Greg Carvel – Head Coach of the UMass Minutemen
He helped bring two NHL teams to the Stanley Cup Finals. Aided a USA Hockey World Championship Team to a bronze medal. Rebuilt two college hockey programs from the ground up. It’s why Greg Carvel refers to himself more as a “program builder” than a “head coach.”
In this episode of the Courageous Podcast, join host Ryan Berman and Coach Greg Carvel as they discuss why having more character than your opponent is an essential feature of a winning team. We’ll hear how Coach Carvel, over the course of four years, took the University of Massachusetts men’s Hockey Team from 58th (out of 60 Division 1 programs) to 2021 National Champions — all while maintaining the highest GPA of any athletic team on campus. It’s an inspirational episode that presents lessons that can be applied to life, business, and beyond!
Greg Carvel 0:00
And we went into the third period, we were losing two to one. And for whatever, the team, they just weren't playing with the usual life they did. And I gave probably the most emotional speech. Came out, and we never looked back. We dominated. Went into overtime, and in overtime, we off-shot the opponent 13 to 2. And we just owned the game. And we won that game, and then, we won the national championship 5; nothing.
(Intro music 0:24-0:42)
Ryan Berman 0:43
Coach, it’s September, the season starts in October. I can't thank you enough for finding some time to talk to us about you, your kids, and your program. Come next month, the UMass Minutemen start at a 35 games slog of a season. I don't know if you look at it as a slog. It's a lot of games. Is this like the best time of year for you, or do you have, like, most anxiety? Or do you love this time of year?
Greg Carvel 1:08
No. This is the worst time of the year. It's a long season. As you said, we play a minimum of 35 games, we'll probably get around 40. And I'm trying to rev the engine up again. It's the longest season, I think, of college sports. Our guys start from the first day of class, and if we have a successful season, we go into April. And at times they only get about two weeks of the school year where they're not practicing. So it's a long, long season.
Ryan Berman 1:30
I was looking at the roster. So, maybe I'm getting this wrong, but it looks like you've got eight freshmen or fresh people. I don't even know what you say anymore. Seven sophomores, six juniors, five seniors, and a couple of grad students. Is that sort of your normal blend of a roster?
Greg Carvel 1:49
It's become reality, the norm. Ideally, you want to have more upperclassmen on your team, you want veterans. But at this level, we recruit kids who are NHL prospects, and if you're an NHL prospect four years at any development level, it’s often too long. So, most of our players don't make it to senior year. And teams at this level who have a lot of upperclassmen tend to fare well, we have a lot of turnover every year because we have a number of kids who’d sign and leave early to go play in NHL sign-pro contracts.
Ryan Berman 2:21
So, we're going to zag a little bit. We're going to talk a little bit about the team and we'll talk a little bit about you. Since this is The Courageous podcast, here's probably my first courageous question… Should I call you coach or Greg, what do you want me to go with?
Greg Carvel 2:33
Well, very few people call me Greg. The players call me coach or Carvel. So, you go with one of those two.
Ryan Berman 2:39
All right. I'll go with coach so I don’t get myself in trouble today. So, I don't think too many of our listeners are religiously following college hockey. I stumbled into your story; absolutely love just the intentionality of the way you go about your world. But maybe we can sort of set the stage here, you did get a chance to play in the NHL, was that your dream? Was your dream to get there and play? Give the audience the story.
Greg Carvel 3:13
I didn't play in the NHL, let's make that clear. I coached in the NHL, I was drafted in the NHL, I did not play. I went over and I played in Sweden for a very short time. So, I don't consider myself much of a pro hockey player, but I was a pro coach for quite a while.
Ryan Berman 3:28
Was playing the dream?
Greg Carvel 3:31
No, and that's one of my regrets in life. Your podcast and your book struck home with me because I grew up in a very remote area and I wasn't exposed to a lot of things. And I think as a hockey player, I wish I would have dreamed of playing in the NHL because I grew up dreaming to be a division 1 hockey player, and I reached that goal. That was my drive. And I tell kids now, I’m like, “If you want to play in the NHL, dream about it. Make that your goal in life because it'll be your purpose and it'll drive you.” I wish I had. I was close. I was a good enough player that I was drafted in the NHL, but I think I sold myself short.
