Ice is hard. And cold. And landing on it hurts.
But it is smooth. And it makes you fast. And gliding over it is to nearly know flying.
So, taking a few hard knocks is worth it. That is the first lesson hockey players learn, before they’re players at all, before they can even skate.
But it is far from the last. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, lessons big and small come. There is always another on the way. And we can take them with us no matter how far we venture from the rink.
Here are some lessons that hockey players can carry into life:
There are goals, and there are plans: Lots of people set goals. Hockey players score them — and they usually do so by executing a plan. Preparation — taking 100 shots a day or doing the assigned reading — pays off when the game (or test) arrives. You’ll know how working hard each shift pays dividends in the later going. You’ll know how important it is to play your assigned role — and you’ll see the opportunities to adjust on the fly.
Nobody does it alone: Wayne Gretzky was arguably the greatest player ever. But don’t forget the Edmonton teams with which he won four Stanley Cups featured five other Hall of Fame players. There are times to take the shot, and times to let your teammate take it. Times to follow someone else’s lead and times to assert your strengths. Everybody needs a break, and somebody to take the slack when they do. Smart players — in the game and in life — recognize and respect all who contribute.
Have a community: It takes a village to raise a hockey player — for rides to and from the rink alone. Not only does playing the game itself teach you the value and necessity of having your teammate’s back, so does the culture. Hockey is expensive, places to play are hard to find, and all who play it have at once a wider circle — beyond their neighborhood or their school — and one that is more tightly knit.
Be a communicator: If you can take your coach’s critiques, you can likely accept criticism from anyone, knowing it is rarely personal and frequently necessary. You know the value of alerting your partners to the moves of your adversaries.
Take care of yourself: Get enough sleep, get the proper nutrition, maintain your conditioning. That’s the prep work necessary to succeed in hockey. There is necessary prep work for everything — from cooking a meal to painting a wall to making a sales call.
Time management: Hockey players devote ridiculous amounts of time to their sport. Travel time, ice time, weight room time — all while having a homelife, a job and/or school, a relationship. Organizing all that is a skill that translates well to hectic post-hockey lives.
Who are you?: That hockey teaches you how to analyze yourself may be its greatest lesson. Are you an attacker or a protector? A listener or a talker? Where do you need work to improve? Which of your skills are most necessary for this collection of talent to succeed?
At the Final Horn
Yes, outcomes matter, but which ones? In this world, most of us are not going to play hockey for money. We are playing for what it gives us — health, camaraderie, competition. Sincere effort matters more than winning. The connections we forge, the bodies and skills we hone, matter more than winning. Hockey is more than a vehicle toward being the best — it is a vehicle toward being our best selves.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.