraging great players to be better versions of themselves – not fitting into one’s own perspective of how the world works).

“There’s the occasional time when you feel the experience of a past year or some of the things that have happened in the past. But I don’t know if at 14 years [into coaching] I’m going to feel experienced.” – Dan Bylsma (My comment: No matter how many times, years, etc that we have done stuff, we need to adapt, think, learn, and problem solve – past experience may give us confidence in our abilities, but doesn’t necessarily help to solve the next problem).

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