Ryan Berman 4:12
So you talked about this. Growing up in, I guess, a small unexposed space. One of the things I liked about our original conversations, you talked about your upbringing and you also talked about work ethic. Can you kind of tap into… Are these things that put you on your path for where you are today?
Greg Carvel 4:32
Yeah. I was fortunate to be raised by the people. My parents didn’t come from much and they took our family to another level, and we watched every day the work ethic of our parents. Me, and I have three sisters, and we all have incredible drive and work ethic, and it's because of them. You're not going to get anywhere in life without that drive. And that work ethic, to this day, I think it's an important part of what I do is allow my players to know how hard I work. And I ask a lot out of them. And if I'm not exemplifying it, I can't expect it out of them.
Ryan Berman 5:11
I'm not sold that the country is working as hard as we could, just putting it out there, I'll be the one to say it And I'm not sure if there's a correlation to this, but I find it fascinating, there's about 340 million people in Downey here at least, and 50% of them live 50 miles from where they were born. The Apple really doesn't far fall from the tree. But for you, outside of playing in Sweden, you've coached high school, you've coached at your alma mater, assistant in the NHL. Both on the west coast and in Canada, the travel diary is full. By the way, how did that roll with the family, like, all the moves?
Greg Carvel 5:56
It's rough. I'm the one who makes the bold decision to move cross country or move to a foreign country. And I've got the excitement of the challenge, and my family has to just come along for the ride. Fortunately, they do an outstanding job of it. But the reason that I've continued to make the decisions is I think part of it is growing up in an isolated area. I don't know why. As much as we talked about work ethic, I think growing up in an isolated area and really not having much exposure till I was 17,18 years old, I've had this drive in me to experience things that I guess I didn't feel like I did growing up. After we won the national championship two years ago, the university asked me to give the commencement speech which was a bit of a shocker, but I used some courage and I took on the challenge. And the theme of my speech was ‘be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.’ It's a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was a 18th-century German. Literary figure. And it just kind of embodies how I've done things through my life. I feel like if you're bold, and you take on a challenge, and you dive into it, mighty forces come to your aid. And it wasn't until I gave that commencement speech that I found that quote and kind of verbalized what I carried inside of me, and why I decided to… I was living in Southern California, decided to move to Ottawa, Ontario. The challenge was there. Going back to my alma mater was a challenge. Coming to UMass was maybe the biggest challenge because UMass was a struggling program. But what I try to sell to our players and when I speak to my children is, “Be bold. Be courageous, because when you do that, these mighty forces start growing inside of you and they're not going to grow if you don't challenge yourself and make those kinds of moves.”
Ryan Berman 8:00
So yeah. I think it's 2016 when you decided to take this particular job. And to the layman fan here, you can't really detect a program back then, right? You're looking at it, I think there's about 60 teams in Division 1 hockey. You take over the program, and in your first year, you guys finish 58th out of 60.
Greg Carvel 8:24
Ryan Berman 8:25
How fun was that?
Greg Carvel 8:25
We won five games, we lost 29. And we lost the last 17 in a row. We rode a 17-game losing streak to finish off the season.
Ryan Berman 8:35
And then, the next year, progress starts, right? Not that progress didn't start that first year, but results that you could see. I think you take the team to 36th out of 60. Third season, you guys come in second, and then, momentum is really kind of going here. And the program gets 19-ed, right? And I'm talking about COVID-19. Back then, when you invest so much of yourself in the development of these kids, in the program, does it just crush your soul, or do you just have to roll with the punches when something like this hits?
Greg Carvel 9:12
It was crushing because, just like you said, in our third season we played in the national championship game and we lost. And then, the next season, we were a really strong team again and I thought our team was really picking up steam heading into the playoffs. We were really playing well, and then, everybody getting 19-ed. I think COVID and just the whole not knowing what COVID was and what it was going to bring about kind of helped distract you from the crushing feeling of, “We're in on the brink of having another great run to the playoffs.” But the hard part for me was the seniors. That was just one day they came to the brink and we're like, “That's it. You're done.” And that's crushing because I'll always remember my last game as a collegiate player. How much commitment, sacrifice you make, and unique closure. And in the way those kids had to finish their careers, that's what was crushing to me.
Ryan Berman 10:13
They weren't even able to come back the next year as graduate students? Did any of them stay?
Greg Carvel 10:19
Again, most of the kids, they've been here four years, they were ready to move on to Pro. But NCA granted an additional year to kids who were 19-ed. And a lot of kids took it. I don't think we had any kids come back from that season.
