All I Really Need to Know I learned in Hockey

As we begin the year, let’s hit the pause button and take a moment to reflect on the positive intangibles that minor hockey delivers to our children. Remember the book, All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten? In a similar vein, our amateur hockey experiences help shape the continuing segments of our life-long journey.

I could rattle off 10 or 12 positive intangibles that my early hockey experience helped generate; instead, I would like to focus on just three:

1. Teamwork

I have great memories of playing for the Burnaby Minor Hockey Association. My dad, Bill, and mom, Viona, were always highly involved. In fact, my father was almost always manager or coach of the many teams I played on.

I remember one Peewee tournament when our team was very successful and I had a very good game. Since I had scored four of our team’s six goals, I remember feeling particularly good about my personal game. But I will never forget what my folks did afterwards. I threw my stick and bag into the trunk of the car and jumped into the back seat, sort of wondering what my folks were going to say to me. As my mom and dad got into the car, they both said — in unison — words that I have never forgotten: “Boy, did the team ever play well today!”

Those words shaped the way that I do life. Our family is a team; our workplace is a team; our community is a team. Any of the personal success that I have gained was never a solo effort. This lesson learned comes through loud and clear in the words we speak. Team players learn to say “our” instead of “my,” and “the team” instead of “me.” Team players learn to deflect personal glory and to share the credit.

Most of us who grow up playing amateur sports take this type of intangible development for granted but, as an executive hiring people, I now see just how important learning to be a “team player” is. Many of the people we have interviewed grew up playing video games without a background shaped by team involvement. The older I get, the more I understand and appreciate the gift that hockey has given in teaching the invaluable skill of being a “team player.”

2. Resilience

I was reflecting on a recent conversation that I had with a friend about the World Junior tryouts and, specifically, the way that players are released. He was lamenting that players are told that they did not make the team at 7 a.m. and by 7:15 a.m. the press is in the face of each of these young athletes asking them how they feel. My response caught my friend off guard a bit when I agreed that the process was not perfect, but the way each young junior reacts to this pressure situation of being released is instructive in itself.

Here’s my point: young players wanting to play pro hockey will, under maximum pressure, encounter multiple obstacles. The skills that they learn along the way help shape how they react to their next encounter. Of course this situation is difficult, but how they choose to handle the next steps and the attitude they decide to carry forward is what is most important. Pressure situations squeeze either a “bitter spirit” out of us or a “this is going to make me better spirit.” At the end of the day, this is the critical learning.

3. Commitment

Finally, if I heard the following statement from my mom once, I heard it 10 times: “No problem, but just remember, if you are too sick to go to school, you are too sick to play hockey tonight.” Boy, did she know how to deal with a kid trying to skip a day of school!

I realize now that my mom was really talking to me about “commitment.” If nothing else, the game of hockey has taught me how to be and stay committed. Conversations around our dinner table about which sports I wanted to participate in always ended with: “Just a reminder as you are deciding: if you commit to that team, you finish out the season — no pulling out.”

Our game teaches us commitment to other people, commitment to projects and commitment to being the best that we can be. All of the great things in my life — our marriage, our family, our business, the teams that I have played on, winning a Stanley Cup — have been built around one thing: commitment.

Someone once said, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Without any formal curriculum, the game of hockey can teach us countless important lessons that guide the rest of our lives. The rest is up to us.

About The Author

Ryan Walter played more than 1000 games over 15 NHL seasons. Drafted second overall by the Washington Capitals (where he became the NHL’s youngest captain), Ryan won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens before finishing his playing career as a Vancouver Canuck...CONTINUE.