In 2008, after playing in 10 World Championships for Great Britain Inline hockey, I retired from the international game. My body felt like it was falling apart, and it seemed like the right time to focus on my career. I’d just landed my first job as a management consultant in a boutique consultancy, and it felt like a good time to make the transition. It was the perfect role and platform for me to work with business leaders sharing my experiences in elite sports and the parallels in business, specifically around developing a winning mindset. I spent the following two years travelling and delivering workshops and coaching business leaders and high performing sales executives.

In 2010, I got a call from the team GB head coach, Nick Crawley. It was just after the 2010 World Championships, and by then, hockey had become nonexistent in my life. He shared his frustrations as head coach with me and felt it was time for a change. Great Britain had lost in the Quarterfinal and was nearly relegated from Pool B. He reached out to me to see if I could take on the job as his successor.

At the time, I was committed to my career at SThree and didn’t think I could take on another project. It would be unpaid and take up a lot of my time, mainly headspace. I knew that if I said yes, it would consume me, as did my hockey career. Hockey has dominated my life. It’s been my focal point of life since the age of 9. It never let up from playing on the streets of Royal Tunbridge Wells to my first men’s international tournament in Germany, age just 14. I was obsessed with moving to Canada at 21 and becoming the first British player to play professionally in the North American Roller Hockey Championships. It was my life. And when I was playing, nothing else seemed relevant to me – including friends and family. It was like an addiction.

Taking on the head coach role for Team GB would distract me from developing a great career in performance coaching and leadership development. So I told Nick that I appreciated the idea; I believed him he was the best man for the job and to keep going. Nick had done a great job bringing in younger players and had achieved excellent results, so I turned down the role and continued to focus on my career.

But during the following months, it was in the back of my mind constantly niggling at me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the Team and its potential. I was deep into leadership development and wondered if these principles could work in the sports arena. I also had a keen interest in social psychology and cultural changes with Gen Y and millennials in the locker room. This challenge intrigued me.

And more than anything, I was missing the game. But I knew that I couldn’t be distracted from my career; I’d let hockey do that too many times. At the time, I read a book a week on all topics related to leadership and mindset. I remember reading Sir Clive Woodward’s book – ‘Winning’. I was fascinated by how much his corporate career influenced his rugby coaching. I remember finishing the book; it was about 2 am, my heart was racing and my mind buzzing. The book inspired me so much that I knew I had to take on Team GB Head Coach.

I woke up, waited till 8 am and text Nick:"Can we talk".

Nick and I had several conversations discussing the current problems and challenges. After an agreement by Ice Hockey UK – the governing body for the GB inline hockey team, it was official. I was formally the new Head Coach for the Great Britain Inline Hockey team. I was excited, and I spent everyday planning. It consumed me, I knew it would, but I didn’t care anymore. I was all in.

I sent an email to all squad members with my plans, expectations and values. I told them that things were going to be different. We were going to start over and rebuild. I announced – just because you made the Team last year – your place is not guaranteed. I explained that I would select players on attitude over skill and increase the training schedule, both playing hockey and implementing a strength and conditioning programme. I felt like a head coach who was going to lift this Team and make a difference.

I was going to blow their minds at the first trials with my methods and leadership style. I aimed to take the 40 players at the tryouts through a mindset workshop and then onto the rink for squad tryouts. Over the forthcoming months, I would cut 40 down to 20, 16 and then my 12 skaters and two goalies.

But I had one big problem at the first trial. Only eight skaters turned up. I didn’t have enough players to take to world championships in the Czech Republic nine months later.

I was confused, concerned and had an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt in my leadership. But my mind shifted to blaming the players “These young guys don’t care”, “It’s a Gen Z thing”, “They are lazy and selfish.”

I started reaching to a few people directly. I called the captain Richard Walsh – he told me that many of the players don’t get along. They are choosing ten days of their annual holiday in the Czech Republic with people they don’t like with going to Magaluf with their mates”.

He also said, “sorry to say this; the players aren’t buying into your style and philosophy.”

