Like any young player, Louie Belpedio looked to the captains of the Miami University hockey team for guidance and leadership. He studied their tendencies and behaviors, and eventually began to develop a leadership style of his own.
Two years later, it’s his turn to wear the ‘C.’
A junior defenseman for the RedHawks, Belpedio understands what it takes to gain the respect of his teammates. He served as captain for Team USA at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship, winning gold; and as an alternate captain for the 2016 U.S. National Junior Team, which captured bronze.
Now, with 14 freshmen on the Miami roster, Belpedio has his work cut out for him. With so many underclassmen, head coach Enrico Blasi enlists four rotating assistant captains – a move Belpedio approves of.
“It gives guys a boost of confidence,” said Belpedio, a third-round draft pick (80th overall) of the Minnesota Wild. “A letter on your shoulder makes you want to be the best you want to be. But just because I wear a letter doesn’t mean I have to be the go-to leadership guy.”
He’s right. Players don’t have to wear a letter to be leaders. Everyone can be a leader and Belpedio offered advice on how to develop leadership skills and put them into action.
Discover your style
There’s not a one-size-fits-all style of leadership.
“I don’t try to be someone I’m not,” Belpedio said. “I don’t try to go out of the way and be a big tough guy and be a vocal leader. I try to lead by example. At the same time, when things need to be said, I’m not afraid to speak up. The most important part for me is to be myself.”
Be a listener
Being a good leader means being a good listener. Leaders should keep their fingers on the pulse of the team. Any issues, insights or new ideas should be communicated to the coaching staff.
Is someone going through a rough patch, on or off the ice? Did a player have a bad game, period or shift? Does someone want to change a team’s warm-up routine or practice plan?
Leaders don’t just preach. They keep their eyes and ears open. This is a lesson and skill that will benefit kids on and off the ice as they mature and approach adulthood and ultimately the workforce.
Be an example
Finishing every drill hard in practice. Back-checking every time the opposing team rushes the puck. Showing up early. Taking every off-ice workout or dryland repetition seriously.
And doing all of these things when no one is watching.
Belpedio said these may seem like little things, but it’s the little things that make a big difference. And if leaders can get the entire team to buy in to doing the little things, they will be successful.
“I think it’s just important for me to be myself and show the guys what it takes,” Belpedio said. “For me, this will be my third year and I know what you have to give, and what you get in return. I’ve tried to model that with the guys that are coming back.”
Attitude is contagious
There are ups and downs throughout the season. There will be struggles not only in hockey, but in life. Maintaining a positive attitude makes all the difference in how challenges are overcome, both individually and as a team.
How does your child react after a bad game or a bad call on the ice? Does he or she slam their stick, pout or blame others? Or do they rally the troops to push forward and stay focused on the process? Do they bring people up or bring people down?
It’s critical for team leaders to help set the tone and create a positive atmosphere on and off the ice. Attitude is contagious – good or bad – and it’s not all verbal. It’s very evident in the way people carry themselves.
“Just don’t try to be something you’re not. Be yourself and people will love you for it,” Belpedio said. “Be the best you can be every single day.”