Ryan Berman 10:37
Yeah. I guess it does mess up the whole part. You’re recruiting other kids that are coming in. Those spots are then taken, and you start the whole thing over again. So, as you mentioned, 2021 year, you guys take it all. And can you just take us back to that? So what is it, five years in? Was it year four or year five?
Greg Carvel 10:59
Ryan Berman 11:00
Playing in four, right? Because of COVID. You've been called both stoic and you've been called emotional, maybe it depends on who you're asking if it's the media, or the players, but which one were you on that day in the locker room?
Greg Carvel 11:15
When I think back to that -- we call it the frozen four in hockey. It's the final four in basketball, frozen four -- I go back to, more so, the semifinal game because this was a game where… That was post-COVID, so we were still playing through COVID that year. We couldn’t have fans testing all the time. And we didn't lose one player all year to COVID until the national semifinal game. And we were playing the team that beat us in the national finals two years before, and that team was going for 3 peat, defending the national title three times in a row. So, really, really good team. And we had four players disqualified from that semi-final game due to COVID. And they were important players, either they are starting goalie, or a leading goal scorer, and another really important forward, and another one of our goalies. So, we only had one goalie really dressed in the game and it was a unique situation. And it is really a situation where everyone's like, “Oh, throw in the towel. It's too bad for UMass.” That's pretty tough to overcome. And our goalie was the best goalie in the country, that should be noted as well. And we went into the third period, we were losing 2 to 1. And we went into the third period, we were losing two to one. And for whatever, the team, they just weren't playing with the usual life they did. And I gave probably the most emotional speech. I should say more passionate than emotional. And I just said, “Gentlemen, don't waste this opportunity. We're right there, find that next level.” And I guess it hit the mark. We came out, we tied the game early in the third and we never looked back. We dominated. Went into overtime, and in overtime, we off-shot the opponent 13 to 2. And we just owned the game. And we won that game, and then, we won the national championship 5; nothing. So, I felt like that intermission between the second and third period was where I needed to be less than stoic, I needed to be emotional and passionate. And it really lit a fire, and the kids carried it through the next game and a half.
Ryan Berman 13:21
At that moment, we didn't talk a blip about talent other than that you had the number one goalie. At that level, why does that work? Out-shooting someone 13 to 2, is it just ‘dig deeper’? Is there something else in there? There's another level in there? Is it a feeling? How does that work? Why does it work?
Greg Carvel 13:46
You have to have skill to win, but you have to have more character than skill and that's what we try to recruit here. We call it cumulative character. We try to have more character than our opponent because when things get dire, that's when the character rises. All I asked for basically in that intermission was, “We have the character, let's just show it, let's use it.” And it becomes a mindset. And I think that's been a big part of our successes. Just getting really high-character kids. And then, beyond that is really developing their character. We hold the kids to really, really high standards here. And then, at the end of the season, the university has this big ceremony for all the sports teams. And we were granted the athletic team of the year, we played in the national championship game. A couple of awards later, we were awarded the team with the highest GPA and everybody was like, “Wow, what?” It’s like, “No, that's why we were in the national championship game because we hold our kids to high standards and everything.” And the reputation of our program on campus is pristine. I get faculty and staff email me all the time about how respectful our kids are and how great they are in class. So ultimately, winning hockey games to me starts with and ends with the character of our players. And that's ultimately my job, is to make them better people and help develop their character because that's ultimately what leads to the development of them as hockey players, and that leads to the wins.
Ryan Berman 15:39
So when you're out scouting… There's a kid right now who's going to be part of the program a year, two, three years out, what's that scouting checklist look like for you? How do you go about sort of making sure you got the right type of player for the program?
