Hockey

Living Like a Hockey Player: Playoff Edition

Growing up in southeast Michigan made me fall in love with a sport that the rest of my fellow Americans barely afford a second glance. It regularly registers TV ratings lower than professional poker and horse racing and yet, it features some of the most intense displays of human commitment and sacrifice that can be witnessed outside the battlefield. I’m talking, of course, about hockey. That crazy Canadian sport with the goofy looking players that have gaps in their teeth and hair only a lumberjack or a mother could love. I love hockey. And because I love hockey, I’m currently deeply engrossed in the best time of year - playoffs.

Hockey playoffs are a special, special event for the hockey fan (and player). Every sport obviously features some sort of competition to decide who gets the fancy hardware at the end of the season, but hockey takes it to a whole new level. The NHL playoffs generally last for nearly two months if your team happens to make it to the very end and it requires 16 wins (four best-of-seven series) to hoist the mighty Stanley Cup at the end of the season.

I’m not here to convince you to become a hockey fan (although, you should) but to show you what you can do to approach your own life a little bit more like a hockey player in the midst of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the culmination of a long, arduous season and these guys are not messing around. For a lot of players, they may only get one real crack at winning the Stanley Cup. We only get one shot at this life — so let’s not mess it up.

THE SEASON IS JUST PREPARATION FOR THE PLAYOFFS

You gotta do the prep work if you want to dominate. A hockey player plays an 82 game regular season before they even get a chance of lacing it up for the playoffs. Hell, before they even get a chance to do that they have to have committed their life fully and completely to perfecting their skills. They started skating when they were 3 or 4 and have been honing their skills for a lifetime. I remember going outside over the summer and taking 100 slap shots a day off of a piece of plastic to prepare myself for the upcoming season. I fired hundreds of pucks into the tarp hanging off our swing set. Multiply that dedication times a thousand and you have a sense of what it takes to play in the NHL.

What are you honing? What skills are you perfecting? How often do you go out back and fire pucks into a tarp?

PASSION WILL OVERCOME MOMENTARY PAIN

Hockey players are notorious for bouncing back from injury. It’s a badge of honor for a hockey player to get dinged up and not miss a shift. One of my favorite stories is Ian Laperriere. He blocked a slap shot (typically in the 85-95 mile per hour range) with his face last year. He missed a couple games but was able to bounce back and rejoin his team before the series was over. That’s dedication. That’s ignoring momentary pain. 

Did your e-book get a bad review? Are your wrists sore from typing all day? Did somebody leave a mean comment on your blog? Who the hell cares? Be a hockey player, spit those teeth out, and get back into the play.

YOU’RE ONLY AS GOOD AS HOW GOOD YOU ARE WHEN IT MATTERS

One of the worst reputations a hockey player can develop is that of a “choke artist.” This may be a highly skilled guy that for whatever reason sucks in the playoffs. Hockey teams expect their highest paid players, their superstars, to produce during the playoffs. Every once in awhile you’ll run into a player that absolutely tears it up in the regular season and then disappears in the playoffs.

Are you a regular season player? Do you talk a good game but never actually back it up? On the ice rink you’d have to answer for yourself with some fisticuffs, but in the online or work world it rarely gets to that point. But when was the last time you shipped something?

SUCCESS MUST BE SUSTAINED

It takes 16 victories versus four different teams to win the Stanley Cup. As we’ve already seen this year with the near collapse of Vancouver’s 3-0 series lead against Chicago, it’s not over until the buzzer on that fourth victory has sounded. Championship caliber teams sustain their success over a grueling 82 game regular season and then an even more epic 2 month playoffs. They can’t rest on the laurels of their last game.

So you wrote one really popular blog post or nailed that extensive project you were assigned at work; give yourself a mental high-five and gear up for the next challenge. You can’t rest on the success of your last endeavor if you want to keep moving forward. Plan, execute, reflect, and repeat.

It’s time to tape up your sticks, tie up your skates, and hit the ice. Keep your head up out there.

