“It’s a blast,” says Paul Vidmar, a Dale Carnegie trainer who began playing hockey as a 4-year-old in Ely, Minn.
“I remember when I was 4, I got a pair of skates for Christmas, and after I opened that box I said, “Now I need a stick,’ and then I got a stick, and then I said, ‘Now I need a puck,” and I opened the next box and it was a puck. We played outside. It was 10 to 15 below and our parents stood in the snow banks to watch us play.”
The other 50-somethings on the team include Bruce Bobishop, who works for Bremner Foods in Ripon and is also a farmer; and John Thomson, who works for Lapham-Hickey in Oshkosh. Also playing for the Blues are Vidmar’s son, Ryan, and Wes Holliday of Oshkosh Corp., a Canada native who “eats, sleeps and breathes hockey,” according to Vidmar.
“I’ve been playing since I was 8,” Holliday says. “I grew up in Alberta so I didn’t have a choice in the matter.”
Playing and coaching hockey is not so far from management training principles as one might think, says Vidmar, who was recently named 2009 Global Trainer of the Year for Dale Carnegie. It’s an honor he also received in 2005, and it means that his work exceeded the expectations of participants in his program.
“During the day, I tell people how to treat people kindly in work situations. And on the ice it’s totally opposite. Nothing gives me more pleasure than chasing a 20-year-old down on the hockey rink.”
In hockey as in management, you have to be able to think and react on your feet, Vidmar explains.
“Mr. Carnegie has 30 human relations principles dealing with people. The three that I use the most in coaching are don’t criticize, condemn or complain. Also, give honest and sincere appreciation. Another I like to use a lot is, ‘the best way to win an argument is to avoid it,’ and that’s what you do dealing with referees. Another principle is ‘throw down the challenge.’ Maybe you have a player doing well, but they’ve got more to give or contribute. You say to them, ‘You are doing well but I know you can do a whole lot better.’”
In high school, Vidmar competed against some of the players who won the gold medal for the United States at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, beating the undefeated Soviet Union team. He also played against the infamous Carlson brothers of Virginia, Minn., who played in the 1977 Paul Newman movie, “Slap Shot.”
Vidmar played club hockey through college, just for fun, then coached and refereed when he worked in his first job, in radio in Waupun. He put his stick on the shelf after he and his wife had kids. But when son Ryan picked up hockey at age 14, followed by brother Greg (now on his high school team), he laced up again and began coaching. After the Oshkosh Community YMCA built its ice arena seven years ago on 20th Avenue, he joined adult league play.
In December, Vidmar played some of the last games with his son, Ryan, before he would graduate from college and move to Illinois. Ryan plans to find a new club to play with, and join his dad on the ice in Oshkosh on visits home.
Anyone can get back into the game anytime, Vidmar says. The Oshkosh YMCA, for example, offers a rookie league for newcomers that plays before league games Sunday nights. As hockey goes, the adult teams that play at Oshkosh are relatively civilized – no checking (bumping the other team) or slap shots (hitting the puck with the stick in the air) are allowed.
“I just think it’s a great way to go through life, to pursue things that you really love to do,” Vidmar says. “Mr. Carnegie was big believer of a life of no regrets. He was also a big fan of enthusiasm – he called it the big secret of success. You only get to go through life once. Hockey is fun for me. It kind of puts your life’s challenges into perspective.”