What Playing Professional Hockey Taught Me About Business

As a child growing up in Toronto, like many young Canadians, my dream was to play hockey in the NHL, preferably for my hometown Blue Jays. I love the sport and was good at it. And although I didn’t get drafted by an NHL team, I did play professionally for four wonderful years in Europe. Then, when I returned home to Toronto, my brother and I started our company Array Marketing, and my/our entrepreneurial life began. We’ve enjoyed lots of success and I’ve since gone on to own or play a leadership role in many business ventures. 

I sometimes reflect on my time playing hockey and realize how much I learned through that experience that prepared me for my career as a business leader. Below are five lessons from my favorite sport that you can use to help you build and run your company.

The importance of teamwork and effective coach and team leaders

In business as in hockey, it’s crucial to have effective leadership. On the bench, it’s the head coach. On the ice, it’s the team captain. In the locker room it’s assistant coaches. Everyone needs to collaborate toward a common goal in the spirit of teamwork. While the wings, defensemen, forwards, and goaltenders give their all and do their best to play a strong game, the captains and coaches are providing motivation, management, mentorship, and guidance based on their own knowledge and experience to help the players. So too in business, leadership at a variety of levels, from the CEO to middle management to supervisors, is necessary to keep a strong, effective team of employees on their A-game.

Working toward a specific goal

Every professional hockey team begins every season with one specific goal in mind: to win the Stanley Cup. Everything they do during the season is directed at scoring goals, gaining points and making the playoffs. Goal-setting is a key part of business as well. Whether you’re marketing, selling, handling customer service, or taking part in another important function, you should be working to meet goals. Each year, and maybe even more frequently, effective managers meet with their reports to set new goals and discuss the progress being made toward current ones. Without specific goals you can’t track progress and grow the company.

Effective strategic planning

When one hockey team is planning to play another, they research their competitors to determine who does what and how they play. They need to know the other team’s strengths and weaknesses to prepare their own strategy. Then, when they take the ice, they know what to expect and how best to play to gain an advantage in both scoring goals and preventing the other team from doing the same. All business activities are similarly based on strategies. A strategic plan for a company is one of the most important documents you have because it sets goals and objectives and outlines how they are to be met. It also keeps everyone on the same page with regard to organizational priorities, while also defining what each department, office or work team is charged with doing.

Putting in the time

If you’ve ever watched a hockey practice, you’ve probably seen players doing the same thing over and over again, like shooting pucks at the goal again and again or skating around teammates trying to block shots and prevent them from shooting on goal. It’s a lot of work that requires an incredible amount of time and energy. And it’s often not that much fun. But it’s necessary for keeping players at the top of their game. There are major comparisons to be made in the business world, where entrepreneurs and corporate business leaders alike spend long hours working to achieve an objective, structure a deal, create a presentation, or manage a meeting. Nothing in business is gained unless you spend the time.

Being able to react when needed

In hockey, players work in “lines,” groups of teammates who work synergistically on the ice. Lines are sent from the bench to the ice throughout a game to maintain advantage. When the other team does this and you’re on the ice, you often have to react quickly to new opposing players who are suddenly in front of you, as well as unexpected things that happen as you’re zooming down the ice. Quick reflexes matter. In business, things are often changing as well, often in the marketplace,  and it’s up to us as leaders to be able to respond to those changes in ways that serve the company and its organizational goals. Being able to respond quickly and effectively can only help you as a leader.

The essence of all this is that when people, strategy and hard work come together, anything can be accomplished with the right amount of time and talent.

Published by johnfieldingtoronto

John Fielding, Toronto executive and founder of Array Marketing.

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