In 2010, I got a call from the team GB head coach, Nick Crawley. It was just after the 2010 World Championships, and by then, hockey had become nonexistent in my life. He shared his frustrations as head coach with me and felt it was time for a change. Great Britain had lost in the Quarterfinal and was nearly relegated from Pool B. He reached out to me to see if I could take on the job as his successor.

At the time, I was committed to my career at SThree and didn’t think I could take on another project. It would be unpaid and take up a lot of my time, mainly headspace. I knew that if I said yes, it would consume me, as did my hockey career. Hockey has dominated my life. It’s been my focal point of life since the age of 9. It never let up from playing on the streets of Royal Tunbridge Wells to my first men’s international tournament in Germany, age just 14. I was obsessed with moving to Canada at 21 and becoming the first British player to play professionally in the North American Roller Hockey Championships. It was my life. And when I was playing, nothing else seemed relevant to me – including friends and family. It was like an addiction.

Taking on the head coach role for Team GB would distract me from developing a great career in performance coaching and leadership development. So I told Nick that I appreciated the idea; I believed him he was the best man for the job and to keep going. Nick had done a great job bringing in younger players and had achieved excellent results, so I turned down the role and continued to focus on my career.

But during the following months, it was in the back of my mind constantly niggling at me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the Team and its potential. I was deep into leadership development and wondered if these principles could work in the sports arena. I also had a keen interest in social psychology and cultural changes with Gen Y and millennials in the locker room. This challenge intrigued me.

And more than anything, I was missing the game. But I knew that I couldn’t be distracted from my career; I’d let hockey do that too many times. At the time, I read a book a week on all topics related to leadership and mindset. I remember reading Sir Clive Woodward’s book – ‘Winning’. I was fascinated by how much his corporate career influenced his rugby coaching. I remember finishing the book; it was about 2 am, my heart was racing and my mind buzzing. The book inspired me so much that I knew I had to take on Team GB Head Coach.

"Huh?" I thought. "My style is progressive and new level thinking."

I looked back to coaches in my life who had inspired me. The likes of Dave Cairns, my mentor when I played in Canada. Mark Cavallin, who was my coach when I played for Team GB. And Jock Munn, who had been my mentor since I was 16 when my father suddenly passed away. These people had been a significant influence on my life and incredible mentors.

"What did they do?" "How did they inspire me?" "What would they do in my position?"

I realised that my approach was all wrong. Despite my insights into leadership and what I was teaching executives, I was doing the exact opposite. I was coercive and way too directive. The lack of engagement from the players was nothing to do with whether they were Gen Z or Y. It was 100% down to my leadership and how I was showing up. I couldn’t change them, but I could only change myself.

I didn’t take time to walk in the players’ shoes (or skate in the skates). I needed to take time to experience the situation through their eyes.

I believed this would be my strength as a coach. I was in their position only two years prior. I was a young coach at 34. I knew what it was like to be in their place. I started using this insight to build personal relationships with the players. I used mentoring skills and increased my curiosity to help them reconnect with the game and what it means to represent their country. I started acting like a mentor rather than a dictator. It was hard at first. I would get it wrong and try again; sometimes, I couldn’t get through to the players. But mentoring is a skill like any other. I was starting to transform as a coach as I began to learn more about the players and learn about my leadership at the same time. I kept saying to myself, ‘Ask, Don’t Tell’. It became my mantra.

In the subsequent trial, more players showed up; I started to form strong relationships with the players and break down barriers between the players. I began to use my knowledge of psychology and team-building skills. I focused on building a core leadership group that would influence others when I wasn’t around, just like Sir Clive did with the 2003 England rugby team.

As the players came together, we started working on our vision and purpose. It was clear that the players wanted to focus on winning the Pool B gold medal, which would result in promotion to Pool A. Team GB had never achieved this. The apathy was gone, and the Team was now leaning in with positive energy. The players wanted to look, act and feel like a Pool A team. So we reversed engineered everything from that, which became a higher purpose because it would inspire younger players to play at the highest level.

As team head coach, I had become a facilitator. Six months later, the Team transformed. I had selected 12 skaters and two goalies who looked, acted and felt like a professional hockey team. We were ready both physically and mentally for the challenge ahead.

