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Scott Sandelin on Values, Culture and Character

The ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ – the little things seem to be a little lost right now. Sometimes you have to remind your own kids about those little things.

Two-time NCAA National Championship coach and Hibbing native Scott Sandelin knows that to build a winning program, you need a winning culture. That culture has to be built on strong core values and high character people.

The University of Minnesota Duluth head coach shared his views on values, what he looks for in recruits, and how parents, coaches and teammates can all play a role in building a good culture.

Developing People, Not Just Players

We all want to see our kids develop as hockey players, but as parents and coaches, Sandelin says we must remember we’re developing people, too.

“No. 1, you want them to leave your program as a better person. Obviously being a better hockey player is a part of that, too. Being a diligent worker and having strong work habits, being a good teammate. Respect is huge. Respecting teammates, coaches, officials, respecting the game. I want our guys to be humble, too. I don’t want them walking around here thinking everybody owes them something. For all of our players, the No. 1 thing is that they represent the program the right way.

“To me, winning championships and accolades are all great and certainly very hard to do, but I really like it when I get compliments on how our players are away from the rink – in the airports, in the hotels, how they treat people. Those are really important things for me and it represents our program the right way.”

It Starts at Home

When it comes to instilling these values and building character in younger kids and hockey players, Sandelin says parents play a huge role.

“A lot of it starts at home. Your parents are your biggest influence your whole life, especially when you’re younger. We live in a world today where there’s a lot of noise – there’s a lot of things that are good and there’s a lot of things that aren’t good. As a parent, I think your core values are really your family values, in my opinion. I grew up on the Range, so it was a blue-collar area. I was brought up by parents that had some rules. Those values start at home. The ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ – the little things seem to be a little lost right now. Sometimes you have to remind your own kids about those little things. As a coach, you can certainly also implement those things in your programs and your associations.”

Recruits, Take Note

When Sandelin and his staff are on the recruiting trail, learning about a prospect’s character and value systems plays a big part in their decision-making.

“There is no question we have to do our homework. We want high character kids in our program. Certainly, that is a big thing. We want good teammates. We want guys who are going to be coachable. All of these things are very important when you’re recruiting a player. We do as much homework as we can. We try to check around with coaches and sometimes even players to find out what kind of a teammate they are.”

Creating a Family Environment

Your team should be like a family, Sandelin says. Creating that atmosphere starts with leadership.

“A big part of it is your leadership. When you have a good culture and a good environment, then the guys understand how important that is. When you have freshmen, I don’t want them treated as freshmen. They should be treated as teammates. Include them and get them acclimated quickly. Freshmen can feel alienated because they’re freshmen and it takes them longer to feel comfortable. That’s a big message for our captains – we want an environment where everyone’s welcoming and everybody’s included. I don’t want to see that any other way. It’s hard enough as a freshman with school and the pressures and for some guys it’s living away from home for the first time. There’s just a lot of different factors, so the more welcoming the guys can be, the better. Help them be a part of the team quickly and get to know each other on a more personal basis, not just as a hockey player.”

Work Ethic Feeds Culture

Work ethic can be contagious, for better or worse, Sandelin says. That’s why it all comes back to culture.

“You could ask guys to define ‘working hard’ and you might get 10 different answers from 10 different people. But it goes back to your environment. If you are the one or two guys that aren’t pushing as hard as you can or having good work habits, you’re going to stand out. That’s why it’s really important to have that team mentality. If you have 10 of those guys that are maybe a little bit more about themselves than the team, then you’re in trouble. If you have one or two, usually those guys slide into place. If you have more, then you might get others that join that. It starts from the top down, from the environment that you create and the messages you’re sending as a coach and the messages your captains are sending. When you have guys that are buying into that stuff, that becomes a lot easier, for sure.”

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