Coach with a Conscience
January 2005
I have to admit it: I don’t like hockey. As a young girl, I used to stand by the boards, freezing, and feigned interest in the game. And as best I could, I supported these young men as they crashed into each other vying for the puck. I just didn’t get it, yet there I was. Not anymore. And for the longest time, hockey has only reminded me of temperamental and unruly players, ridiculous salaries and the last few pages of the Journal de Montréal.

I had the privilege of taking part in a series of meetings with agriculture’s next generation during the youth forums of the cooperative agricultural movement, and met Gaston Therrien who, hired by La Coop fédérée, was the speaker at this conference. Hockey fans know the Therrien name well. (Not to be mistaken with Michel Therrien). Gaston is a former player with the national league, a former coach and is now a sports commentator on RDS, the French language sports network. Sometimes described as a hard and sullen man without pity. Perhaps he is behind the bench. But since I had no idea who he was, I found him to be an affable and passionate man with a charming sense of humour.

I’ve attended his conference four times and each time was different! He possesses an astounding skill for improvisation, and fills his presentation with amusing, touching or unbelievable anecdotes. But beyond performance, the message remains the same. Gaston Therrien talks about values. And even if his paths are often sinuous, they all lead to the values that have become his very reason for being. Because, confides Therrien, having a heart attack at 27 makes you stop and think.

Thus, Gaston Therrien invites all young people to take another look at what’s important, to question the true meaning of wealth. “Who cares how big my tractor is, he declares, if I have my family, I am a wealthy man. And if I enjoy my work, I am that much richer.” As a coach, Therrien would observe the young men picked for the initial draft, boys who dreamed of stardom, but would not be part of the chosen few. And those who had the hardest time of it, were those who left school much too early. Education and training are, in Therrien’s eyes, critically important. Perseverance and discipline, honesty and equality, pride and solidarity are values in which Therrien takes pride, values that he shares with us throughout his discourse. The connection with cooperative values is evident. And guess what, all of a sudden, hockey seems a little more interesting.

Therrien is quite colourful. He surprises us, he makes us think. “I’m a better man each day, he says. Otherwise, it just doesn’t make any sense.” Maybe that’s what touched me the most in his speech. I admire this determination to do better, to give the best of oneself, to go further, to go the distance. And yet, even if he observes his forty days of Lent each year and he convinced his 16 year old son to do the same last year, I wouldn’t be so quick to bless him without a proper confession. Nope! Simply because he seemed a little too impassable as he recounted a story about a young man who wore, to the utter repulsion of Therrien, a pony tail: I thought we weren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover? But then again, that seems to be who he is. He’ll share his opinion with anyone who cares to listen, no matter what those opinions may be. Speaking his mind reflects his principles. He is authentic and able to assume his beliefs, as confounding as they may be. So let’s let bygones be bygones! And, Gaston! I just wanted to say: my husband has a pony tail.

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Fax: (514) 858-2025


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