Head Coach: Female Midget Prep Team
Edge School For Athletes
2006 & 2010 Olympics – Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team
2005, 06, 07, 08, 09 World Championships – Canadian National Women’s Team
2012 U18 Women’s World Championships – Assistant Coach (Won Gold)
2014 Olympics – Assistant Coach – Japanese Women’s National Hockey Team
2019 – Head Coach Team Alberta – Canada Winter Games (Won Gold)
Any given day of the school week, you’ll find Carla MacLeod roaming the halls of Edge School For Athletes, with a cup of coffee, a smile and a quick joke ready to go. MacLeod is the female midget prep coach and every day she wanders these senior high halls first thing in the morning, checking up on her players.
While this daily regime sounds strict, it’s anything but. MacLeod sees her coaching role less about drawing up the X’s and O’s of the game, and more about committing to understanding her players on an individual level. She works incredibly hard getting to know each player and with no kids of her own, she willingly sinks her heart and soul into her team and the players. It’s one of the many reasons she’s highly respected and well loved as a coach.
We sat down for an interview that should have taken 15 – 20 minutes but instead was almost an hour. Carla is engaging, personable and incredibly insightful when it comes to her views on hockey. With years of experience playing the game and now in her role as a coach, she is a wealth of knowledge and has so much to offer the next generation of young hockey players. This is my Q & A with Carla MacLeod.
* Some of this interview has been abbreviated.*
How did you get your start in hockey?
I always tell people I had a traditional Canadian story where I was playing pond hockey in the backyard. I had an older brother and sister, plus a younger brother and we all played some form of a skating sport. I started playing hockey when I was 4 but I thought it was cool because my sister started ringette the same year and I talked to my parents later on and asked why they didn’t you put me in ringette. They said you asked to play hockey. This was back in 1986 so I think it’s pretty incredible.
I played growing up with boys and just naturally progressed from level to level, to Team Alberta and Canada Winter Games twice. I got a hockey scholarship to Wisconsin, which was phenomenal and was able to crack the National team line up and go to the Olympics. So from a playing perspective, I was really fortunate and was able to experience a lot in my 25 – 26 years of playing.
What is your biggest challenge as a coach?
My biggest challenge is to understand my players, first as people. They are all individuals, they are all people, they all come from different backgrounds, they all face different challenges as we all do in life. I feel like before I can coach them on the ice, I have to understand them as people. And I think that takes a lot of time and energy but it’s the most rewarding at the end of the day.
What is your personal coaching philosophy?
My philosophy in life is to always be kind to people. I don’t always succeed at it, I have great days and I’m a human too. My philosophy is real simple. If you are on my team, you play. My job as a coach is to make everyone better. (Sometimes) when I watch young sports and younger coaches coach, it’s all about winning. I always say if it’s all about winning, you’ve never won, because I’ve won, and it doesn’t change who you are. And that’s a profound thing for me.
I always say to parents in my group, here’s how I am going to measure success – when your kid is 22 and she comes back from university and wants to have lunch with me then I’ve done my job. That is just my philosophy and not right or wrong but that’s what I liked growing up.
What do you say to parents and kids when they get cut from the team?
I wish kids could experience pain of being cut because if you’re going to be an athlete you’re going to get cut. So if you want to be an athlete you have to be okay with both sides of it. Just like in a game, if you are willing to win and be a good winner, you have to be willing to lose and be a good loser. It’s just part of the entity, you can’t shield them against failure. Failure is one of the most important ingredients to success. There are a million books written on it, so we have to let kids live it in a safe, protected environment where you know they’ll be okay.
Parents just love their kids so much and it’s always coming from a place of love and they want what’s best for their child. No different than for my players, because I don’t have any kids. I sink my heart and soul into my players and want them to do well. I think if all of us are able to stop and reflect on our lives, our greatest moments of growth were through adversity. I think if we don’t allow the natural true emotion of adversity to run its course and realize it’s okay, I think we are failing youth.
I always think, I like when kids in my program fail. It’s my job in my program to help walk them through it. I say to kids all the time, you got cut. You still have a path to your goal, what is it and how quick are you going to turn the page to realize you just have to work harder.
Where is the line, when it comes to parents wanting to control their child’s ice time, power play time, playing time etc.?
If we could get that answer we would be millionaires. The reality is, again, if you are going to be involved in a team sport, you have to understand team dynamic. Again out of sheer love, you are a parent, when you watch a hockey game, you watch one kid. When you are a coach watching a hockey game, you are watching whatever it is, 18 or 20 whatever number of team members there are. And everyone thinks they know best but my decision can’t be made on one player, it has to be based on 18 or 20.
Respecting that and appreciating that, there needs to be more education on development. It’s an overused term that’s not defined well enough. If you look at a hockey team and you play your top two players all game you are not making them better, you are overplaying them. In the same breath, you’re not playing your lower end players who will never get better because they’re never on the ice. So how are you a team? To me, you have to make players better and it’s just like going into the workforce. You have to work as a unit, so it’s hard.
How much should kids be doing outside of sport?
When you hit a certain age, maybe 15, 16 you’re going to start to figure out what sport you’re best at. If you want to pursue post secondary you have to focus on that sport within its season and out of that season, you have to focus on what is going to matter. That’s where you’ll get to the strength and conditioning at the right age.
If you are younger than that age, you should be playing every sport under the sun. Going camping with your family and riding your bike, etc. The volume (of activities) the kids participate in this day and age within one sport blows my mind.
I am definitely of the long-term athlete development model where kids need to be multi sport athletes and kids need to understand all the benefits within your sport. NHL players don’t play all year round, national team members don’t, Olympic athletes don’t play all year round, yet our 6 year olds are.
What is your best piece of advice for girls who want to get to the highest levels they can in hockey (National Team, Scholarship, Play in a Professional League)?
You have to take it in stride. That’s the reality. Don’t get outworked. That’s the biggest message. Every girl who plays hockey in our age group anyways (14 – 18), they want to play post secondary hockey. They want to play on the National team. Then you understand how many girls there are in North America, and that’s a lot.
The biggest thing is the drive can’t come from anyone else. It doesn’t come from parents, it doesn’t come from coaches, it doesn’t come from anyone else. It’s you. You can control you. You can make yourself better. People can help you, but it’s on you.
As a young athlete if you can embrace that? That’s the most powerful thing you’ve got going.