Alumni systemize coaching culture in Beedie JDC West team

Jun 09, 2014

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Sean and Maney

Maney Grewal (left) and Sean Peters, co-head coaches of the Beedie School of Business JDC West team from 2012-2013.

As the largest student-run business case competition in Western Canada, JDC West serves to provide teams of students from top business schools with case competition experience. Yet despite a proud history that had seen the Beedie School of Business crowned School of the Year in the 2007 competition, standards had slipped so far that Beedie teams did not place in a single category in 2012. Clearly, something had to change.

Fast-forward to 2014 and Beedie has just followed up its 2013 Academic School of the Year title with a bronze medal in the same category. This remarkable turnaround is the result of a targeted effort to improve the JDC West coaching structure – one that has Beedie alumni so engaged as coaches that the system is now the envy of competing schools.

The turnaround began in summer 2012, as 2013 team co-captains Amit Bhagat and Joel Thom sought to ensure that the team did not suffer a repeat of the disappointing 2012 competition. They approached both Rosanne Wan, manager of student engagement and recruitment at the Beedie School of Business, and Jasmine Cumberland, a Beedie alumna who had captained the team to the School of the Year title in 2007, and who held a place on the JDC West board.

Agreeing that the competition provided opportunities for alumni coaches that were not being exploited, Wan and Cumberland decided that a new coaching strategy was necessary. The first step was to find head coaches that recognized the potential of both the competition, and the Beedie students themselves – a step that was completed with the appointment of Sean Peters and Maney Grewal as co-head coaches.

Peters, a social entrepreneur who helped co-found RADIUS, the Beedie School of Business’ social innovation lab and venture incubator, had for the previous year split his time between Atlanta and Vancouver when coaching the business strategy-focused JDC West teams. Grewal meanwhile was a CPA, who had coached the finance Beedie teams at JDC West.

The difference in their respective experience with case competitions could not have been greater. While Peters was heavily involved as a student in student clubs and case competitions without competing at JDC West, Grewal was less so, only broadening his experience in his fourth year when he signed on for the JDC West team. Yet the pair are now kindred spirits – not only firm friends, but also united in a vision for the evolution of the Beedie JDC West team.

“We wanted to instill a culture of excellence in coaching,” says Peters. “The competition had increased dramatically since we competed as students, but Beedie has the talent to be at the top end. As incredibly proud alumni, we wanted to make sure that our students were living up to expectations.”

“We wanted the team to have an expectation to do better,” adds Grewal. “Just being at the competition is not enough. We wanted them to have the mindset that they are there to win.”

The new strategy involved rebuilding the coaching structure from the ground up. Where previously there was one coach for each individual team, there are now also two assistant coaches. This not only ensures that the fifteen hours per week training time is not the sole responsibility of one person, but also provides training for alumni not quite ready to take on the role of coach.

It also relied heavily on engaging alumni and the wider community to donate their time as coaches. Wan, Peters and Grewal exhausted their own networks bringing in not only Beedie alumni, but also industry professionals identified for specific coaching roles.

Their hard work paid off. While the 2012 team had only 11 coaches, by 2014 this number had increased to 40 – almost a one-to-one ratio of students and coaches.

“At the competition this year a student from another school remarked how amazing it would be to have the same number of coaches as students,” says 2014 co-captain Simone Foreman. “When they stated that this would be impossible to achieve, I had to restrain myself from saying that Beedie had already done so.”

Other revolutions in the coaching structure included the establishment of a coaching advisory board, and the introduction of a coaching orientation session, to ensure that all coaches utilize a universal language, and a new draft system where individual coaches pick their students following a two-day tryout. Boot camps were also introduced, with experts brought in to assist teams that were struggling with their training.

These innovations amounted to what Wan describes as: “The systemization of a customizable training experience for our students.”

The results are self-evident. Not only is the Beedie team achieving success, but word has also spread among the alumni community that coaching is a rewarding experience – one that is worth the substantial commitment of time.

“Two years ago we had a tough time getting coaches – we had to leverage our networks to find amazing coaches that weren’t utilized in the past,” says Grewal. “This year we had coaches asking to come back next year before the competition had even finished. That has never happened before.”

With their two-year term now finished, Peters and Grewal have taken steps to ensure that the transition for incoming head coaches Erica Rizzo and Pam Hernandez will be smooth. Both Hernandez and Rizzo have experience as coaches already, and Peters and Grewal are confident that their journey as head coaches will be as rewarding as their own.

“It’s like coaching a little league team,” says Peters. “You see the students go from down there to up here. JDC West is, for me, the most important student competition in western Canada. It’s incredibly rewarding to see Beedie perform so well. But we are just part of a larger team – everyone involved deserves the credit.”

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