 

Keep Your Stick On the Ice

As a long time player, and now as a coach, I've been around the game of hockey for a long, long time. One of the things you quickly pick up if you're familiar with the sport is the prevalence of certain cliches. Watch a between periods interview on TV, a post-game interview with a coach, or talk to a 12 year old pee-wee and they are all likely to sound very similar. For some reason, hockey is a game dominated by cliches. I've heard many people say that it's nearly pointless to interview a hockey player because they are likely to say the same things every other hockey player says:

  1. "We just gotta get some traffic in front of the net."
  2. "I just gotta keep my stick on the ice."
  3. "Gotta keep your head up out there."
  4. "Just gotta go hard every single shift and everything will take care of itself."

And a few others.

Being the inquisitive person that I am, I decided to think a little bit deeper about what these cliches actually mean. If everybody says them all the time, they must have some sort of relevance, right?

Don't worry, I'm not about to launch into a detailed analysis of hockey theory and system. I know most of you guys are American and don't even know what hockey is :)

Instead, I'm going to apply these hockey cliches to life in a new series I'm calling Living Like a Hockey Player.

"KEEP YOUR STICK ON THE ICE"

This might be the most repeated piece of advice any hockey player ever hears. From the time you're old enough to be stumbling around on the pond you have a coach constantly telling you to put your stick on the ice (although, it's amazing how many of my college players seem to have tuned out that part of their development…) What's the big deal about having your stick on the ice? Obviously, if you're going to take a shot or see somebody getting ready to pass to you you'll put your stick down, by why does it matter if you don't even have the puck?

Hockey is an incredibly fast game. Pucks often reach 90 MPH or more. Players are flying around with razors on their feet. It's intense, quick, and changes directions constantly. Having your stick on the ice means you're ready for anything. I don't know how many goals I've scored just because my stick was on the ice and a shot deflected off of it. If I was carrying my stick around my waist I would never had the opportunity to score. The difference in a one goal game can be as simple as where the blade of your stick is at all times.

But what about life? What can you learn from the cliche "keep your stick on the ice" if you aren't a hockey player? I see it as advice to be ready at all times. Sometimes you don't see what is developing on the horizon until it is right on top of you. If you aren't ready to jump all over an opportunity, if your "stick" isn't on the "ice", you're going to miss it. How can you train yourself to keep your proverbial stick on the ice at all times?

  1. Stay on top of your work: If you're buried under work that you've been procrastinating on, you probably won't even realize an opportunity passed you by. Even if you do realize it, you probably don't care because instead of seeing it as an opportunity you see it as just another thing you have to add to the pile of work already crushing you. Granted, sometimes we get buried under work outside of our own control. However, too often I see people who are just "so busy" and "swamped" because instead of working on something logically and steadily over time, they procrastinated to the last second. Kick the procrastination habit and you'll be in a much better position to see an opportunity for what it is.
  2. Eliminate clutter from your life: Clutter serves to distract you from what's important. How many times have you missed an opportunity because an important piece of paper was lost in the abyss known as your desk? How many times did that vital piece of information get lost somewhere in your purse? Clutter prevents you from having your stick on the ice. It prevents you from being ready for opportunities you don't even know are coming.
  3. Develop the ability to switch gears quickly: In hockey, and life, the ability to change directions and adapt to situations quickly is vital. It's already tough enough to react to a 100 MPH slap shot when your stick is on the ice. If it's at your waist you're not going to have time to get it on the ice to deflect that shot and the opportunity will be missed. If your boss comes to you with an opportunity that will improve your career but you can't quickly switch gears from one mindset to another, from the "ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod I have so much to do," to "I'm busy, but I can see how this would have a positive long-term impact on my career," then you will miss out.

It's a crazy world out there. Don't make it harder on yourself by not being ready for opportunity at all times. It's not tough to do - it's just a matter of where you're carrying your stick. Are you skating around with your stick in the air while waiting for the perfect pass? Or, are you going hard to the net with your stick on the ice hoping to knock in an ugly goal? The latter might not be as sophisticated as the former, but on the stat sheet you don't get any points for style.

Keep your stick on the ice.

(Tired of hearing it yet? Gimme a lap.)