9 Lessons Hockey Taught Me About Business Success
Updated: Oct 17
Like many of you, hockey has been part of my life ever since I can remember.
As a stubble jumper, growing up on the frozen tundra of central Saskatchewan, there wasn’t much else to do in the winter other than to play hockey. Truth be known, hockey was all I knew at the time. And it was all I wanted to do.
I idolized players like Bryan Trottier, Tiger Williams, and later, Wendel Clark who were all small town Saskatchewan boys like me. And like most Saskatchewan kids, I dreamt of playing in the NHL.
Back then, in small town Saskatchewan, hockey didn’t have much competition for my attention. We had no cable television, and video games like Atari and Nintendo were just becoming popular.
But the newfangled video game craze only interested me to a small degree. ‘Gaming’ was reserved for the days when it was -30 or colder.
I was focused on hockey. And I loved it.
Our Christmas day tradition always included a game of shinny on the driveway, the street or at the local rink. We didn’t call it the ‘ODR’ in the 80’s, but we should have, because it sounds much cooler than saying you’re going to the ‘outdoor rink.’
I knew it would be a good Christmas if the friendly game of hockey with my brothers and maybe a couple of cousins or friends didn’t degenerate into a screaming match, or dust up over a hotly contested goal.
But hockey was a bit of a religion for us. We took it and winning seriously. So we all understood that passion was often expressed by placing your loved one in a headlock while delivering a punch to the kidneys.
To make a long story short, I never made it to the NHL. But I’m pretty sure you already knew that.
Looking back, I realize that my hockey experience was much more than playing a game. Although I had no idea at the time, those years of bag skates and getting elbowed in the mouth were teaching me lessons that I would use later in my business career.
Here are the 10 lessons that I learned playing hockey that have helped me succeed in business:
1. Having a Strong Game Plan is a Recipe for Winning.
When I look back on my playing days, I had the opportunity to play on some pretty good hockey teams. And, to keep me humble, I was a part of some pretty mediocre teams as well.
On the good teams, we certainly had talent. Guys that were good skaters and good players. Many better than I was.
But we also had good coaching.
Coaches that put in the time to prepare us for games, especially when playoffs rolled around. The best coaches I had, always took the time to put together a game plan.
Often the game plan wasn’t complicated. Just a key or two of what we were going to focus on that game. But that simple game plan helped focus 20 young guys that needed some direction.
It was those coaches that I enjoyed playing for the most, and it was those teams who experienced the most success.
In business, strategy is a key ingredient for being successful just like having a game plan is key if you want to win a hockey game or a play-off series.
I always have a plan and a strategy in business. It’s not always complicated. Truthfully, I try to keep it simple and straight forward.
But having even a basic business strategy has helped me to stay focused and move my businesses forward.
If you want to win more in business, have a game plan.
2. Actions You Take Early and Do with Consistency Will Pay-off in the Long Run.
How many times have we heard about dump and chase hockey?
Dump and Chase hockey isn’t too exciting or sexy, but it can be effective.
The Dump and Chase strategy is designed to tire out the opposing team’s defenceman. It’s a simple concept. You cross the red line with the puck, dump it into the corner and chase it down.
By doing this you force the opposing defenceman to race into the corners to play the puck. With a little hustle and luck, you may get to slam them into the boards as well. All in an effort to wear them down so by the third period, you are winning the races to the puck and generating more puck control in their end.
Business is the same.
A lot of what we do in business isn’t flashy. Things like being on time to a job site, or delivering a job estimate when we said we would may not deliver immediate results.
But performing these actions early and repeating them with consistency helps build our reputation and brand in the market place.
The end goal is that these consistent actions will pay-off in the long-run. And they do.
3. The Team That Wins the Box Score Normally Wins the Game.
In hockey, like most sports, statisticians record what is known as a box score. The box score keeps a tally of all the small details of the game like shots on goal and penalty minutes.
If you compare the box score to the game score, the team with the better statistics normally wins the game.
If one team out shoots their opponent by 20 shots, I’ll bet without seeing the score that they won the game.
Likewise if one team has four penalty minutes and the other team has 14 penalty minutes, my money is on the team that spent the least amount of time in the 'sin bin.'
In business, our box score is our financial statements or our company Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).
If your company is achieving your KPI’s, I bet your company is doing well and beating all or most of your competition.
If your company is performing well in areas of Gross Profit and Overhead Rate, chances are good that your business will make some good cash this year.