Greg Carvel 15:56
Well, obviously, my assistants will do their backgrounds. We talk to people. The filter is when we get them on campus and we sit them down, and I’ll ask questions that they're not expecting to hear. And if they've got character, and they're the type of kid that I know makes our program tick, they'll have an answer for me. If they don't, I'll realize, “Okay, this kid might not have the character, might not have…” What their values are. And I don't think many kids come into a recruiting situation expecting to get the questions that they get. And it's twofold, it's for me to get an insight into them, but it's also they should realize, “I'm getting an insight into the program by the questions I'm being asked right now. He’s asking me basically about my character, that makes me realize this place really cares about character. They care about me, like, what kind of person I am. Am I a high enough character kid to play in this program?” And then, that becomes a filter because the kids, that's what their makeup is. “I want to be surrounded, I want to be challenged by this coach. I like what he's saying, like, that's me.” Those are the kids that come into our program. And we still get just a small percentage of the kids that we recruit, but I always feel like we get the right kids. There's a lot of good hockey players, there's a lot of good kids, there’s a lot of good combinations of both. But ultimately, we get the kids who want to be part of what we do, and what we do is really high standards, and connection is a huge, huge… Part of the foundation of everything that we do here is connection. I spend my summers, I don't watch NHL games, or videotapes and PowerPoints, I read books on vulnerability, and empathy, and humanity. Trying to figure out how I can better connect with my players and my staff because that's when you get the best out of people is when they're feeling at their best.
Ryan Berman 18:04
Is there a book you read… Obviously, outside my book, is there another book that you read that you're just like, “I just love this book. This is a great book on just getting the most out of people.”
Greg Carvel 18:18
One of my favorites is ‘The Culture Code.’ When I read that, a lot of things rang true to me. One that pops into my head is that culture is created in the 15 feet around you. You can't create culture through emails, or telephone calls, it has to be face to face. And in the book, they call them culture collisions. And so, I realized one of my biggest roles as the head coach is to create collisions every day. I got to be running into players, staff, whoever is important in our program. And then, those collisions need to be high functioning. It can't be superficial. “Hey, what's going on today? How are you doing?” It's got to be, “Hey, I heard your grandmother’s sick, how are you doing? How's it affecting you?” So, ‘The Culture Code’ is a big one. Another one that we read with our team is a book called ‘Legacy.’ It's about the all-black rugby team over the last 100 years. The most successful team in all sports. And it's a great book. We read it as a team every year. The incoming players, we give them the book and we have a book club. And it's a great book about how to be a great teammate, but also, for coaches and the leaders. It's how to build a value-driven culture. And the combination of the two is just… It’s one of these books that it’s about sports but it’s written for the business world, but it's an outstanding book for us to introduce our culture to our players.
Ryan Berman 19:55
Legacy is one of the first books I read. I had never written a book before, so I have lots of fears myself, “Am I qualified to write a book? What's my style?” And ‘Legacy’ is just one of those great… It is. I love sports books that are more than sports, and like you said, it's about business. Not that you're getting to Vegas anytime soon, but if and when you get there next, Zappos is headquartered there. Rest in peace Tony Hsieh, but every decision that he made for that business was to create what he called collisions. You can go spend $5 and tour Zappos. The whole building, the way you walk it was to create these opportunities for collisions. That's how important culture was there as well. So, totally get and love that word. Lots of head nods on my side. Coach, you’ve been described as intense, maybe you have to be that way in the job from time to time, but I really appreciated -- and maybe less intense and more on the intentional side -- how intentional you are. You're doing your homework and you're extracting certain things. And then, maybe you have to be intentional when you're building a program. You had shared a story with me about you’re a program builder. First of all, can you talk about that story of you getting hired over there and how you sort of mentioned that term?
Greg Carvel 21:21
Yeah. I think when I interviewed for the job here, I talked about I view this more as the title shouldn't be head coach, it should be program builder because head coach is basically about running practice and strategies for the game. At the pro level that's what you are, but at the college level, you're a program builder. And it's about inclusivity to me, and I'm extremely intentional about inclusivity. We're a big state school here in Massachusetts, we have a tremendous number of alumni throughout the state. Everything I do is to bring more and more people into the program and try to connect with them as much as possible, and make them feel part of it. And that's been a big part of my vision when I took over. But the term that I use with our players -- and this goes back to the intentionality -- is clarity of vision. I think as the head coach, it's extremely important that there's a clarity of vision throughout the entire program. I think the leader has to create the vision, articulate it, and then, sell it to the point that it becomes purposeful for everybody in the program. And that's where all the intentionality comes in. Everything that you say and do has to align and be consistent with your vision. And, as I said, I think the first question you asked, make it a big, bold vision. As I said, my regret in life is I didn't dream of playing in the NHL. I dreamed of playing college hockey and I achieved that. Dreaming of playing in the NHL is a much bigger dream, but I wish I would have dreamed it. And so, when I came to UMass, as you said, we were the worst team in the country in my first year but we created a vision statement, and that vision statement had three parts to it. First, was basically developing character that would lead to a renowned culture, and then, that would ultimately lead to success on the national level consistently. And when you've lost 17 games in a row and you tell your team, “This is our vision, we're going to have national success consistently.” We couldn't win one single game. I made that clear that this was the roadmap. “We're going to develop your character with high standards and connection. We're here, we're going to work with you. And we're going to create this culture, this culture based on cumulative character, and that's going to help us win and win consistently.” And it's been a good formula for us.
