Hockey Talk

Authentic Leadership

Carol Hutch-softball-coach
Carol Hutchins

Shannon’s talks with legendary softball coach Carol Hutchins about the qualities of a successful coach while being an authentic leader

Hockey Talk, sponsored by ugo Wear is presented by Shannon Miller

Podcast length: 48′ 47″

On this week’s episode Shannon Miller focuses on authentic leadership while being a successful coach, and her guest is legendary softball coach Carol Hutchins who is in her 35th season at the helm of the University of Michigan softball program. Coach Hutchins is the winningest coach in NCAA softball history and they compare notes as two prominent coaches in their very different sports. Shannon’s definition of a charismatic leader is someone who leads with unwavering vision, passion, confidence, energy, belief, commitment, emotion, perseverance and creativity.  “When talking to coaches, I always encourage creativity, thinking outside the box and having the courage to try new things. I want to continue to encourage coaches to try things on for size, like you do with clothes or shoes. Just like clothes or shoes, you can take it off if you don’t like it – put it down – try something else on. Keep what works for you and the team, discard the rest.  Let your leadership skills evolve while you stay true to who you are. You will be tested, criticized and critiqued. Expect it, and navigate successfully through it.  As a leader, the most attractive you can be is authentic. When your authentic, some relationships will end, some will get better, new ones will appear.









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Shannon’s Notes

Leadership makes a difference. What we do matters.

Being a leader sometimes means walking around with a bull’s-eye on your chest. The more successful you are, the more shots you will take.

A leader is constantly coming into contact with strong personalities, practices, values and viewpoints that clash with their own. We must have thick skin, or grow to have thick skin, and a lot of patience.

Leadership is exercised in the midst of lightening, thunder, crosswinds, headwinds, …and while the airplane gets tossed around the sky and the passengers scream in terror…and while your heart is pounding out the Macarena, as the leader you must keep your cool, keep your head about you and show them there is nothing to worry about.

If you coach long enough, you will experience amazing highs and painful lows. Keep your head about you, keep a healthy perspective and stay the course. Coaches, remember that your self-esteem and self-identity should not be tied up in wins and losses. Who you are is who you are – it’s not tied to winning and losing.

If you’re coaching and going through a turbulent time, while on a losing streak – it’s likely you have laid awake at nights, struggling with how to solve the problems and how to turn things around for your team. If you wake up in the morning and you still don’t have the answer, when you walk through the door, your staff and players need to see confidence. They need to feel energy from you and believe you have found a way or you are close to finding a way. Confidence is contagious, and so is a lack of confidence. Lead the way.

We can learn a lot about leadership and team from Mother Nature. For example: the Canadian Geese – they fly as a flock in a V formation. Every 20 minutes or so, they rotate the leadership position. Each one takes a turn to lead. They all know the lead position is the toughest spot to be in and that no one bird should bear this responsibility for the flock. What is true of Canadian Geese is true of people. The burdens of the flock and the team must be shared, or the leader will burn out and fall from the sky.

As a head coach, I make it a practice of stepping back to let others lead – assistant coaches and players. I’ve encouraged small group meetings with the assistant coaches, as well as full team meetings with all the players and only assistant coaches. No head coach present, in hopes the players will be more relaxed, creating a more open dialogue.

In years when my teams have had many good leaders within the team, the coaches identify a “6 pack” leadership group. This group of 6 leaders, from within the team, create a strong player leadership group, each with a unique skill set, in hopes that they can handle the many different situations that arise in the team that requires people to step up and lead. This “6 pack’ group should always be able to have their finger on the pulse of the team, handle private conversations when needed, and be a strong bridge between all the players and the staff. Spreading out the workload of leadership, in theory, should create an environment where everyone is heard, problems are addressed and a strong team culture builds over time. My intention with this group is for us to link arms, link minds, create open dialogue, provide support for all, and to magnify each other’s efforts and abilities. Like everything else, people must buy in and step up to accept this responsibility, or it won’t work. And it won’t occur overnight. Given enough time, open communication should occur, which will lead to early problem solving, then trust and then the creation of a cohesive group. This process cannot be rushed, it must be respected and given time to work.

The old leadership paradigm – The head buffalo and the herd.

The head buffalo plans, organizes, commands and controls.

The other buffalo are loyal followers of one leader.

The head buffalo is the center of power.

The new leadership paradigm – Flock of Geese – Shared Leadership.

SIDE BAR – Title IX is a federal law. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funds. While the law applies to all aspects of educational opportunities, it is probably best known for its application to sports. In real simple terms, Title IX requires that schools 1) provide male and female students with equal opportunities to play sports, 2) give male and female athletes their fare shares of athletic scholarship dollars, and 3) provide equal benefits and services, such as facilities, coaching, and publicity, to male and female athletes overall.

My guest is Coach Carol Hutchins who is in her 35th season at the helm of the University of Michigan softball program.
Coach Hutchins is the winningest coach in NCAA softball history,
She has guided the Wolverines to an NCAA National Championship Title and 20 Big Ten Conference titles, 26 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and solidified Michigan among the top softball programs in the country.
Coach Hutch was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and currently enters her 35 season with a record of more wins than any other coach — in any division — in NCAA softball history.
Coach I’m sure we have a lot in common, but one thing I read really caught my eye – you were a pioneer as a student-athlete and sued the University of Michigan State back in 1978 for Title IX inequities. Ironically, 40 years later, I was just recently in federal court suing the University of Minnesota for Sex Discrimination and Title IX inequities. Rosa Parks, a role model for us all, once said “You must never be fearful of what you are doing if it is right.”
Tell us about that situation, and your experience with Title IX since then?
When we built the women’s ice hockey program from scratch at UMD, we created a foundation of “Open, Honest & Accepting.” We built the program on this foundation, and always returned to it when we were having difficulties as a team over the years. It gave us ground to stand on and work from. What is the foundation that you built for your program, and what you continue to build on?
Share with us your coaching style – your belief in Discipline, Excellence, Expectations & Accountability, etc…
Importance of leadership INSIDE the team?
Strong, passionate women who coach with intensity, energy and focus often get called “angry” or “mean”, while men are referred to as confident, passionate and strong. Why is that?
There are a lot of female coaches struggling in the male dominated domain of coaching – what can you say to help these women better navigate the coaching world?
We live in a culture of selfism – a culture that puts tremendous emphasis on self and self-display. How do you handle that with your athletes?
As a successful female coach, and an openly gay coach, I’ve had everything thrown at me – absolutely everything. I’m sure you’ve had some difficult times that you’ve had to overcome – can you share one or more of those times in hopes to help other female coaches overcome their challenges?


The Drill of the Week is on Shannon’s Facebook page @coachshannonmiller 

Shannon’s website

Shannon on Twitter  |  Instagram

LISTEN TO MORE EPISODES HERE or look for the HOCKEY TALK logo on WiSP Sports wherever you listen to podcasts.







Photo: Carol Hutchins supplied
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