This week’s interview is with Hamilton Pistols coach Keith Shields.
SHL Digest: Here we are, talking to Coach Keith Shields. Coach Shields, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Keith Shields: Call me Keith! And the pleasure’s mine.
SHLD: Okay, Keith! How would you say your team is doing so far this season?
KS: Better all the time! That’s what I always say. People ask me, “How are you doing, Keith?” and I say “If I was any better, I’d be twins.” I’m a positive guy.
SHLD: Yes, you’re well known around the league for your upbeat attitude. We’ve heard that your players call you “Mr. Sunshine.” Does that sunny outlook come naturally to you?
KS: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I’ve been a positive guy all my life, and it feels like second nature to me at this point. But none of us are naturally positive or negative. It’s a choice we all make, whether we recognize it or not.
SHLD: How did you make the choice to be positive?
KS: It started with my dad. He sold cars, and he always told me that a positive attitude is the key to sales. “If you don’t believe someone should buy a car from you, why would they?” he always said. I’ve brought that same attitude to coaching.
SHLD: The Pistols have been outperforming expectations so far this year. Everyone thought this would be a rebuilding season, but you’re right in contention. Do you think your positive attitude has helped with that?
KS: Absolutely! I think it’s essential. And the reason why is hidden in your question.
SHLD: What do you mean?
KS: You mentioned “expectations” and said “everyone” thought we were going to have a bad year. Whose expectations are they? Who’s “everyone”? Other people’s expectations only matter if you accept them. If people tell you you’re no good and you believe them, then guess what? They’ll be right. But if you don’t accept that and believe you’re better than they say, guess what? You’ll be right.
SHLD: Do you ever find that this always-positive outlook makes it harder to connect with, say, a player who’s in a slump?
KS: Not at all! It’s the opposite, in fact. I mean, every professional hockey player has worked hard to get here and knows how to play at a high level. It’s not like they suddenly forgot how to play the game. So if a guy’s in a slump, why is that? Sometimes it’s a mechanical flaw or a lazy habit, and we can diagnose that and fix it easily. But most of the time, it’s because a guy has lost confidence. He has a couple bad games and gets down on himself. Being a positive guy helps you see that one or two bad games doesn’t mean you’re bad. A lot of time, a guy in a slump just needs a mental booster shot, a reminder of how good he is.
SHLD: Do you find that this attitude sets you apart from other coaches?
KS: It sure does. And the players appreciate it! Too many coaches try to motivate guys through fear: “Play hard or you’re going to lose. Score goals or I’ll bench you.” That kind of thing. And that can work, sort of, for a while. And it makes the coach feel like a big strong guy. But in the end, you can motivate guys a lot better by convincing them that they can be great than by getting them to be afraid of failure. Certainly in hockey it is. Fear of failure makes you cautious and tentative, and you can’t play good hockey like that.
SHLD: If the Pistols fall down the standings later this season, do you think that you and the team will be able to stay positive?
KS: I reject your question. You’re asking me to assume failure. Why would I do that?
KS: No need to be sorry. But I will say this: No matter what happens this season, I’m a lucky guy. I’m doing the job I love, and I’m the youngest head coach in the league. What do I have to feel bad about?
SHLD: Well, thanks again for your time, Keith, and good luck the rest of the season!
KS: Thanks, but we don’t need luck. We’ve got a great team!