A qualified social worker and holder of two teaching degrees, Willie Desjardins has a curious background for a National Hockey League coach.
But it showed to good effect Friday in the lunch room of Grandview Elementary School, where in the midst of 160 children, the coach of the Vancouver Canucks looked as comfortable as he does behind the bench at Rogers Arena.
“When I went to school, I became a teacher,” Desjardins told the children sitting on the floor in the east side school just west of Commercial Drive at East 5th.
“But I didn’t teach because your teachers work really hard marking papers and all that. So instead of teaching I decided to be a coach.”
It was his introductory and self-deprecatory remark to the children who sat attentively and hung on his every word.
Desjardins was at the school because he had offered to help The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School campaign.
“It’s a good cause and I want to support it,” he said.
Two weeks ago, he had visited Strathcona Elementary and now he was in Grandview – both schools that have applied for assistance from Adopt-a-School.
(An Adopt-a-School story on Grandview’s application will be published in The Vancouver Sun next week.)
“My hockey players they are kinda just like you guys,” said Desjardins, who has a Masters of Education from the University of Saskatchewan and a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Calgary.
“They are my students, and I treat them just like your teachers treat you. I’ll show them some things, and I’ll work with them. And sometimes I learn lessons from them,” he said.
Using a power-point presentation, he put up a series of slides that he uses when coaching the Canucks.
“This presentation is what I did for our team, so you are going to be part of my hockey team, part of the Vancouver Canucks today,” he told them.
“I always ask players ‘Who’s team is this?’ and some guys say ‘It’s their team’ or ‘It’s our team’. But I always want them to say ‘It’s my team’ because if it’s their team they are responsible to make it work. And that’s where you are. You are responsible for your life, so you make sure you take charge of it.”
Another slide: “This is what we say in the dressing room: ‘Together with passion, no excuses’.
“Here’s a picture of the Stanley Cup. Why is that important?” he asked. The students told him.
“That’s right. That’s where we want to go, and all the teams play for that. So it’s important to us and if we want it bad enough, we’ll find ways to get it. And that’s the same with you.”
Desjardins told them that respect and caring for each other was also important.
“The bottom line for our team is we are a family that always takes care of each other. That’s the same for you. There may be one of your friends who’s not having a good day – you need to help him out.
“I want guys to take care of each other. It’s important to me that in my classroom they are really kind to each other. So if the kid sitting next to you needs help with homework, you should do everything you can to help him.”
Principal Jason Eng said the visit by Desjardins meant a lot to the students and staff.
“His message of how he coaches and decides what’s important translates so well with what we do at Grandview. Hard work, teamwork, work ethic, come to school on time, do your best, taking care of others – it’s exactly what we emphasize in the school and it was wonderful to hear.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)