JB Spisso knows a thing or two about mentoring young leaders.
A retired Sergeant Major who, spent more than 10 years working at West Point, Spisso is now the Lead Consultant for Elite Leadership Training, and the man leading the way for many of the off-ice activities at this year’s Florida Panthers Development Camp.
Spisso’s Elite Leadership Training specializes in team building and performance coaching for professional sports teams. After spending a large part of his military career training young men and women, Spisso now uses that experience to help mold burgeoning professional athletes like the ones at this week’s development camp.
“[During] My last ten years in the military, all I did was prepare young men and women to be leaders in our great military,” said Spisso. “We give them [the players] the same leadership traits.”
“Hockey is a lot like the military. It takes planning, it takes execution and that is the foundation we are trying to forge here.”
With many of the players in camp unfamiliar with one another, Spisso and the Panthers coaches place an emphasis on nurturing communication through the team building activities that they partake in throughout the week.
“What we are doing this week, [is] forging a foundation of leadership, character development and collaborative communication,” said Spisso.
Panthers forward prospect, Kyle Rau, agrees that the off-ice team building activities have been a great way to get that communication going.
“It’s fun. It’s good team building and it’s good for us because not everybody knows each other,” said Rau. “It’s a good way to get to know everyone and do tasks together.”
Spisso got the idea for Elite Leadership Training while at West Point. During the 2004 lockout, he was tasked with running some team building exercises for the New York Rangers. It was while doing this that Spisso discovered he was a bit of a natural.
“I was given the task to run this team building exercise and put it together and it kind of morphed from there,” said Spisso. “People were like: ‘you are pretty good at this, inspiring, motivating, leading people.’”
One of the main emphases of Panthers Development Camp has been the number 23, as in the 23 players that make up a hockey team, or as Spisso puts it:
“It takes 23 of the right men to form a hockey team. It doesn’t take 23 of the best men, it takes 23 of the right men.”
While the goal of development camp is to help prepare players for the grind of professional hockey, Spisso recognizes that not every player in camp will become a professional hockey player. The beauty of what the players are taught in camp is, it can be applied to all aspects of life no matter what they go on to do.
Regardless of where they end up, whether it is playing professionally for the Panthers or not, Spisso wants them to look back on their week in Florida as an imperative part of their growth.
“We want to forge that foundation for success,” said Spisso. “So later on that young man will say: ‘You know what? It was the Florida Panthers, it was this ownership group, it was this command that helped me forge the foundation for my success.’"