Ryan Berman 24:03
I think the values of the program is ICU, is that correct?
Greg Carvel 24:10
Ryan Berman 24:12
Can you give a little color on what that stands for?
Greg Carvel 24:15
Yeah. Culture building 101 is; get your core values. And I CCCU just happened to be the first letters of the five values that I created. And again, I have a sports performance mentor who really helps me a lot, and his suggestion was, “You should work with the staff and the team to come up with the core values.” And I said, “No,” I said, “I understand that reasoning, but this is my vision and I don't want them creating values that they think are important. This is what I think the value should need to be.” And it just happened in ICCCU with the first letters. And I realized that one day, and then I parlayed that into when I introduce the values of the players, it became, “Well, I see you,” which is this whole connection to being seen and felt. I use the term. To be uniquely seen is powerful. If you can get everyone in your program to feel uniquely seen. “Coach understands. He sees me. He sees all of me. He understands me.” And so, there's just that connection between our values and the ‘I see you,’ ICCCU. When I was introducing the core values to the new players on the team, I used to just be giving a talk to the group and I would just stop and I would say, “Do you see me? Can you see me?” And then I would parlay it into “I see you. ICCCU.” And then we would go through the values. The story I tell is after the national championship game, everybody's going crazy. We finally get into the locker room, we celebrate on the ice. I try to get everybody just to sit down which is a herculean effort after winning a national title. Everybody's laughing, and hooting, and music. And I get the music down, and I turned to the Captain; Jake. And I said, “Jake.” I finally get his attention, and I said, “Do you see me?” And the place just went quiet because every kid remembered that they, when I asked them, “Could you see me?” I said, “I see you, Jake, and you're a national champion. I see you as a national champion.” And so, that's a bit of intentionality. Everything you do is consistent. Core values; you have to live them. I know every kid who comes in here recruiting, I know that every place they've been, they've talked about core values. In our facilities, there's no quotes. The only thing on the walls here are our core values and our identity, those are the only things on our walls. And my sports performance coach said, “You have to bring those values off the wall. You have to live them.” And so the I CCCU, one of the ‘Cs’ is connection, and one of the ‘Cs’ is compete. So, I have to connect with players. They have to see me competing, I compete in a different way than they do. My compete is to prepare them as well as I possibly can for practice, for games. My compete is to make them think that I'm outperforming the other coach and the other team. I get on these podcasts and I'm able to talk a fair bit, I'm a very quiet person. I don't say a ton. I'm not a superb communicator by any means, but everything I say usually has some meaning or purpose. The intentionality behind it. So, I think it's critically part of the clarity of vision. And that's one of the best compliments I've ever got from one of our players is, “Coach, everything we do here stacks on top of each other. Everything's connected. Everything makes sense.” And I was like, “Yes. That's clarity of vision. That's the goal.”
Ryan Berman 28:34
Can you rattle off the other core values?
Greg Carvel 28:39
Yeah. Integrity, commitment, connection, compete, unity.
Ryan Berman 28:45
How hard is that last one to pull off?
Greg Carvel 28:48
Unity is the one that the players think is the most important. And you hear this all the time. Championship-level teams, they're always like, “Oh, we're the best group. We got along so well.” And so, the players will usually… I always go to connection as the most important, I believe you don't have unity without the connection. We were having a discussion this past week and somebody referred back to the national championship team, and he said, “That's the closest team I've ever been on.” So now, if we ever kind of start stumbling in the season, maybe we lose two games in a row, we'll literally, first thing we'll say, “How's the unity of the group?” And we'll do some deep dive. I remember the school I was at before UMass, we went into a game and we just performed so below what we usually did. My sports performance coach, he goes, “There's something going on on the team.” And I did a little digging and I realized that one kid was dating another guy's former girlfriend, and that was it. That was enough to up-turn the apple cart. So, you need to have the connection and the communication to be able to figure those things out, and you usually can find the problem.
