Applying leadership learned through hockey

Dec. 27, 2016

The intangibles hockey provides, and how that translates to leadership in life 

By Nathan MacDonald


Playing the game of hockey at a level such as those playing here at the Mac's Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament requires many hours, days, and years of intense dedication, focus, and drive - as well as the ability to balance this commitment to sport with the demands of everyday life.

Navigating these requirements - including the process of daily growth towards a common goal -instils many of the leadership qualities that those in the business world seek when hiring young men and women.

Every role on a hockey team creates leadership opportunities that can be used in roles outside the game. The defensive play of a checking line forward or a shutdown defenseman requires humility, integrity, and dedication. Team captains require motivational qualities, the drive to lead by example, and the ability to inspire teammates. Goaltenders must have the capacity to withstand enormous amounts of pressure, focus on detail, and quickly move on from a mistake.  

Of all the different leadership qualities learned of a hockey player, there are three highly sought after qualities that all players have the chance to develop that can enhance their success in hockey and in life outside the sport.


The ability to motivate 

Many of the hockey greats are able to make those around them better, and do so not for personal gain, but for the good of the team. Before being looked at as a team leader, players have to earn the trust of those around them by showing a commitment to hard work, training, and growth, but most importantly through humility.  

At a recent ceremony where John McDonough, President and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks, was awarded with the inaugural Honorary Certified Hockey Professional Designation by the Business of Hockey Institute, Mr. McDonough gave an essential piece of advice to leaders in any aspect of life, and that advice was "leaders distribute all of the praise, and absorb all of the blame". This is seen everyday in post-game interviews with players where the credit for the win goes to the team, and the blame for the loss rests with themselves while acknowledging the opposition.  

These statements may seem cliché, but they establish a humble nature that allows those players to be respected and trusted by their teammates who in turn look to that individual for inspiration for their own efforts. In any business, these leaders are highly sought after as they contribute beyond their own efforts and abilities by increasing the efforts and abilities of those around them.  

The ability to rally a team towards a common goal, in good times and bad, is a quality that takes just as much work to develop and maintain as a hard shot or a quick burst, but is one that transcends the game of hockey and is important in all walks of life.


Decision making abilities 

Hockey players are faced with endless decisions, often coming at a rapid pace, the processing of which determines their overall success. Shoot or pass, pinch or stay back, challenge a shooter or maintain positioning - all examples of the rapid-fire decisions hockey players are faced with multiple times each game.  

Off-the ice there are just as many key decisions that have to be made - eating right, sleeping right, sacrificing pleasure for passion - choices that test a player's ability to make the right decision. Navigating these decisions develops the foundation needed for effective decision-making that has become so important in hockey, and just as paramount in a career.  

Evaluating alternatives, assessing the impact on others, confidently selecting an option, and learning from mistakes, are all key attributes a player can develop that will enhance their leadership on and off the ice.


Dedication to practice 

Practice? Yeah, we're talkin' about practice. What might not have seemed important to someone like 11 time NBA All-Star Allen Iverson, is immensely important to athletics, academics, and careers of any type.  

Skill development and retention come in large part due to practice, and while there is vital experience to be obtained from game action, practice gives individuals the best opportunity to succeed and grow to their full potential.  

In hockey, it comes from repetition, pushing ones effort past where it was last possible, watching video, evaluating mistakes, determining how to avoid them, and listening to what others have to say. Leaders have to work to develop their abilities as much as possible in order to expect the same from those that depend on them.  

While perhaps not as physically demanding, these same efforts have to be placed in education, research, and skill development in the business world in order to achieve ones full potential and be seen as an individual others can look to and rely on. 


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