John Grant Senior-Part II

John Grant Senior

“My lacrosse stick was my Best Friend”

(Part 2)

(Written by Rad Joseph)


This interview with John Grant took place in Peterborough at the Peterborough Memorial Centre arena.  It covers an array of aspects of John Grant’s career as a lacrosse player and coaching. The focus of this interview was to reflect upon the remarkable career of John Grant Senior.

1, When did you first play lacrosse?

I think it was 1960 as I was 9 years old. The organizers of minor lacrosse in Peterborough had a promotion - they were giving out free chocolate milk if you came out to play lacrosse. Living in the south end of Peterborough the news spread – “Free chocolate milk at the Civic arena”. I had never had a lacrosse stick in my hands.  But, free chocolate milk, so we hustled down to the arena. There was the dairy truck and a free 6-ounce container of chocolate milk. You had to go out on the floor and they give you a stick out of a barrel and you began passing and catching drills. Don Barrie, ran a lacrosse school that summer. And that is when I began playing lacrosse. I played novice house league. If you were good enough, you played on a rep team. I played both house league and rep lacrosse.

2. Although short-lived, any thoughts about playing in the NLL?

The pro league was a great thing for me. It was magical winning a Minto Cup in 1972 and a Mann Cup in 1973. I was drafted into the NLL and played two seasons with the Philadelphia Wings. We were treated like professional athletes. We played a 48-game schedule. First year, average crowd was 12,000. On opening night, we had over 15,000 fans. With the Flyers (hockey) and Sixers (basketball), Phillys (baseball) suddenly, the Wings were part of the fabric of Philadelphia sports. As special as it was, it was very hard on the body. The NLL in the 1970’s was very physical. The league promoted the tough somewhat violent side of the game.

Growing up in Peterborough, it is a great sports city. After the pro league folded in 1976, I came back and played here in 1978 after a 2-year hiatus. I had buddies from the Toronto area, when the pro league ended, their lacrosse career ended. Living in this community, you can’t hide, you play lacrosse and hockey.

3. When did you get into the Coaching?

I never aspired to coach. However, I took up coaching in 1979. My son John was age 5. My own playing career was winding down, not over, but I thought near the end. (Although he played fewer games each season, John played with the Senior Lakers until the end of the 1992 season). Eventually there was a quiet and subtle ending to my playing career. I joined a group of hard-working lacrosse parents, led by John Swann and Dave Thomas, to help rebuild Peterborough Minor Lacrosse. We focused on House League first followed by All-Star. Our numbers grew to over 1100. Not bad for a small town. To be part of this growth was very satisfying and to see these young players go on to play Junior and Senior was amazing.

I coached Minor with my son John up until the end of Midget. I did not coach him after that. Over the years, I have coached the Senior team. I helped out Junior A and was Assistant coach with the Guelph Power that won a championship in their first year (Ontario NLL). I also coached the 1985 Ontario Team in the Summer Games in New Brunswick. I also coached many teams in The Sudbury Rockhounds Lacrosse Association.

4. Do you have a particular philosophy or style of coaching?

When asked this question regarding a particular philosophy of style of coaching, John responded with a question and asked - Is there a particular style? That response provides insight to who John Grant is. He is very introspective, a thoughtful and compassionate person who is more than an incredibly accomplished player. With a smile, John commented - for him, coaching was about development and fun. He provided an illustration with the following story. “I learned a lesson from my own 5-year-old son, John. He said he was bored at practice. Our team had been getting thumped by the power teams like Brampton and Whitby. I realized I was coaching down to the lowest dominant (least talented) player. I talked with Bobby Allan. I learned I needed to coach up. Get the better players to work together. It is more fun for two skilled players to work together at practice working at moving the ball quickly and adding to their abilities such as practicing backhand passes. The team needed to develop to improve, so the players needed to develop. I learned that the players that can catch and throw must work together to push each other to develop their skills. For the new kids, we would pair them together and emphasize the mechanics and skill and caring for the stick and praise their progress. No more boring practices!

Winning is fun. Losing is not fun. I teach kids to compete and to win. We grew up with backyard lacrosse. Always with a stick in your hands. I taught players how important your stick is, how it is part of you. How you always take care of it. I always carried my stick with me. I had a rule as a coach – if I see you without your stick, you owe me $2. If you see me without my stick, I owe you $2.

5.  Who or what influenced your style of coaching?

Bobby Allan was my mentor. In 1973 during my first year of Senior with Bobby Allan, six or seven games into the season. Bobby Allan placed me on the top of the power play. Johnny Davis had been the top, but he was now the shooter. First shift, Zenon Lipinski from Brampton picked off my pass. I felt terrible. With my head down, Bobby Allan came up to me on the bench, whispering to me “Relax, just play your game. You know you can do this”. Next time on the power play, I stepped up, faked a shot, fed a backhand pass to Cy Coombes on the crease and he scored. Bobby Allan could have buried me, but he didn’t. He encouraged me, he instilled confidence into me. It was a learning process for me that included some growing pains. Playing here in Peterborough, they know you, they see you and you are under a microscope.

