One of the most valuable lessons a leader can teach individuals hoping to thrive is that success will eventually come if you work hard and work smart through every challenge you will face. This is easier said than done, especially if you are trying to teach these types of lessons to youthful, eager athletes who want to win right away, but it will help beget success.
The Calgary Roughnecks’ young core has been in the process of learning many strategies on how to become their best selves throughout this NLL season, including, but not limited to, that principle of finding the most effective ways to battle through adversity.
Thankfully for those blossoming players, they have been guided by a top-notch players’ coach from the bench and are playing alongside savvy, character veterans on the floor who have a wealth of relevant knowledge that has helped get this year’s team out of an early-season 1-4 hole.
The Roughnecks’ season looked like it was in jeopardy from the outside looking in. However, according to Roughnecks Captain Curtis Dickson, the team knew the high level they could play up to; all the pieces just weren’t coming together quite yet.
“We weren’t playing up to our own expectations, and I know we were written off by a lot of people to start the year, and that was fine with us; we have no problem playing the underdog role,” Dickson said. “We knew what we were capable of, and we didn’t want to use having a young team as an excuse even though we have quite a few inexperienced guys. I think they’ve been slowly morphing into their roles.”
More than halfway through this season, the Roughnecks were still floating near the bottom of the West Conference standings as each of the players was attempting to play up to their role.
Dickson recalled a critical Skype call with the team right before their current win streak in which he encouraged the younger players to speak up, ask questions, and be confident with their actions as members of this team on and off the floor. Dickson can confidently say what the best strategies for success with this team are because he’s reaped the benefits of implementing the lessons he learned as a younger player in this system.
“If they have questions, if they don’t know anything, even if we’re on the floor and they don’t know what’s going on, all us older guys are there to help them out,” Dickson said. “But, this back-half of the season has been great. They’re catching on pretty quickly; they’re smart guys and know what they’re doing out there now. It’s been a lot of fun getting to see all these guys improve as much as they have.”
Understandably, it would take time for this team to find their way. Based on current rosters from around the league, the Roughnecks are the third-youngest team in the NLL, behind Panther City and Rochester, and they have had 11 players with 3 years experience or fewer who have played five or more games.
Roughnecks Head Coach Curt Malawsky has praised his veteran leaders for taking on the responsibility of helping to teach the younger players. Whether it’s Dickson, Jesse King, Curtis Manning, Christian Del Bianco, or others, those leaders have specific tools and wisdom for both on and off the floor that they can impart to these up-and-coming talents.
“I think we have selfless leaders,” Malawsky said. “They can say that they’re playing for the team’s success, but then they go out, and they prove it every night we go out there. We always talk about ‘Well done is better than well said,’ and these guys always get it done. The young guys know that [the leaders] say that, and then they do it, which carries a lot of weight.”
Now, let’s give credit to all the places it is due. It’s one thing for the veterans to show the best ways to comport themselves on and off the floor, but getting the younger players to buy in is another challenge.
The Roughnecks’ elite transition player Zach Currier applauded the team’s younger members for doing their best to absorb what they’re being taught and then trying to implement those strategies and then improve each week.
“We’re all pretty like-minded people, and a big part of that is winning lacrosse games – we all love to win lacrosse games,” Currier said. “I think the young guys are really listening to Curtis Dickson, Jesse King, Curtis Manning, and all of our veteran leaders. They’re all good role models and always say the right things. [The young guys] are really buying in, and you can see that they are putting the pieces together and are playing a full 60 minutes.”
With those pieces coming together now, we can see how dangerous this Roughnecks team can be. They are currently on a four-game win streak, their longest winning streak since 2014. And this weekend, the Roughnecks have the chance to extend their current streak to five games for the first time since 2012 and clinch a playoff berth with a win over Vancouver on Saturday.
During the four-game winning streak, the NLL world has seen firsthand the improvement of the Roughnecks’ young studs. There’s no better time of the season for these budding players to be in the middle of one of the organization’s longest winning streaks.
Rookie Tanner Cook set a personal-best of four assists in the Roughnecks’ last game and had his first multi-goal outing before that, while Haiden Dickson recorded his first career multi-point game when also getting at least 10 loose balls.
On the defensive side of the ball, Third-year player Eli Salama has recorded seven of his 13 caused turnovers in the last four games. In the previous match, rookie Liam LeClair recorded at least one point, one loose ball picked up, and forced one turnover for the first time in his career.
The winning streak has not only catapulted this team into a playoff position (for now) with a record of 8-7, but it has given all the players an immense amount of confidence, plenty of which we saw on the floor last weekend by way of numerous highlight-reel goals and assists.
Regardless of the team’s record, Malawsky’s gameplan has never wavered this season. He focused on preparing his veterans to lead the way on the floor to make this team better, and that’s precisely what they’ve done. That’s what smart work, hard work and unselfish work will get you.
“I attribute that 100% to our leadership group and our veteran players,” Malawsky said. “We’ve all been in many locker rooms, and we’ve all played this sport. We know that you play for the rest of the guys in that locker room. As coaches, we can create a game plan and come up with what we think gives us the best chance to win, but I think the young guys’ success is a direct correlation to the veteran group and the way they’re helping each other out and helping us to become a team.”