Leadership tips from a top hockey coach

What Deanna Martin has learned from hockey's highs and lows

It wasn’t the finish Deanna Martin wanted.

When her team was eliminated from the 2016-17 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) semifinal in a double overtime loss to SAIT this February, the NAIT Ooks women’s hockey head coach struggled with how to address the group.

“As we were walking to the locker room after the game, I said to the [assistant] coaches ‘What do I say?’” says Martin. “You don’t prepare for it. If you’re preparing [for a loss], you’re probably not doing the right thing.”

Martin has been coaching at NAIT for 9 seasons – recently tying the record for the most seasons leading an ACAC women’s hockey team. Over that time, she’s learned a lot about the importance of the role, including that winning the championship isn’t everything. As she looks forward to her 10th season, here’s what she’s learned about leadership – on the ice and off.

Deanna Martin, head coach of the NAIT Ooks women's hockey teamClearly understand your goals

“Our mission statement doesn’t say anything about winning a championship,” says Martin. “Our mission statement is about having an unforgettable life experience.”

She wants each team she coaches to become better on the ice, but the skills they develop off the ice are almost more important.

By the end of their time at NAIT, Martin wants her players to have gained the ability to build life plans and succeed after graduation. When she hears of how her former players are establishing their careers, she knows her efforts paid off.

Encourage communication

Clear communication is key for leaders, Martin says. But she’s learned that asking her players to be clear and professional in their communication with her and each other is just as important.

“Do they know how to communicate with people? Do they know how to deal with difficult conversations or situations?” she asks.

A text message, she stresses, isn’t enough. She teaches her players to make a phone call or meet in person when they need to share something important. When she instills strong communication skills in her players, they’re more likely to approach her, and they can work together to solve problems on and off the ice.

Don’t try to do it alone

Martin knows when to ask her staff for help. As a full-time coach, she sees her players often – not just on the ice, but in the hallways too. If she builds close friendships with them, being honest about their performance can be difficult. She leans on her colleagues, and encourages them to foster more emotional relationships with the players.

“My assistant coaches manage the relationships, which allows me to make honest, unbiased decisions,” says Martin. “Having the right people around you makes a huge difference.”

Be confident but get better

“I look back and think I didn’t know what I was doing,” says Martin. “One of the things about being a leader is you can never show that.” If you slip up, don’t dwell on it. “Let it go. Focus on what you’re going to do to move forward.”

“Let it go. Focus on what you’re going to do to move forward.”

Martin strives for constant improvement. “The motto we live by is ‘B.E.S.T’ – which is ‘better every single time.’” B.E.S.T isn’t always reflected on the scoreboard or in the stats. “Let’s be better today than we were yesterday. That’s how I try to live my life, that’s not just how I try to coach.”


There’s something to gain from every win and many lessons in the losses. “I think it will take some time to reflect on this season,” Martin says. “When I sit down at the end of the year and go through what feedback I’m going to give the players, I try and take a moment to think about what they’ve taught me.”

Martin says if she’s not learning, she’s not doing her job. “If your team wants to play for you and they want to learn from you, you need to be able to learn from them.”

Deanna Martin’s Amazing Ooks

During Martin’s time as head coach, the women’s hockey team has made the ACAC record books more than once. Here’s a look at their achievements:

  • Tied for most consecutive league championships: 3 (2012-15)
  • 3 ACAC top scorers in single seasons: Breanna Frasca (2014-15), Sherri Bowles (2012-13) and Kendra Hanson (2016-17)
  • 3rd highest all-time total points: 101 points in 96 games (2010-15), Sherri Bowles
  • Tied for most shut-outs in playoffs: 3, goalie Jill Diachuk, 2013-14 and again in 2014-15
  • Highest all-time shut-outs: 12 in 65 games, Jill Diachuk
  • 2nd highest all-time wins for a goalie: 36 in 65 games, Jill Diachuk
  • 2 ACAC players of the year: Laura Stosky (2009-10) and Sherri Bowles 2012-13
  • 3 ACAC rookies of the year: Jody Rammel (2012-13), Carlin Boey (2013-14) and Brittney Savard (2016-17)

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