To be successful in business, like hockey, break your business down into smaller 'boxes', like sales calls (shots on goal) or warranty claims (penalty minutes).
4. Chucking the Knuckles is OK.
In hockey, it’s permissible to drop the gloves and duke it out. Fighting is not only acceptable, but it's a common strategy to get the edge on your opponent.
In business, fighting is OK too. I’m not talking about going over to your competitor’s office and pulling his polo shirt over his head.
But I am saying that competition is part of business so embrace it. And if you are going to compete, you might as well win.
So fight for the client, the project or the employee that you want. It's part of the game.
5. The Importance of Team
In hockey, how frustrating is it when you are busting your butt every shift and then a couple guys decide not to back check and you get scored on? All of your hard work is lost.
We learn early, that our team is only as good as its weakest player. One player can cost you a game.
The same truth applies to business.
I learned to always be recruiting. Always look for that person that you may meet that you can add to your team. Always be looking for ways to strengthen your team.
I know HR is challenging, but the fewer fourth liners you have on your team, the better your business will be.
6. Teamwork Trumps Talent
I can think back to a couple of teams that I played on that were loaded with talent. But we didn’t win.
We didn’t win because we didn’t play as a team. We hadn’t developed that team culture or bought into the importance of teamwork. And we paid the price.
On the other hand, I can remember one team in particular that had average talent at best, but we were a bunch of hard-working guys that laid it on the line for each other.
We snuck into the play-offs that season and ended up losing the league final in seven games to a team that was filled with guys that had been released from their major junior team.
On paper, we had no business being on the same sheet of ice with them. But teamwork is the great equalizer.
The correlation to business is obvious.
Build a strong team and you have no idea how far your business can go. And it’s so much more than hiring talent.
It’s about building a culture of trust. It’s about treating everyone with respect. It’s about uniting everyone behind a common, and mutually beneficial goal.
7. “You Miss 100% of the Shots That You Don’t Take.” Wayne Gretzky
It’s tough to score if you don’t take a shot. Most hockey coaches want you to generate 10 or more shots per period knowing that on average, you need to take 10 shots to score.
Therefore, a good hockey strategy is to consistently take shots on goal.
Business is no different.
We have to consistently take shots in the form of sales calls, social media posts, submitting estimates and many other shot-taking activities.
We never know which shot will hit the twine so we gotta keep shooting.
8. Capitalize on an Unexpected Opportunity
We’ve all been part of a game where a bad line change, or an unexpected bounce off the end boards changes the game.
One unexpected scoring opportunity occurred, a team took advantage of it and won the game.
I think back to one of my businesses.
We unexpectedly had an opportunity to purchase a shop from a competitor. At the time, I didn’t think we could afford it, but we took a chance and bought it.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions that we made to grow and expand that business.
Always be ready to take advantage of an unexpected business opportunity.
9. Create Momentum
The importance of momentum in hockey cannot be overstated.
One team is up three to nothing and looks to be in complete control. Then the coach of the team that’s behind by two goals decides to mix up his lines or double shift his best players to create a scoring opportunity.
Often, these coaching moves work and the strategy creates not just a scoring opportunity, but a goal.
And then another.
Before you know it, the game is 3-2, or tied. Everything changed. And creating momentum through action was the catalyst.
In business, momentum can mean anything from landing a large contract, hiring a key employee, setting record revenue levels or opening a satellite location.
When you’ve taken action, and created positive results, that’s momentum.
Take time to celebrate those wins with your staff and build on that momentum.
10. When you get Rocked, Get Up and Keep Skating
Maybe I’m the only one who’s been stood up at the blue line or been checked into the opponents bench. It never feels good, and it’s always a blow to the ego.
But you can’t stay down, your teammates are counting on you and your competition is happy to take advantage of a five on four if you are slow to get back in the play.
So you suck it up and hustle back to your end.
We all have bad days in business. We lose a client or miss out on a project that we were counting on.
It hurts. And it’s hard on our ego and motivation.
But we have employees counting on us, so we have to shake it off and get back in the game.
A set back is only a temporary delay.
I hope these hockey lessons help you score a few more business wins!
Keep Your Stick on the Ice,
About the Author: Chris is an avid hockey fan who still dreams about being drafted in the third round of the over 50 NHL entry draft. Until then, Chris helps business owners and executives improve their business and team as a business management consultant.
Please connect with Chris on LinkedIn.
Visit www.abbusinessbuilders.ca for helpful information for you and your business.
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