First Game as Head Coach against Australia

The players were tense in the locker room before our first game of the World Championships against Australia. Australia knocked out Team GB in the quarter-finals the previous year. No matter what sport, GB never likes to lose to our commonwealth rivals. During lunch, the captain Richard Walsh (Walshy) asked me how I thought the game would go; I told him that we would win 5-0 against Australia, he thought I was too complacent. With the tension and nerves in the dressing room before the game, it was unlikely that the Team would perform at their full potential. I knew we would beat Australia due to the hard work we had put in during the previous nine months leading up to the tournament. So in my pre-game talk, I told them that I would allow them to make mistakes for 50% of the game. I encouraged them to fail hard and that we would learn from our mistakes. I told them that if we make mistakes 50% of the time, we would still win. In my mind, I knew they would probably make mistakes 10% of the time. It was amazing how the stress in the room evaporated.

We didn’t beat Australia 5-0. We won 6-1; we met Australia again in the semi-final and beat them 11-3. We dominated Pool B. Team GB beat Austria 7-3 – the first-ever win again Austria. GB went on to win in the final to gain promotion into pool A to compete against the top eight countries for the first time. The other teams in Pool B didn’t stand a chance.

We achieved our vision – Team GB looked, acted and felt like a Pool A team. The Team was able to play in a relaxed state, accepting that mistakes happen, and took action towards achieving its goals. Failure is where you learn the most. On my debut for Team GB as a player in 1998, we lost every game. We failed against Argentina in the relegation game. I didn’t get to compete again for Great Britain for three years in the World Championships.

In 2011 Team GB beat Argentina 11- 0.

In 2012 Team GB achieved the unimaginable by taking the current World Champions, the Czech Republic, into overtime. To put this into perspective, Ales Hemsky was playing. He also played for the National Ice Hockey Team was having a successful career in the NHL. He was earning around eleven million US dollars a year. I had Kris Hendy, who was a taxi driver in Brighton! Was it luck taking the Czechs into overtime? You could quickly think so until Team GB beat five-time world champions Finland 2-1 and advanced to Canada in the quarter-finals. Whilst we didn’t win against Canada, we believed we could; our mindset had made an enormous shift within 18 months, and the players would never be the same.

We returned home a very different group of people after the 2012 world championships, from where we started in October 2010. We had grown as a people, learned that we are capable, not just at hockey. We faced many challenges along the way, but I genuinely believe it gave the players the belief to work harder and develop their careers. Many players started their businesses, became high profile personal trainers, joined management consultancy firms, became technology leaders at Google in California.

The assistant coach for the Czech Team, Jan Prochazka, approached me after the tournament at dinner. He was curious about how Team GB achieved its success and was impressed by its work ethic.

He asked me: "How did you do it?"

It’s wasn’t until this moment that I had genuinely reflected on the steps we had taken. Jan and I spoke for hours and since have become great friends. Jan has invited me to speak at several events in the Czech Republic, France and Italy. Our families meet each year. I love how sport connects people.

I have distilled everything I have learnt as a coach and through my work with other leaders during the last 15 years into the Team Head Coach Blueprint.

I have worked with several FTSE 100 companies in the US, Middle East, Asia, Australia and Europe, sharing my experience and leadership principles with leadership teams. It is a system that works. When you apply it consistently, you will develop winning mindset and create a high performing team.

Team Head Coach Blueprint.

    • 1. Have a Game Plan
 
    • 2. Ask, Don't Tell
 
    • 3. Create Leaders
 
    • 4. Fail Fast, Learn Quick
 
    • 5. Hold Each Other Accountable
 
    • 6. Always Be Hiring
 
    • 7. Bench Coach Daily
 
    • 8. Train Weekly
 
    • 9. Mentor Monthly
 
    • 10. Manage The Mist

1. Have a Game Plan

Many teams set a goal but haven’t thought through what the road map is to get there. The most crucial step is gaining consensus on the current situation. Are people on your Team seeing the problem with rose-tinted glasses, or are people overly sceptical about where the Team is right now? The first goal is to calibrate on this and see the current problem in the same way. This clarity of the problem will create psychological safety. Once you agree, you can decide on the desired outcome, the resources needed, generate ideas to achieve the result before choosing the best ideas and implementing a plan. The mantra here is ‘slow down to speed up.