Ryan Berman 30:07
So, I kid you not, I have the honor of going around the country and talking to teams, get to keynotes, and doing some workshops. And when I talk about values, the slide I use is an Eminem slide. Not that candy, the rapper. The actual rapper. And it's, “My words are weapons.” If you actually look at ‘my words are weapons,’ I use them to strike my opponent. It's perfect for, like, assuming you're using the values the right way as ammunition. And again, it's not to hurt anybody, but it takes the emotion. There's no guessing on what's important, they're there. And it helps you pick up time, and I love the way you're using, “I see you.” I'm also really curious to hear, you said the other thing that's on the wall is your identity. Is it an identity statement? Talk a little bit about what that identity is, and why you feel it isn't part of the value set.
Greg Carvel 31:10
Yeah. It's a separate thing to me. You kind of have a pyramid, your core values are your foundation. And if you can live to your values, well, it creates an identity. And so, we have three words; fast, hard, prepared. And I always see, like, teams that have the strongest identity, that know what they're made of and what makes them successful. If you have a strong identity, and then, if you have got a purpose behind it like it. The best teams have an identity, live to the identity. And you know in sports, it’s really evident in sports. You’re going in and you're going to play this team like, “Oh man, this team is tough. They know what their identity is and they played.” And it’s usually physically hard teams, or even the highly skilled teams know that that's what their identity is and, “This is how we’re going to beat you. We're going to out-skill you.” So, the teams that don't know what their identity is have no chance. So, it's important for us to live our values, and then, understand what our identity is, and to stick to it. Sticking to it is just part of the game. It's understanding and practicing it, and everything that you do. And the messaging to it. The nice thing about this level is I'm working with primarily 19 to 24-year-old young men. Still very impressionable. Still very amenable. And if you build connection with these kids, this generation of kids, trust is really important and purpose. Living the values and playing to an identity really satisfies all those.
Ryan Berman 32:58
Kind of wrapping up on this intentionality conversation part of it. I had heard somewhere there was like this number system that you have with your players. The ones, the twos, and the threes. Am I getting this right?
Greg Carvel 33:12
Ryan Berman 33:13
Can you share a little bit of what this is?
Greg Carvel 33:15
Yeah. We stole this from Alabama football. Nick Saban, got a lot of things stolen from him. I just saw this on a video, and he said, “We rate kids as ones, twos, or threes.” Ones are the great kids who do everything right. They're low maintenance, you don't spend any time worrying about them. Threes are the kids that are trouble. And eventually, they make enough mistakes and they separate themselves from the program in one way or another. It's the twos; our success is based on the twos. It's identifying the kids who have the habit in them, but they're either immature, or haven't had enough experience with personal discipline or high standards, but you know there's potential there. And it's been able to move the twos to ones. That's good coaching, is to identify. Get rid of the threes as quick as you can. In the book ‘Legacy,’ I'm sure you remember the chapter; no dickheads. Get rid of the dickheads because even one bad kid can really take away from everything you're trying to do. So, the twos are the kids that you got to spend the time. You got to really hold their hands a bit. You got to build trust with them. We call it ‘the squeeze.’ You squeeze the twos because when you squeeze a two, they either go down to a three or they go up to one. And that squeeze, if they're really a one, the squeeze starts to feel like a hug, “I like that coach is around me. He's talking to me, he's pushing me.” That squeeze becomes a hug. And when you feel the hug, that's when you grow and you get that next level because you know you're being supported and cared for.
Ryan Berman 35:18
Coach, it's September, right? So, the season starts next month, when is it declared? Do you have to declare it, or is it like, “Okay, this is an opportunity where we really need to sit down with X and tell them, ‘hey, I see you as a two’”? Or is it, like, third week of the program -- declared; move on?
Greg Carvel 35:37
It's a continual. The one thing that we try to do is communicate a ton. We have two staff meetings a week. And in every staff meeting, every person on the staff gets a chance to talk, and we'll basically talk about every kid on the team probably through the course of two staff meetings a week. And we'll identify, and then, we’ll talk about how exactly that squeezes is going to be performed. And I think it's important that the individual kid understands, “Hey, we believe in you but this is where we need you to be, and we're going to help you get there.” It is in no way a demeaning thing. It's the opposite. Like, “We're going to put even more care into you. We're going to give you more of our time and more of our effort. We're putting more of our resources into you.” And that's what they need to feel. If they feel it as pressure and criticism and, “Coach doesn't like me,” it's not going to be very effective.
