Carla MacLeod - Friday Dec. 13, 2013 16:12

Changing hockey mindset in Japan no easy task

Carla MacLeod using Canadian approach to coaching

Former Canadian hockey player Carla MacLeod relies heavily on her Japanese translator in communicating with her players. (Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

The goal was clear: qualify for the 2014 Olympics.

The route getting there wasn’t as obvious. I quickly learned there were some vast differences between preparing for the Olympics as an athlete, and preparing as a coach.

One is not easier or harder than the other, it is just different.

As an athlete you are required to be selfish if you want to be successful. Everything is about you from how you train, to what you eat, to when you go to sleep to ensure that when the time comes you are ready to perform.

As a coach, the last person you think about is yourself. It’s about the players. How is their energy? When do I push them? When do I rest them? Do they have all the information needed to be successful? Why is she sad? Why is she so happy? Why is she crying again?

It’s also about the staff - is everyone confident, do we understand our roles and are we prepared for any and every situation?

We started our preparation in May of 2012, and had eighth camps prior to the February Olympic qualifying tournament. I was like a new community on Google Maps. I knew where I stood, but there were no roads on the map to show me the way.

Centralized approach

I relied heavily on my playing experience and my time centralized with Team Canada. Although we didn’t have the players full time, which is the case when Canada is centralized, I knew we needed to take a similar approach.

We spent those eight camps understanding our strengths and weaknesses as both a team and as individuals. We knew we were fast and we also understood we were small in stature, likely the pre-scout on most Japanese teams.

We worked individual skills, we implemented new team systems, and we completely shifted the players’ approach from a passive game to an all-out pressure style. We overhauled the off-ice training regime, placing more emphasis on strength instead of cardio (the average beep test score was over 13, we could run with the best of them!). We worked on becoming better teammates, we evaluated our leadership group, and we pushed each other everyday to be better.

As I mentioned in my previous post, self-confidence was the biggest hurdle we faced. This issue was two-fold for me. First, confidence is a challenge for most athletes and, as their coach, I really wanted to be able to help them establish their own confidence.

But this posed a big challenge in itself because my Japanese is equivalent to a two-year-old. It was through this process I embraced my new life motto: you’re only as good as your translator.

We were well prepared from a physical, tactical and mental standpoint, but there’s no way to truly know if you’re set until the puck drops in the big tournament.

Olympic qualifier, here we come!

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