Hockey is life #4-get in the corners

I could go on forever, but I’ll make this the last installment of this series (at least for this season!).  This lesson is about never forgetting about the core of your business.  In hockey, that means gaining control of the puck so you can have the opportunity to score goals.

There are many times when a play breaks all the way down the ice for a dramatic shot on goal.  This is such an exciting aspect of the game, the NHL decided to implement the “shoot out” as a tie breaker strategy.  But the real game takes place in scuffles where the puck is loose and nobody is sure where it’s going to go.  If you want to be in on this action, you have to get in the corners and mix it up.

Photo Yahoo! Sports

Photo Yahoo! Sports

This lesson is about staying in touch with the basics, getting your fingernails dirty, and never being above the play.  You have to be in the real action, to get the real insights.  Real insights lead to innovation and competitive advantage.

In hockey, gaining control of the puck in a corner can lead to a sudden shift in play, often with dramatic results. In your own end, you play defense in the corners to gain control of the play and shift momentum to the wings for a breakout.  In the offensive end, you play for control of the puck so you can pass to a player in scoring position.  Control comes from great body position, full contact, and great stick handling.

It’s often smelly and sometimes painful.  But that’s the front line and you can’t win the game if you don’t win the corners.

Ways to get in the corners in real life:

  • Take a shift on the front line of your business.  Pour coffee, move bags, make sales calls, answer phones.
  • Engage in the tough issues during meetings.  Don’t hang back and let others define the outcome in a way you don’t think is right.
  • Jump in to help during an unexpected problem.  Often times this is where a new idea emerges that can change the course of your business.
  • Change diapers, give baths, play on the floor.  You connect with your kids in ways you’d never imagine!

Hockey is life #3: win the short races

As I continue pondering life lessons from hockey, I hope I’m not losing all of my non-Canadian readers, but I must press on!  Those of you who know me in person are probably still wondering how/why I would pick hockey as my sport to play growing up.  Frankly, I’m not very big and most people associate hockey with big bruising guys smashing into each other.  This part is true, but there’s a better aspect of hockey that the media, and often the NHL underplay.  Speed.  Hustle.  Quickness. Lacrosse is called “the fastest game on foot” but hockey is even faster because it’s played on skates.

A little guy in hockey learns to be faster than everybody else or get crushed.  Win the short races in hockey and you don’t have to worry about being bigger or stronger (or smarter for that matter).  This lesson is about quickness, and it builds on the first two lessons, keep your stick on the ice and keep your head up.  When you see an opportunity in hockey, you have to act immediately, and with great speed, or the opportunity is gone.  The game flows right around you, and you end up standing around watching it go back and forth (this would lead to being “benched” but we won’t address that here).

image from USA Hockey

image from USA Hockey

My high school coach used to say, “It’s a game of short races, and you have to win most of them to win the game.”  You may have heard that every journey is made of thousands of little steps.  That’s essentially the same advice.  Nobody was ever successful in hockey without getting to the open space or getting to the puck before everybody else.  That’s what creates opportunities and provides control of the game.

You win small races by being in extraordinary shape.  Hockey practice is as much about physical conditioning as it is about developing skills and scrimmaging.  Great players spend hours each week sprinting up and down the ice to strengthen their legs, build their lungs and improve their skating technique.  Many of our best practices did not include a single puck.

Ways to win short races in real life:

  • Make cold calls.  If you don’t ask, they can’t say yes!
  • Get your daily chores done first thing in the morning to create space in your afternoon.
  • Experiment with ideas, don’t just think about them. Fail quickly and move on.
  • Reach out to friends, associates, and colleagues to offer praise or gratitude.
  • Be the spark.  Do something that inspires others to join you in a collective effort that pays you back later.

Last thing: sometimes being first puts you in a risky position, so you also have to be quick to move on for the next opening.  It’s a series of short races, not just one.

Hockey is life #2: keep your head up

Hockey is fast-paced and always in motion, so nothing stays in one place for long. Once you get a solid sense of yourself on skates, you quickly learn to pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you don’t, you get a teeth jarring reminder of this lesson to always keep your head upWatch this example of a professional player getting caught with his head down for the “worst case scenario”.

hard hit But keeping your head up is about more than staying safe, it’s the key to great timing and pattern recognition.  When you pay close attention to what’s going on around you in hockey, you find opportunities to take control of the game and score points.  When you aren’t keeping an eye on the whole game, you are relegated to following the play and chasing after the other team.

When you keep your head up in regular life, you notice things that others don’t see, and make stronger connections with others.  Most people I know really appreciate a good listener or someone who understands and empathizes with them.  You have to be outside of yourself and look for signals from those around you to time your interactions well.

Some ways to keep your head up in daily life:

  • Make eye contact with people you pass in the hall.
  • Pay attention to metrics and indicators of your performance.
  • Ask what others think in every conversation you have.
  • Don’t text while driving!

Hockey is life #1: keep your stick on the ice

Hockey is a great source of life lessons, and making arcane references to hockey is often a good connecting point for people I meet from the Great White North (hoser).  So forgive me a few posts that draw lessons from hockey as we enter a new season on the ice and wonder who will be hoisting the cup when it’s all over.

Hockey is a fluid, fast paced sport with lots of changes in direction and unexpected breaks emerging from what seems like chaos.  Lesson number one to all young players is to keep your stick on the ice.  This helps make sure you are ready for the unexpected, and can capitalize on it with a will timed pass or shot on goal.

photo from Hockey USA

photo from USA Hockey

It’s simple to say, but takes years of practice to keep your stick down while skating fast and mixing it up with other players.  You always want to lift up and rest your back, which gets very sore after an hour or so of drills. And during games you find yourself cruising along with your stick up while your not directly in a play. I had a coach who used to make us “take a lap” if he found us with our sticks across our knees during a scrimmage.

Eventually it sinks in if you keep practicing.  But it really clicks after you get a goal or an assist in a game because your stick was in the right place at the right time.  You get a lot of credit for being smart, but really your stick was “just there.”

So this lesson is about being prepared, and training yourself to be ready BEFORE the situation demands you to respond.  How do I “keep my stick on the ice” now?

  • Have a well prepared elevator pitch for what I’m working on and why I’m doing it.  This helps me connect with others and get spontaneous “random acts of assistance”.
  • Have regular touch base meetings with close colleagues even when we don’t have an urgent agenda item.  This helps us share ideas, intelligence, and feedback that improves our work.
  • Mystery shopper or Freaky Friday experiences.  Empathizing with clients or customers by walking in their shoes brings unexpected ideas and opportunities for performance improvements.
  • Twitter and Facebook.  Staying connected in social networks brings unexpected ideas, connections, and opportunities that I could never have found without these social exchanges.