Published: Wednesday, 3 Jun 2015
By: Stephen Heisler | Web site: JuniorHockey.com
DAILY DISH: Transformative Coaching
A new era begins for the Tier II Salt Lake City Moose as Paul Taylor takes over the Head Coach position for the 2015-16 season. Taylor, who is no stranger to the Western States Hockey League, quickly developed one of the top teams in the league with the former Dallas Ice Jets program. Taylors program, which also trained hundreds of players and operated as a Hockey Association and a Hockey Academy, was taken to another level when they put together a junior team that joined the WSHL in 2011.
Much like the AAA youth program, it didn’t take the Ice Jets WSHL team long to make a name for itself as Taylor guided the team to multiple Thorne Cup appearances, including a Thorne Cup Title game, as well as moving as many as 14 players per season to higher levels of junior leagues and NCAA Div. 1 & 3 programs. When it comes to player development and player advancement, Taylor is a coach who has delivered consistent results year after year for his players and his teams.
Fast-forward to the present and you can expect much of the same for the Salt Lake City Moose when they take the ice this fall. Anyone who knows Taylor knows how ambitious he is in his individual approach to team success. He is a coach who not only studies hockey development but also high performance athletic development. His motivations come from his quest to first and foremost, build elite players; and as a result, he is constantly in search of new pathways to evolve his players and his teams so they can offer greater value both individually and collectively. He is a coach who measures his success not only in wins but player conversion rates, meaning the amount of players he can convert to higher levels.
Taylor’s training methods and practice sessions are known to be intense, innovative, and fast paced. His teams typically train on and off the ice five days a week for up to 3-4 hours a day. Taylor has often referred to his junior teams as more like a National Training Team and himself as more of a talent developer, than just a coach.
“Players who choose to play for me do so because of my reputation and commitment to player development,” Taylor said on Tuesday. “Many of the athletes who reach out to me do so because they want to maximize their potential as a player and athlete; they have more long-term career goals, rather than short term game goals.”
In watching his teams compete, they play a distinct style utilizing a fast, skilled, puck possession style but yet are still responsible defensively. When watching his teams it is easy to notice the depth of skilled players on the roster as he typically rolls four lines, with six defenseman, throughout the games.
“I think development not only comes from how you practice, but how you play,” Taylor continued. “If we are going to work on our skills and encourage being creative and offensive in practice, then I feel I have a responsibility to promote that in games; otherwise our practices become wasted development.”
This model of development is in Taylor’s words, an inverse type of thinking. He strongly believes he can win because of development at a deeper level individually, and when multiplied that by a full team, winning will just take care of itself. This style of coaching might not appeal to all junior bench bosses, but it is hard to argue with Taylor’s results from both a winning standpoint and from the volumes of players developed for higher levels of play.
The player transformation Taylor often refers to is comparable to any weight loss before and after infomercial we’ve all seen, but with hockey knowledge and skills replacing body fat. All of it is done to give players a future.
“Winning is great, but winning through development and building toward a better future for the players is what I choose to center my program around,” the coach explained. He doesn’t want players to rely on the system and just filling a role, but instead asks them to be a one of a kind player that creates their own transformation. Instead of having to hope the right scouts are watching, those very scouts will naturally be attracted to a highly developed player. A phrase Taylor often tells his players and team when referring to scouts is, Be so good they can’t ignore you.
“I think one of the biggest myths in youth and junior hockey is that team success equates to personal success. There are many players who are playing on some pretty good junior teams but their individual value and contribution to the team’s success is low. Just because your team is winning does not necessarily mean that your individual future is bright,” the coach continued. “It is my opinion, that if players aren’t getting better every day and increasing their performance value, their careers are eventually coming to an end and they probably won’t achieve their athletic goals. This isn’t to say that being a team player isn’t important, of course it is, but I see way too many players with marginal talent levels hanging on to the success of their team.”
Taylor believes the best way a player can protect himself is to take ownership in what they’re doing and pushed each and every day to stretch their talents. It’s all about training, building, growing and becoming more valuable and a bigger contributor to the team. Through this methodology, when players leave Taylor’s teams, they don’t lose their identity; rather their skilled individuality becomes an asset to their next team.
Another key differentiator of the program is the environment Taylor creates for his players. His teams are known for being disciplined, hardworking and truly embracing the brotherhood aspect of being a team.
“It is every coach’s goal to have a tight-knit team but the challenge is producing that. I think another attribute of the training we put players through is that they gain a lot of respect for each other,” Taylor said of his teams. “They all know how hard each guy is working to become better individually and how that will translate into team performance. When a player shows up day after day, month after month and puts the work in he gains respect from his peers and this creates a team bond.”
Taylor admits his program is not for everyone and is designed for players with serious goals and dreams of playing at a high level.
“I know my program doesn’t appeal to everyone. I think my message is very black and white and players usually run to it or from it. The demands are high from a training standpoint. I also think my message isn’t as glamorous as other programs, as my main focus is on training, improving and building an opportunity,” the Moose coach said. “A lot of players today are more interested in talking about exposure and how many scouts will be watching them. I try and explain to players that it doesn’t matter who or how many scouts are watching if their game doesn’t measure up. I tell my players to focus on training, growing and becoming deserving of a scout’s interest. Once I feel a player is at that level, I will promote the heck out of him.”
At the very core of Taylor’s program and his many successes is how he attempts to break the mentality of doing everything for the team and get kids to seek out their own development and future. The investment a player puts into their career is huge in terms of both time and money and they owe it to themselves to work harder and focus on their own success. If they can take ownership in what they’re doing and push themselves each and every day, it will inherently lead to a better team.
Some may consider Taylor’s model upside down, but it’s not about who’s right or wrong, it’s about giving the players ownership over their career and not making them a victim or a slave to a coaches contacts or what scouts happen to be in the stands on a particular day.
Taylor sums up his philosophy perfectly, “Every effort a hockey player makes is to accumulate, so that after years of correct development, the player is transformed,” Taylor concluded. “That’s my heartbeat; it’s all about the player transformation.”
The proof is in the pudding with both team success and individual success through wins, championships, NCAA player advancement and even NHL draft picks. If hockey players truly want to achieve their dreams, Taylor shows it sure takes a hell of a lot of hard work and discipline, but it works.