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‘Driving Change’ panel: Camp founder had roll-up-the-sleeves approach

“If we only look at people who had a vision and had $5 million and several places to develop their idea – great. But for a lot of us, that’s not it,” said Laura Bloomberg. 

baird photo
Courtesy of The Difference
David Baird

MinnPost has assembled a panel of leadership experts and scholars, who are rotating in commenting on each of the examples of leadership profiled in our series, “Driving Change: A Lens on Leadership.”  Today, Laura Bloomberg, the executive director for the Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota, comments on aspects of leadership presented in “Rethinking youth sports: Businessman David Baird tries a different kind of hockey camp.”

Sometimes, a modest idea is all it takes.

When David Baird decided to put together an alternative youth hockey camp, one built around fun and character building, he didn’t have a grant or a vision statement or even a well-honed game plan. But his camp was well-enough received last summer that he is running an expanded version this year.

“He didn’t wait for that perfect idea or that big influx of funding. He had an idea and he went for it,” said Laura Bloomberg, the executive director of the Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota. “That is what I took away from this.”

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Bloomberg, commenting on MinnPost’s profile of Baird and his hockey camp, said Baird saw an opportunity to serve and give something back to his community, so he did. “That was something that stood out to me,” she said.

Baird, a Shoreview businessman, thought there was room for a hockey program that emphasized life lessons – on and off the ice – as much as player development and winning. The result is The Difference, a camp for young boys that held its inaugural session last summer at a Stillwater ice arena. His son, Colin, was one of the campers, who met once a week for 12 weeks.

Bloomberg had an interesting perch from which to view this profile as she once worked as a K-12 principal and school board member. “Youth sports can be fantastic,” she said. “It is great to learn the value of team work and hard work. It’s OK to set high expectations, but it’s also important to understand that you don’t have to be perfect and you can find joy in getting better.”

Laura Bloomberg

She added, with a laugh: “Sometimes I think we need to remind parents of young kids that now is not the time to live vicariously through them.”

One of Baird’s goals is to immerse the campers in the traits of leadership and character; each session includes a 90-minute workshop before the campers hit the ice. Last summer, he used characters from the Bible to teach those lessons, calling on a friend with a background in the Christian publishing industry to help write booklets for the boys.

Bloomberg said it’s important to expose young people to leadership traits and let them know that they can be leaders, too.

“Leaders aren’t always the people in the front of the room and the people with the important titles,” she said. “They can be the 7-year-olds who decide they won’t be part of teasing.” 

To get the camp off the ground, Baird asked another hockey dad to help with the coaching, arranged for the use of The Lumberyard Hockey and Sports Center in Stillwater and began sending invitations to families he thought might be interested. He didn’t know how it would work out. After just a year, the initial camp for seventh- and eighth-graders has been expanded to include ninth-graders, with plans for a Pee-Wee camp next year and, possibly, a girls’ camp after that.

Bloomberg liked that roll-up-the-sleeves approach.

“I don’t know what their vision is,” Bloomberg said of Baird and Troy Nickel, the head coach at The Difference camps. “If they have a vision to get bigger, then they will have to be their own leaders and bring others along. But maybe (Baird’s) idea is that he wants to simply share how he does this small camp with others, and help others to replicate it. That is leadership, too.”

She added: “If we only look at people who had a vision and had five million dollars and several places to develop their idea – great. But for a lot of us, that’s not it. There is a lot of inspiration (in Baird’s work) for people who want to make a difference.”