10 Hockey Life Skills for the Real World


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 playing 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, the hockey life skills I obtained from 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 jotting down notes, I was smiling smugly. This was nothing new to me; it was one of the hockey life skills that was deeply ingrained 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 at a peak level mentally. 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

Most people don’t realize that 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 which power play formations they use; 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 must have the ability to read a situation, while tapping into an accumulation of specific knowledge and take initiative. In hockey, best-laid plans are often scrapped. This is how the term “Hockey Sense” was conceived. 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 discover a way to beneficially exploit a situation. In the “real world,” especially in a time of economic uncertainty, being proactive is a highly valuable commodity and important of the hockey life skills.

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 bounce back 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 would turn to me and say, “What the hell are you smiling about? Didn’t you hear we could all lose our jobs?” To which I would reply, “Try playing hockey in the minor leagues where the money is crap 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 that. 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 to roll over and play dead for anyone, and I believed in my hockey life skills.

The hockey world is littered with stories of failure followed up by stories of triumphant redemption. The real world is no different.

Jamie McKinven grew up idolizing the high-octane players of the freewheeling Eighties, only to break into hockey’s higher levels during the tight-checking late nineties and 2000s. McKinven scratched and clawed his way up the levels, only to fall short of his ultimate dream of playing in the NHL. Along the way, while riding the buses and living paycheck to paycheck, he discovered a great deal about life, love and the value of following through on a dream. McKinven experienced a lifetime of memories that spanned two continents, seven countries and eight leagues. He lives with his fiancée Jasmine and daughter Cleo in Kingston, Ont., Canada, where he coaches his former Junior “A” team, the Kingston Voyageurs of the OJHL. McKinven is the author of the book “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?”, which is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com.

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