Hockey to the Workplace: 10 Transferable Competencies

By When In Doubt, Glass and Out – Jamie McKinven


If I were running my own private sector company with everything I own on the line and everyone I love depending on me, I’m hiring a team of hockey players.  Why?  Here are 10 reasons:

 1.      Work Ethic

To play hockey is to work hard.  Hockey players always take the road less travelled.  Where in almost every other sport, players run around on solid ground, hockey players move around on razor sharp skates atop of rock solid ice—a movement so unique, that it takes years of constant practice and dedication to master.  Beyond skating, hockey players must learn the tedious task of stickhandling, passing and shooting to round out the basic skills of the game of hockey.  Before you can even enjoy the simple joys of a game of hockey, you need to be able to hone these unique physical skills—a task most can’t be bothered with.

The entire essence of the game of hockey is about reinventing oneself and starting from scratch.  To begin playing hockey is like starting all over in life.  It’s hard work and only the most determined have the capacity to succeed.

2.      Accountability

Like all athletes, hockey players understand the importance of accountability. Hockey is a sport of continuous improvement with rule changes, new systems being implemented and equipment advancement. In order to progress, hockey players embrace accountability to analyze their shortcomings and correct deficiencies.  They understand their unique roles and the importance of their job within the greater framework.  They understand the impact of their decisions.

3.      Importance of Strong Culture

More than ever, the importance of strong workplace culture is paramount to success.  With a struggling economy and increased competition in the marketplace, the landscape is as rigorous as ever.  Companies such as Google, have embraced the power of corporate culture and taken it to an entirely different level.  In order to find flagship culture models, one doesn’t need to stray further than hockey culture.  From pre-game rituals to playoff beards, hockey is full of intricacies designed to assimilate groups of varying individuals.

4.      Importance of Teamwork

Without a doubt, there is not a team sport out there right now that can hold a candle to the game of hockey in its passion, complexity and honour.  In no other sport do you see the type of selflessness, loyalty and dedication that is engrained in hockey and its unique honour code that all players live by. Teammates from every walk of life put all their differences and incompatibilities aside when they put on their team jersey in the name of a shared goal. Teammates will stick up for one another, take punches to the face, and break bones blocking shots, in order to achieve team-oriented goals. These are not necessarily the best of friends, but rather individuals who understand the power of teamwork. They embrace the values of humility and sacrifice when it comes to putting their egos aside in favour of a utilitarian approach to achieving greatness.  They understand that their individual success is deeply linked to team success.

 5.      Internal Leadership

To succeed in hockey is to understand that it is better to rise up together as a team than to use your teammates’ shoulders to stand upon.  The framework of hockey promotes the value of multiple roles and their equaled importance, and in doing so, promotes internal leadership.

Hockey is the sport that celebrates the unsung hero.  Whether you’re a goal scorer, penalty killer or an enforcer, the value of each role is celebrated within the culture.  When times get tough, a team can’t simply look to the coach or the captain to pull them out of the hole.  One game it might be a timely fight or a big hit that sparks the comeback.  The next night it might be a big save or a nice goal that turns the tides.  Sometimes, leadership comes in the strangest of forms.  One year, one of my teammates, who barely said a word, came into the dressing room after the second period of a game during a terrible losing streak, put his dress shoes in the shower room and set them on fire. He then turned to a bewildered dressing room and declared, “I knew those fuckin’ shoes were bad luck.” We went out that third period, came back and won the game and then rattled off six wins in a row. After the game, we took the mangled remains of the shoes and glued them to a plank of wood.  The charred trophy became our good luck charm and was handed out to the hardest worker after each game the rest of the season.

Hockey players understand that no matter what role you are in, you can do your part to contribute and help make everyone around you better.  Leadership is not exclusive to managers, directors and CEOs.  Internal leadership is the foundation to success and comes in many forms and from every level.  No one understands this concept better than hockey players.