Ryan Berman 36:46
I'm sitting here thinking about this conversation, and we started about where your regret was on your dream and helping players or anyone dream bigger. Do you feel like you have a dream now? Is there a new dream that you have? And is that something you feel you can share?
Greg Carvel 37:11
Yeah. I won’t share too much of the details. So, two years ago we won the national championship, the last two years we've won our league championship, which had never happened in the history of the UMass program. So, we've had a lot of success over the last two years. And at the end of last season, I took a step back and I realized that what we'd been doing for six years here at UMass needed to change a bit. That there were things that we should be doing better. And I've talked a lot today about connection and, trust, and all those terms. We were holding kids to really, really high standards because we needed to, because the program was in disarray, and it really helped us find success. But I also realized that we weren't doing it well enough, that some things needed to change. And I know in our discussions, you kind of put forward like, “Is there anything you're doing right now that's courageous?” And I said that to the team. We talk a lot about vulnerability with our players, and how important it is if we really want to connect, we need to be vulnerable with each other. “If you really want us to help you, you need to be vulnerable. We need to know what's going on inside of you. If we don't know, it's hard for us to help.” So I just decided that we weren't doing a good enough job of creating this vulnerability. Maybe the messaging was more about, “Your heart is part of our identity.” And we do everything harder than everybody else. We're more conditioned and we’re hard. And in that gets lost the reality that we all go through struggles. And I just realized that I wanted to change things a bit and be able to be truer to the vision that I always had. We wanted to build character, but we're forgetting a little bit about some humanity in there. And so, right now we're working to remove all shame from our program. I don't want any kid here to ever feel an ounce of shame, so I think we can be better. And it's a bit of a, I don't want to say it's not courageous, but we won two championships in a row and I've decided to change the messaging. And I’ve had some staff members, like, “Hey, hard has been a pretty good word for us. It's taken us to good places.” I said, “We will be harder because of how we treat the kids going forward.” And that's basically the adjustment we’re looking for.
Ryan Berman 40:01
I appreciate you sharing that. Yeah, when I hear the word hard and hear you talk about it, I think it's addressing the hard even if it's really lonely to be a person in this program. I always say it's lonely to be the leader. I don't think people realize how lonely it is to be the person calling the shots, because in corporate America, you never know if you're totally getting the truth from people around you, or you do have to make a hard call that's going to impact their lives, and their jobs, and careers. And so, I really like how you can keep fast, hard, and prepared. But hard isn't just that toughness that you talked about, there's another layer of hard. And, “Hey, what's hard?” Talking might be hard. Bringing this out might be hard. And in the spirit of being intentional with words, I've got like eight words I want to just rattle off really quick and get your one sentence sort of response to them. Some of these I know, but I just want to hear how you kind of go about it. Like, what's the Twitch response. All right. Number one; character.
Greg Carvel 41:19
Cumulative character. Skill matters but character wins.
Ryan Berman 41:26
Greg Carvel 41:28
It's universal. Everyone deals with it. The sooner you realize that it's a positive, and you can accept that, you're going to grow, then adversity becomes your friend.
Ryan Berman 41:41
How do you grow that muscle? Did you just have to keep telling yourself that?
Greg Carvel 41:45
It hurts. It's tough. It's really tough. I'm 52 years old, it took me late into my life to learn how to deal with it. And again, my sports performance coach, he sent us this video; Jocko… I can't remember his last name.
Ryan Berman 42:06
Willink. Extreme Ownership.
Greg Carvel 42:08
Yep. Willink. And he's like, “Good. Hard times coming at you? Good.” And he said the guys who worked for him would come to him with problems, he’d be like, “Good.” And so, when we played in that national semifinal game and we lost four kids, we said, “Good.” And that's what I'd say about adversity. You're going to learn that actually more positive is going to come out of it than negatives.
Ryan Berman 42:33
All right. Next word is talent.
Greg Carvel 42:37
Talent is necessary for excellence. You have to have some talent. You want to be extremely good at something, the hard work is important but you got to have some talent to be excellent.
Ryan Berman 42:48
Your 1, 2,3 system, though, that's not about talent, that's about the squeeze. That's something else, correct?
