This is episode #38 with the assistant coach for the Winnipeg Jets, Todd Woodcroft, who has built up a 20-year career that has taken him all over the world in the field of ice hockey. His NHL resume includes stops in Minnesota, Washington, Los Angeles, and Calgary, before joining the Winnipeg Jets in 2016 as an assistant coach. You can watch this interview on YouTube here.
Todd won a Stanley Cup in 2012, during his second of four seasons with the Kings. Internationally, he has two gold medals on his resume. One in 2004 with Canada at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, and in 2017 he earned another one with Sweden at the same event. These days you can find him standing behind the Winnipeg Jets next to their head coach, Paul Maurice, where he is challenged on a daily basis to take their team to the end result of making the finals, and then winning the Stanley Cup.
Welcome to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator whose been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. Each week we bring you an expert who has risen to the top of their industry with specific strategies that you can implement immediately, whether you are a teacher or student in the classroom, or working in the corporate world, to take your results to the next level.
Welcome Todd, it’s so good to see you face to face after all these years! For those who don’t know, Todd has been a good friend of mine since the late 1990s…we actually sat in teacher training classes together at the University of Toronto, and it’s been crazy Todd, to watch your success over the years. Let me get straight to the questions, so you can get back to work over there…and where are you right now, by the way?
- Todd, where did this all begin for you? I always knew you were into hockey, but can you give a quick overview of how you broke into coaching in the NHL, some of your early influencers, the coaches and players you have worked with to give our listeners an overview of your background?
- I know it’s easy for those of us watching a sports game to notice when the team is in synch, working together, really well. How does the identity of a team form to where players begin to work together like clockwork? And then how does it change throughout the season?
- I’ve heard your team be called “the best face off team in the NHL by far” and know this is your expertise. With skill building, we’ve heard from researchers (we just covered this on our last episode with John Dunlosky) that the best way to learn anything new is with spaced repetition of a skill. In athletics you practice a skill over and over again but how do you know what skills are most important to practice (like puck drops), how do you make these skills priority with such a busy schedule, or without things getting boring?
- Todd, you’ve got a unique background with your training in education that I’m sure helps you as a coach. With your teaching background in mind, can you think of why the proven method to learn/master a skill works so well in athletics, but it’s really hard to translate into the classroom? We all know to practice a sport over and over again to improve performance (or even a musical instrument or for a dance recital) but when it comes to studying for a test, some students still fall back to cramming vs the evidence-based method of spaced repetition. If you were to visit a classroom, what advice would you offer teachers/students with your experience working with pro athletes on learning new skills?
- After watching some of the interviews with your players and coaches, and some of your games, I saw that there were quite a few games where you won by just one goal, many in overtime and in the last few minutes or seconds of the game. I’ve also seen that the opposite can happen—in the last few seconds, with a frustrating loss. There’s this fine line between the win and the loss that happens in sports (just like in the corporate world with the win or loss of large business deal). What do you do to prepare your players for both scenarios—winning and losing games?
- What are some differences you’ve seen working with international teams? Aside from working in Canada, I know you’ve worked with and recruited athletes from Russia and Finland where we know the educational systems are surpassing the results in the United States.[i] Canada, where we grew up, always ranks high (top 10) with these studies. With this in mind, how does this translate into the sports world? What can we learn from international athletes? How do you see they are they different?
- I could keep asking you more questions but know you’ve got work to do. I wanted to end with any of your final thoughts, or anything that you think might be important that we haven’t talked about? I know you have the All-Star Game coming up this weekend? What’s so important about this event for players/coaches and any final thoughts?
For anyone listening, whether a student or educator in the classroom, someone in the corporate world, or an athlete looking to take your skills to the next level, we can all learn from the daily grind, the mindset and routine that pro athletes embrace, without complaining or resisting. Thank you so much Todd, for sharing your experiences so we can all take our game to a higher level. I have surely learned from this inside look at the life of a pro athlete and coach and do look forward to seeing the results of the end of your season. Wishing you all the best in pursuit of the end results of making the playoffs and winning the Cup this year. Best of luck!
[i] The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2015 performance on global rankings on student performance on mathematics, reading and science.