2. Ask, Don't Tell

It is natural for leaders to fall into the trap of wanting to be the person with all the answers. People will not develop their thinking if you keep feeding them the answers. Furthermore, you are less likely to get buy-in from your Team. Learn how to be a facilitator rather than a director. Engage your Team in the creative thought process when developing your game plan and doing problem-solving. Implementation will be far more effective when everyone on the Team understands and owns their actions.

3. Create Leaders

Teams need glue that binds them together. This glue is the team values. However, it would help if you had a core leadership group to model your Team’s values when you are not around. Not only that, if you want to move on with your career, you need to create successors who can step in. Identify your captains. Make sure you invest time in developing leadership within your Team. Otherwise, your Team will not grow, and you’ll never be able to take a holiday!

4. Fail Fast, Learn Quick

Your Team will fail at times; this is where the learning and continuous improvement happen. But without a consistent process to review team performance, necessary improvements are ignored. Implement a daily, weekly and monthly system to check what is working well and what needs improving. Otherwise, your Team’s progress will slow down and not operate at its full potential. Encourage your Team to embrace failures, but make sure you learn from them fast.

5. Hold Each Other Accountable

Now your Team has a game plan. You have successfully facilitated involvement from all team members by applying the ask, don’t tell principle. They are engaged and motivated with a common purpose. They feel relaxed without any fear of making mistakes or getting things wrong. Now your role is to hold them accountable, maintain solid relationships and measure performance against their promises. Without accountability – it’s all just fluff. Make sure you allow your Team to hold you accountable too.

6. Attract A-Players

To win the championship, you need the best players. You’ll need to decide what skills and attitudes you want on your Team. Skills alone won’t help you win. One bad apple, no matter how good they are, could be the reason you lose. Furthermore, to attract the right people, you have to create a good image both as a company and a leader.

Consider why anyone should join your Team and follow you?

Make sure you are a leader people will want to follow and believe in—your brand matters.

7. Bench Coach Daily

In sports, you’re in the game once or twice a week. In business, it’s five days or more a week. Therefore it’s important to acknowledge individual contributions daily. Make sure you build in time to provide positive feedback and areas of improvement. Don’t ignore people, even if you think they are doing well and don’t need to hear it. Praise when they deserve it, stay objective and avoid subjective feedback, look out for it daily, and aim to keep your feedback ratio 3:1 in favour of positive vs what they need to improve on.

8. Train Weekly

Many business leaders underestimate the power and influence they have when they deliver training to their Team. They may see it as a chore or something the learning and development function is responsible for providing. I have seen the most significant ROI for leaders on their time from delivering training. Just 30 minutes a week on a specific topic will significantly improve performance. You wouldn’t go through the season without a focus on training, why would you do it in business? Make every training session count.

9. Mentor Monthly

Many leaders do not take their role as a mentor seriously enough. Over time, team members miss out on valuable thinking time with their managers. Avoiding mentoring your team members reduces action taking and accountability. Mentoring conversations are goal-orientated conversations that make a difference and will ultimately shape your legacy. Your team members will remember how you helped them grow personally and professionally forever. We all remember people who touched our lives and helped us grow. Now it’s your turn to pay t forward.

I encourage you to diarise monthly 121s with every team member. Mentoring is a skill. The more you do it, the better a mentor you will become.

Bench coach daily, train weekly and mentor monthly. Use this system, and you will create exponential growth in your Team.

I encourage you to diarise monthly 121s with every team member. Mentoring is a skill. The more you do it, the better a mentor you will become.

10. Manage The MIst

I have learnt that succeeding as a leader is essentially an attitude of mind. With the right mindset, you will live, work and compete at your full potential. Your choices rule virtually everything you do in your life. You can choose to focus on the negative or the positive; you can get stressed about things beyond your control or focus on those you can influence. An obstacle can be a barrier to performance, or it can be an opportunity to learn and improve. These choices and managing your emotions and thoughts under pressure will directly impact your performance and how you lead your team.

These are my 10 Team Head Coach Laws, and I hope you found them insightful and valuable.

Master each of them and be consistent; you will experience a significant uplift in your recruitment business.