Gaining confidence, and dialing it in — a conversation with Mike Babcock
A Stanley Cup. The most wins as a coach in Detroit Red Wings history. Olympic gold medals with Team Canada in Vancouver and Sochi.
Mike Babcock’s coaching resume is among the best, as he has been behind the winning bench for some of the greatest teams and the biggest hockey moments of the last few decades; but when he looks back at his coaching career, he says one job stands out as a turning point: coaching the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns to a Canadian university championship in 1994.
“I know this, I don’t get the others unless I get the one at the U of L, because you have to earn confidence,” says Babcock, who spoke with RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney following his presentation at the Saskatchewan Young Ag-Entrepreneurs meeting held Jan. 5 in Saskatoon, not far from Babcock’s childhood home at 1521 Hilliard Street.
That confidence is critical, whether managing a farm business or a hockey bench. “You might have some skillsets parents can give to you, they can set you up for success, but you got to earn it yourself. Winning at the U of L gave me confidence,” he says, in the conversation below.
Babcock then returned to the Western Hockey League before moving to the American Hockey League, and ultimately reaching the NHL with Anaheim in 2002.
“I basically spent 14 years, just like most people do in their profession, whether you’re farming, whether you’re in teaching, doesn’t matter what, you got to grow your craft, you got to get better each and every day if you’re gonna have success. And in the end, that’s what led me down [to Anaheim and the NHL],” says Babcock.
Listen to the entire conversation below, as Babcock discusses his hobbies, family life, and the wisdom he’s learned from his coaching journey, starting at Red Deer College as a 25 year-old to 18 seasons (so far) as a head coach in the NHL with Anaheim, Detroit, and Toronto to his current role with the University of Saskatchewan’s men’s hockey team.
On being an optimist
“I’m an eternal optimist. Like most farmers in that room right there, I just think I can disarm the bomb. I think things are gonna work out all the time. And we’ve kind of lived our life like that, my wife and I and our family. And it’s been good to us.”
On learning from others
“R&D. I call it rob and do. Just steal from anybody who’s got a better idea. Because it’s better than yours. That’s what I did.”
On dialing in his famous intensity
“The more prepared you get, the less you do. Your team is dialed. You’re ready. You’ve done good things. I overreact early over the littlest things, but I like to think at game time, in the big moments, it’s just the opposite.”
“You know, when I’m at the rink, I’m like a farmer at seeding or harvest. I can talk the ears off Mickey Mouse, have fun and joke around and all that, but at practice time or game time, it’s like a farmer at harvest, you’re dialed in.”
On his favourite coaching moments
“It’s even emotional to talk about. When you get to put your family name on the Stanley Cup, it’s pretty cool… You know, I was fortunate that Steve Yzerman gave me the opportunity two times to represent Canada. And I’ll never forget Vancouver. As long as I live, the passion of the people walking through the streets, being an Olympian. The Stanley Cup is spectacular, the Olympics are the greatest sporting event of all time, and you get to share it with other athletes… those two events for me are real special. I don’t know if I have one. I know this, I don’t get the others unless I get the one at the U of L because you have to earn confidence.”
On what brings him joy
“We got three spectacular kids. To me, that’s the greatest joy of my life without any question. It’s about my family. And all this other stuff, yeah, don’t get me wrong, it’s been a riot. And I’ve loved every second. But I’ve also loved the last two years, they’ve been off the charts great. And what I mean by that is, is I didn’t know…you’re so busy, you didn’t know. I’m still busy because I told you I got lots of hobbies beyond belief, but you get to enjoy and the word enjoys special because it’s got joy in it. Where do you find joy in life? I find joy in my family.”
“In the end, you can win all the hockey but that’s not the measure. That measure is your family, your kids and what they do and the impact they have on society. And we’re jacked about that opportunity.”
And finally, what he plans to do next (he committed to coach the U of S for two seasons starting in May 2021)
“My month of February is normally going to be downhill skiing. And then I’m going to go to Palm Springs… and then back to Michigan. We got a great spot there… Got a farm here, just outside Vanscoy, spend a lot of time out there, it’s pretty cool. But we kind of got a good thing going right now. And we like it. And we’ve enjoyed it. And it’s been a lot of fun. Now, you know, I’ve never been a big planner. Like I plan the structure for the year and the hockey season, I’m a planner in that, but you know the way I look at it, you get in your car, you put one foot on the gas. You don’t put one on the brake and one on the gas. The long skinny one on the right, you push it down, you have some fun.”
What about buying a Western Hockey League team, and coaching it?
“I’m officially not doing that.”
Going back to the NHL if the right opportunity comes up?
“I don’t know the answer to that. You know, the problem with divorce, it usually costs you about 50% of what you got. I’m not really interested in that and I think that’s what would happen.”