6. Who is the coach you most admire?  Why?

Obviously, Bobby Allan…for many reasons.

7.  What do you feel are the reasons why you were as successful as you are?

As a player, my stick has always been my best friend. Having the skill to play the game and to develop has always been about my best friend, my stick. Sports keeps you grounded and lacrosse certainly did that for me. You learn to deal with success and failure. As a player, you have an intellectual approach to the game, to have insight about developing. Dealing with success and failure.

Coaching lacrosse and hockey was very rewarding and extra special when your kids and parents believed in what you are teaching. From my background, I deal with kids and you do things to help teach them life lessons. For example, there was an incident one time with three bantam age kids who had been drinking at a high school event. So, I arranged for them to have a tour through the Peterborough jail located at City Hall. It was an eye-opening experience for them.

8.  Best team you ever coached?  Why?

I was involved with so many teams so it is difficult to pick one team. There was a Peewee team that won the Hamilton Super Series. I had a Bantam group that won the all-Ontario championship. I also had a Midget team that won All-Ontario Hockey. Even though many teams I coached did not win, they always played to the best of their ability, and I was always proud of their improvement. The fun part about coaching is that you are building a bond with these players. They know you care about them, and you are a part of their life. When I was in Sudbury, I had players that I coached in Minor who are now coming in with OHL teams and are calling to see if I need tickets. I guess that is pretty special.

9.  Best (most skilled) player(s) you coached?  Why?

There were plenty of skilled players in Peterborough.  By the time John Jr. got to Junior A, his skill level was off the charts. Another player, Joey Hiltz during his first year of Senior. He worked hard and was so talented. I helped him with a stick. It was a wooden stick that we shaved down, and he fell in love with his stick and it created a bond between us. This comes back to the magic of your stick and how you take care of it.

10. Toughest player you ever coached?

Rather than mention any particular individual, John described the characteristics of toughness in relation to playing lacrosse – “There are so many ways to assess toughness. Toughness of battling for loose balls. Toughness of going through the middle. Toughness about small players who never backed away who just played with energy and toughness”.

11. What do you think (in general), your players thought/felt about you as a coach?

Most of them knew how much I cared for them. I took time to be more than just a coach. How was their life outside the arena? It was about the team, but I allowed for individual creativity. It was fun and it was effective.

John Grant went onto advise as a fan of the game – watch the benches. Who is talking, who is listening, what is going on? Who is teaching on the bench? How much interaction is going on between coaches and players and players to players.

12.  How did you end up leaving Peterborough and end up in Sudbury?

I was transferred with my job to Sudbury. If I don’t go, I am out of a job. There was no lacrosse when I arrived there, I spent 17 years living and working in Sudbury. I ran into a hockey guy, who had nephews playing lacrosse in Ottawa.  After seeing them play, he called me and we met and we decided, we have to get lacrosse going here. So, we sat down and laid it out.  Next thing you know, we had 500 kids signed up for first year of lacrosse. Many of the hockey players decided to play lacrosse. We had three arenas on the go. We had no experience, no referees.  It was a real learning and growing experience. We painted a 3-foot line inside of the box to eliminate checking in to the boards and to keep the game safe. What you teach is what leads to development down the road. I take tremendous pleasure from the building part of my career, particularly in Sudbury. It brought me great satisfaction and pleasure.

13. If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do different.

Not really. Living in a small town. You can be protected. You have guidelines and there are expectations. I have been fortunate in experiencing so many of the good things hockey and lacrosse can give a person. I was able to do things I might not have done otherwise.

14. What do you think of today’s game”?

If you watch the game now, it has less picks and rolls and less movement. Plenty of outside shots, less inside action. It is a perimeter game now. The game is different. I grew up with five-man units. We were a team on the floor. We went both ways. With offence/defense style of play, it is a different game from what I and my teammates played.

15. Do you miss coaching and if so, why?

This may sound harsh, but some of the young coaches today think they invented the game. They don’t seem to respect the old guard. There is very little practice to work on offence/defense, one on ones, creating 5 on 5 lines that work together. They use a lot of white board teaching and expect the players to know the game. A man like Bob Allan is a teacher. He teaches the game. He has a philosophy. Being a coach and a player, I am always evaluating the decision making of the players offensively and defensively. I still like to get to a game two hours before it starts. I like to watch the players warm-up and get a feel for the atmosphere that night in the arena.

16. Do you believe if you did go back behind the bench, you could be successful

I have to say, that is an interesting question. My game is to teach. And to coach, you should be teaching. I believe in visual tools. I believe practice is important to teach all aspects of the game. How does a kid, now, get better if the coach doesn’t see him run through practice drills and build his confidence to get him ready for competition. Coaches today must coach game time style of lacrosse on a white-board or by Zoom calls. I don’t know why it is so different in today’s game, When I played Minor, Junior, Senior, NLL, we practiced. We practiced, especially NLL, every day that we weren’t playing.

Note:  John Grant is still a huge fan of the game. He continues to contribute in his role as a Member of the Board of Directors with the Peterborough Century 21 Lakers of Major Series Lacrosse.