Greg Carvel 42:55
Yeah. No. That's more about personal discipline which I think is critical if you want to develop your character.
Ryan Berman 43:05
All right. Next word is process.
Greg Carvel 43:07
Process can't be compromised. Can't cheat it. You can't jump past it. You got to follow through.
Ryan Berman 43:16
When you're building a program, process has to be like part of your foundational way of going about this, correct?
Greg Carvel 43:25
Absolutely. Absolutely. It's everything. And usually, when players are struggling, it's always because they're focused on outcome not on process. And so, everything's about getting back to process.
Ryan Berman 43:40
Greg Carvel 43:43
We try to teach our guys that your individual success ultimately will rely on your teammates. No matter how good you are, you need your teammates. So, you need to help your teammate be better. And it's part of unity. So, as much individual success we all want, we're not going to get it without people around us being really good.
Ryan Berman 44:08
Three more to go. Next one is courage.
Greg Carvel 44:11
In our sport, it’s the differentiator. It's the kids who play with courage that make the difference in games. A kid who has got the courage to put his body in front of a 100-mile-per-hour slapshot. The courage to hold onto a puck for an extra second even though he knows he's going to get hit pretty hard just to get the puck in deep. The kids that have the courage make the difference in the games.
Ryan Berman 44:38
Next one is winning.
Greg Carvel 44:39
Winning is just a byproduct of the process. It's a byproduct of everything you do. I don't care what our record is. It's great to win championships, and as coaches, we get judged by that. But winning and losing is just a byproduct of how well you're doing the things that you're supposed to be doing.
Ryan Berman 45:03
Last word is culture.
Greg Carvel 45:04
Everybody has one. Every group has one, whether you're trying or not. If you don't care about culture, that's your culture. So, we try to be, as you said, very intentional, very deliberate in how we build our culture. And I think kids who come into our program are shocked by how much time and energy that we put towards culture, as opposed to, I don't know, systems, power place. If the culture is not right, the rest of it is not going to be great.
Ryan Berman 45:43
So, I always find, if you've made it this far, you're highly engaged in this dialogue. Kept us in your ears on your walk, or your run, or wherever you are. Stuck in traffic in your car. Just an awesome conversation. Almost unfair of me, frankly, to ask you to give an hour with the season starting next month. You made a lot of fans. Fan out of me on the West Coast, I'll be rooting for the program. If you can sort of wrap up our conversation and you're like, “All right, someone stayed with us for 45 minutes today. They're engaged in this conversation.” What are the 1,2,3 takeaways you hope they take from our time together?
Greg Carvel 46:21
Well, one we talked about a couple of times is having a bold vision. Don't go through life without having a bold vision. And then, the second part of that that I talk to our players about, this is I believe from Legacy too is sing your world into existence. Have this bold vision, and then sing it, say it. I tell the players, I go, “You want to play in the NHL, tell me to my face. Tell all your teammates, because now what? You'll be held accountable to that.” So have a bold vision, sing it into existence. Make people aware of it. It's going to give you more purpose, it's going to give you more drive. Don't just hide it deep inside of yourself; sing it. Make it happen. I know we talked plenty about culture. I believe culture is a competitive advantage. At this level of hockey, there are 60 teams, any team can beat any team on any night. Every game is an absolute grind, and the differentiator to me is culture. It's the values. It's the identity. It's the belief. It’s the unity. It’s all stuff. I believe culture is a huge competitive advantage. And the last thing, I guess, would be related to high standards. And this is kind of one of my philosophies, and it's held true, is that if you demand the best out of people, absolutely demand it, you most often get it. So, that's why we set the standards really high, and we don't drop them. This is what I love about standards, I don't use the word expectation in our program. I will never say, “This is what I expect,” because, “This is what I expect,” is the same as saying, “Well, this is what I hope happens.” Here we go, “This is the standard. You either achieve it or you don't.” And that goes back to clarity of vision, we make it very clear for everyone in the program. There's no gray area. I think, as a coach, you have to eliminate gray area because it's where people will go to hide. It's where people will go to not meet the standard. And so, that’d be the last one. Demand the best out of people and you most often get it.
Ryan Berman 48:51
Coach, thanks so much for your time. Stay fast, stay prepared. Keep taking on the hard. Go get them. October 1st is going to be here in no time. Good luck this season.
Greg Carvel 49:01
Thanks, Ryan. I appreciate it.
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