I spent some time there recently learning about, and I've seen those training facilities, where our best athletes get better to perform better on the national and international stage. The facilities are extraordinary, the success enormous – and the work never ends. I’m told healthy attitude, fitness and a strong psychological program are essential elements, and I got that from the man at the top. Someone I once simply knew as a kid named Dale nobody could score on. And no, he doesn’t want to join your beer-league team, but if he did you’d be awesome.
Among all the facilities there, one you might not know much about – but you’ve seen their results, is the Canadian Sports Institute, where the rubber hits the road in terms of helping our aspiring Canadian athletes to achieve greatly on international and Olympic stages. And, they have a leader – Dale Henwood, President & CEO.
For most kids, when we do sports growing up, we grow out of it and go on with life. Not so Dale Henwood. Maybe you remember him as a goaltender – leading the Red Deer Rustlers to the Centennial Cup, or the U of A Golden Bears to a national championship. Maybe you remember him as goaltending coach of Canada’s national team, of Olympic teams? Or as an inductee [3 min. video] in the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame?
Like so many kids in sports-rich Red Deer, opportunity to do anything was abundant. My sports were badminton and tennis. And hockey (which I gave up due to knee injury, lack of size, lack of skill). But growing up in a hockey focused city, every boy dreams at least occasionally about the Olympics, the NHL …
I remember Dale from peewee and bantam hockey. We attended the same schools but didn’t hang out together. He was just another kid on another team – except he was really good! I played for Mountview, he played for Grandview. He left no doubt in the minds of kids on every team who couldn’t beat him – he was an outstanding goaltender.
Born in Red Deer, Dale is #3 of six kids – middle of the pack. Mom stayed home – dad ran the Singer Sewing Centre as Manager/Owner. K-12 in Red Deer, LTCHS grad. His school/hockey careers intertwined - two years at Red Deer College, Red Deer Rustlers – Centennial Cup, pro-hockey for the Long Island Ducks, Golden Bears Hockey with University of Alberta Golden Bears – National Championships. B.Phys. Ed. and M.A. from U of A, coached at NAIT in Edmonton and St. Lawrence University in New York state, coached for Canada, MBA at University of Calgary. Along the way he married Barbara, a nurse and tennis player from Red Deer, they have two children and one grandchild. I think that covers the non-Olympics parts.
Dale's been on the coaching team for three Olympics (84/4th, 88/4th, 92/2nd). His career with Alberta Sports Council (now Canadian Sports Institute) began in 1986 in Edmonton/St. Albert – and subsequent moves to Calgary. He thought it would be a five-year job. Well, he’s still going strong …
And we talked about 2026 – and Calgary’s ‘appearing likely bid to host for the Winter Olympics again’; Dale is one of those ‘not publicized yet’ folks working on the City’s bid exploration team. Is that a good idea? “Absolutely a smart move. But there is going to be a cost. For example, we could upgrade our bobsleigh facility to current world standards for $20 million, but for a city that doesn’t have what we have, that would be $150 million. It’s an ideal time for a bid – and it fits with our community's need for a new arena. There are four sports that need arenas for an Olympics – hockey, curling, figure skating and speed skating. Canadians love to see our teams competing in the Olympics. It’s national pride and when we compete on Canadian soil, it’s magic. And, people don’t condition and train today the way they used to. We have a program that is the envy of many countries”.
Why are you successful? “Because I’ve been influenced by people who helped me – and I’ve surrounded myself with great people and family who let me do what I enjoy doing. I love what I do. I love what I’m doing – not thinking about retiring. I ‘run to work’.
What has held you back? “Talent!. When I went to the Buffalo Sabres training camp, there were 12 goaltenders – all big guys. Seriously, nothing has held me back. When I started here I said five years, and now I’ve been here 20!”
How do you see your business – high performance sports business – going forward over the next quarter?
… it’s a tough environment today – the current economic situation. 66% of our budget comes from government sources, and generating our portion of the budget is tough right now. When you are in the excellence business, everything is long-term and expensive, so downturn times in the economy are tough times …
And over the next five years?
… many issues getting attention: doping, integrity of sports, concussions, governance. How do we protect the clean athlete? We need to fix these things at the international and high performance level. We’re going to see more countries focusing on medal quests – on fewer sports where they feel they can achieve more success. Continued work with the ASPC (Association of Sports Performance Centres) [Dale modestly tells me he is the current president of this august organization – more at: ASPC Winter 2016 Update ]. In Rio this year, a historic high, 205 countries at the Olympics. 86 won medals. I see gold medal athletes and gold medal citizens as not the whole picture. It’s about better people, better athletes.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… character, integrity, trust. Character more than competence. Outstanding character is the highest criteria for me.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Dale Henwood, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’ve been here a long time! I’m persistent and I deliver on what I say I will. The value and benefits of sports pride for our country – quality, listening and coaching to support people in generating solutions.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I give people lots of autonomy. My job is to support them, let them sparkle, and then get out of their way. And that’s the way my board has supported me.
… an ‘unhealthy balance’. I think of it more as work-life integration. I have lots of flexibility in my job.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… great coaches growing up in Red Deer who helped me (Bud Wells, Spud Whitehead, Don Moore, Walt Abbott, Dave Grove) and Clare Drake at U of A, George Kingston. My wife, a very caring and understanding person.
… I work out daily (40-minute routine), grandkid activities, golf 2-3 times a year – and we have sports activities here every weekend! I haven’t played hockey since 1980 …
What do you read?
… lots of business books. I read ‘too much’ related to work and ‘not enough’ for pleasure. I read a book a month.
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