6.      Importance of SMART Goals

The first time I ever learned about SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-Based) was when I was 16 years-old in junior hockey. From that moment on, developing SMART Goals became a primary function of my preparation in life from hockey to school to work.  In hockey, we always broke down everything into smaller components (segments).  Each game was broken down into segments and goals were mapped out.  At the end of each game, each week, each month and each season, we were able to chart our successes and evaluate our performances.

As I moved on in life, SMART Goals allowed me to reach higher levels, continuously improving my focus and preparation.  When I was 29 years-old, retired from hockey and working in the “real world”, this concept was being “introduced” to us in process improvement meetings.  While others were frantically scratching down notes, I was smiling smugly.  This was nothing new to me and was something that was deeply engrained in my day-to-day thought process.

7.      Value of Preparation

One of the major differences between good athletes and elite athletes is preparation.  For hockey players, preparation—both physical and mental—is the springboard for productivity.  Preparing your body by training and honing your skills, develops the necessary tools to complete the tasks at hand.  Preparing your mind by developing routines and employing mental training techniques, helps to ensure that you are focusing and operating mentally at a peak level. Having the tools needed to succeed, a plan to follow and a clear goal in mind is the recipe for success in any venture, whether it’s business or sport.  Preparation is the gateway to success.

8.      Attention to Detail

The game of hockey is a highly strategic and cerebral sport.  From system play, to reading the flow and pace of a game, players are constantly in a state of analysis.  Goalies keep journals on players and teams, studying what power play formations they use and which players teams use as their main shooting options and from which location on the ice.  Coaches analyze everything their opponents do and formulate responses to combat strategic systems. Every aspect of the game of hockey from faceoff alignment to forechecks to penalty kill formations are strategically crafted, practiced, perfected and implemented.  These plans are created, modified and recreated over and over again.  Hockey players require an acute ability to pay close attention to detail.

9.      Proactivity 

Building off of Competency No. 8: Attention to Detail, hockey players need to be able to read a situation while tapping into an accumulation of specific knowledge and take initiative.  In hockey, best laid plans often go to die.  This is how the term “Hockey Sense” was given birth.  When the system breaks down, great players are able to be proactive and read and react to the situation.  They are able to quickly assess a situation, determine the best course of action and then execute, all in a split second.  Being proactive is essential to any great player’s success.  An example of proactivity in hockey is “Gretzky’s Office”.  The Great One was able to read the game and find a loophole.  He took the initiative to think outside the box and find a way to beneficially exploit a situation.  In the “real world”, especially in the time of economic decline, proactivity is a highly valuable commodity.

10.  Perseverance

In a sport like hockey, where the letdowns overwhelmingly outweigh the triumphs, it takes a special kind of individual to say: “Hey, I love this!”  In a word, hockey is all about “Perseverance”.  It’s being able to face adversity, get knocked down and come up stronger.  It’s being able to face insurmountable odds and feel a strong sense of hope.  When I first started working in the real world, everyone was always complaining about job security.  They were constantly operating on a foundation built upon fear.  People turned to me and said, “What the hell are you smiling about?  Didn’t you hear we could all lose our jobs?”

I replied, “Try playing hockey in the minor leagues where the money is shit and contracts can be terminated at a moment’s notice.  Compared to that, this is a cakewalk.”  My bags were never unpacked and I was fine with it.  I had the mentality that if I laid it all on the line and got released from my contract, I would find another team.  I wasn’t going roll over and play dead for anyone and I believed in my skillset.  The hockey world is littered with stories of failure followed up by stories of triumphant redemption.  The real world is no different.



Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?”, is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe. After hanging up the blades, McKinven spent parts of four years coaching the Kingston Voyageurs junior A hockey club and is currently running clinics in skill development and power skating. Over his career, McKinven scratched and clawed, sacrificed and laid it all on the line only to fall short of playing in the NHL, experiencing his ultimate dream. Along the way, while riding the buses, living paycheque to paycheque and spending the summers living in his grandmother’s basement, he discovered a great deal about life, love and the value of following through on a dream.  Jamie McKinven was a star as well as a healthy scratch. He won a championship and finished dead last. Scored an overtime winner and cost his team a game, and through it all, experienced a lifetime of memories that spanned two continents, seven countries and eight leagues.

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