Your Inner Athlete column: Practice doesn’t make perfect

Haley Perlus
Your Inner Athlete

Legendary hockey coach Pat Quinn died Nov. 23 at the age of 71 due to a lengthy illness. Being from Toronto, Canada, Quinn is a name I consistently heard growing up. Quinn was head coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs during two conference finals and what was possibly the most successful time for the Maple Leafs. He also was the head coach for the Canadian Olympic Team when they won in Salt Lake City in 2002. Not only was he a NHL coach, he also coached junior hockey players and was the head coach when Team Canada won the World Junior Championships in 2008 and 2009.

In addition to his championships, what exactly makes Quinn legendary? He’s known for being fierce, tough, intimidating, direct, even frightening, but these qualities don’t make him legendary. There are plenty of tough leaders, whether in business or sport, who will never be considered legendary. What makes Quinn a legendary coach are three specific strengths that have nothing to do with his intimidation factor. In fact, it’s these strengths that probably make his tough side tolerable, even effective.

So what are these three coaching strengths?


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No. 1. The first one, and probably what his players, fellow coaches and managerial partners refer to most, is his caring nature. We’ve all heard it before, but the truth is no one cares what you know until they know you care. Athletes like Matt Sundin, who played for him in Toronto, and Wayne Gretsky, who hired him for the 2002 Olympics, use the words friend, caring and loving to describe coach Quinn. It was obvious that his players felt loved and important instead of just being another athlete who was needed to get a win.

When a leader can portray love and genuine care for his athletes or employees, it satisfies a very important psychological need we all have — and that’s a sense of belonging. When you feel you belong, that you’ll be missed if you don’t show up, you exert more effort to the task at hand.


No. 2. The second strength that makes Quinn legendary is his ability to incorporate fun with work. Coach Quinn’s athletes nicknamed him Frosty after the snowman. If you’ve never seen a picture of Quinn, take one look and you’ll understand the nickname. Just for fun, during Christmas, he would show up to games wearing a Frosty the Snowman tie. There are also stories of him carrying around a bottle of hairspray, wrapped in white, and using it to resemble a can of ass whoop when his team had a tough night.

Life is serious enough without having a leader who doesn’t have the ability to use humor to calm the environment and help everyone move forward to future performances.


No. 3. The third strength of a legendary coach portrayed by Quinn, and what I believe to be key, is his ability to make his athletes want to win, not only for themselves and their team but also for their coach. In addition to self-motivation, a deep desire to want to do right by your leader is a huge motivator.

When a coach invests time, energy, effort, discipline, commitment, excitement and believes in the team’s ability to succeed, athletes will want to win for the coach as much as they want to win for themselves. It is this combination that gave athletes that extra umph to get things done and perform their best.

As a quick recap, the three legendary coaching strengths illustrated by Coach Pat Quinn’s 30-plus years coaching hockey, are 1. caring for the people you are leading, 2. adding the fun aspect to the work, and 3. making it so people want to perform not only for themselves but for their leader too.

Whether you are involved in sport or business, whether you are currently in a formal leadership role or not, everyone has the ability to be a legendary leader for someone else. Take a moment to assess your strengths as well as the strengths of your leaders. Taking a page from coach Quinn’s playbook and ask yourself what leadership strength can be improved to produce greater results? Then, choose just one specific action-oriented goal you can implement today as you lead someone, perhaps even yourself, to a higher standard of performance.

With a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology, and numerous fitness and coaching certifications, Haley Perlus is an expert at empowering athletes of all types and health enthusiasts to achieve peak results. An adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, international speaker, former alpine ski racer, appointed industry leader for and author, Perlus helps people reach their highest standard of performance. For more information and free chapters of Perlus’ soon-to-be-released books, visit

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