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Sep 29

5 Ways Sports Make You Better at Life

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Most of my articles start with a conversation I’ve recently had that sparks a theme or idea.  The conversation that spawned this piece was one I had with a co-worker about competitive youth hockey (any sport and any level applies), the costs, and eventually the question: “What’s the point?”  This isn’t an uncommon progression when discussing youth sports today, but it made me think hard about that question.  What is the point?  This train of thought brought me to a smorgasbord of positive influences that hockey has had on my life.  While these are based off of my personal experiences, I think there are common themes that apply to all.

Without further ado, here are 5 ways that playing sports has positively affected my everyday life outside of sport.

 

  1. Identity

 

It’s not uncommon to hear athletes say, “I’m not just a hockey player.  There is more to me than just being an athlete,” which is absolutely true, but athletics teaches competencies and values that provide a core foundation for individual identity.  When I think about my life now, I consider myself a father, husband, business analyst and teacher.  These are my priorities in life and what I consider to be the keywords to describe my identity.  When I look more closely, my experiences in athletics are engrained at the root of each one of these key aspects of my identity.

The values I learned from hockey about family, honour, accountability, loyalty and selflessness has helped me to be a better father and husband.  A laundry list of transferrable skills, which I will dissect in greater detail in point no. 3 of this article, has helped me succeed in my career as a Sr. Financial Analyst.  And, my experiences in hockey (good and bad) have enabled me to give back and share my knowledge with the next wave of hockey players, as I look to find ways to help others succeed and avoid mistakes I made along the way.

 

 

  1. Community

 

One of the greatest things a sport does is bring people together.  Sports bridge cultural and racial gaps, foster a sense of belonging, and instill pride and empowerment.  Whether you’re a fan who is part of a team community (a la the NFL’s Green Bay Packers “Cheeseheads”), or a student-athlete who is part of a lifelong university community, or a player who is part of an intra-sport community (“The Hockey World”), or simply an athlete who is part of a team, community helps us connect.  It allows us to be a part of something special.

One of the most interesting stories of community and sports I’ve seen was captured in a documentary called, “Harvard Park” which detailed the off-season training routines of former MLB players, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis.  What Strawberry and Davis referred to simply as, “The Program”, began early in their careers at a dilapidated municipal park called Harvard Park, at 62nd and Denker in South Central L.A.  Over time, young, up-and-coming players from the local neighbourhoods, like former MLB all-star Royce Clayton, and MLB stars from abroad (Established MLB stars Frank Thomas and Barry Larkin) began to find their way to Harvard Park and into The Program, eventually culminating into one of the most talked about off-season development programs in the nation.  It wasn’t only aspiring players who made their way to the park, either.  The daily sessions also drew large groups of spectators including members of the infamous rival gangs the Blood and the Cripps, who would take a break from their bitter rivalry to stand shoulder to shoulder in peace and watch some of the games brightest stars playing America’s Favorite Pastime.

Strawberry and Davis understood that baseball (like many sports) had the power to bridge gaps across socio-ecomonic, racial, and cultural barriers.  Where volatile differences are prevalent, whether large or small scale, the key is finding commonality to mend the gaps.  In many cases throughout history, sports have been at the heart of the ability to bridge these gaps and create a strong sense of community.

 

 

  1. Core Job Skills

 

Although I am extremely grateful for the invaluable knowledge and experience gained through attaining my university degree (which was paid for in full by hockey), I can say, without a doubt, that I wouldn’t be in the professional level that I am today without a background in hockey.  From transferrable skills, such as: teamwork, accountability, versatility, problem solving, multi-tasking and planning, among others, athletics grooms individuals to succeed in today’s workplace.  I delve into this notion in another article, “Hockey to the Workplace: 10 Transferable Competencies”, and I am a firm believer that a core foundation built on these competencies will equate to success in any and all professional fields.

My aha moment came a few years back after winning a job competition for a position that had 60 final applicants from two major cities interviewing for one job.  The manager told me that of the 60 applicants, I had the least amount of experience.  In the end, I won the job competition and the crowning moment, the panel later told me, came when I used comparative analysis in a response to equate project management to coaching sports.

When the question arose during the interview, I began to get nervous, knowing full-well I didn’t have a lick of project management experience.  My training quickly kicked in (my sports training, that is) and I was able to begin outlining how I had ample experience in project management because of a 4-year career in coaching junior hockey.  I began to draw comparisons between the two streams by equating process analysis to hockey system analysis.  I began talking about how I used video analysis techniques to look for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the opposing team’s systems in the same way a project manager or business analyst would use SWOT analysis techniques to analyze a current process.  I also talked about how, as a coach, I would setup my player matchups and deployment strategies based on player strengths and capabilities and how this correlated to how a project manager delegates duties to working group members in order to complete complex, time-based tasks.

To make a long story short, if it hadn’t been for my experience in hockey, I never would have won the job competition.  At the time, I was bouncing around from contract to contract in the midst of a volatile job market with seemingly no hope in sight.  Securing that job was a major turning point for me and my family.  It was a major bump in salary and benefits and gave us the stability to buy our first home, building a solid foundation.

 

 

  1. Resilience

 

One of the most frustrating things about sports is that they’re hard; really hard.  It’s also one of the greatest things about sports.  It forces us to continually improve and push ourselves to be better every day.  Sports, especially hockey where the negative outcomes vastly outweigh the positive outcomes (ie. Turnovers, missed shots, etc.), teaches you how to persevere and to soldier on when encountering adversity.  When you look at the realities of reaching elite levels in hockey (roughly 1 in every 1,000 who start playing hockey will play a single game in the NHL) and you add in the fact that the longer you play, the more likely you are to receive multiple injuries, it becomes apparent that hockey players are forced to learn how to be resilient.

I remember when I was bouncing around from job to job and contract to contract when I first started working after hanging up the blades.  Co-workers who were much higher up with much better benefits were angry about layoff rumours and threats of benefits cuts.  It was a really uneasy time for many.  I remember one person in particular saying to me, “Why are you always smiling and in a good mood coming in here?  Don’t you know we’re all pretty much gonna get screwed over.  I mean you aren’t even permanent and will probably get fired before anyone else, for crying out loud.”

I simply replied, “I played in the minor leagues where I got paid peanuts, got punched in the face almost every night, slept on cramped buses overnight on long, vast road trips, all while full-well knowing I’d likely never get promoted and could be released or traded at any moment.  Compared to that, this is a cakewalk.”

 

 

  1. Leadership

 

Often, when we think of leadership we think of top-down leadership.  We think about subordinates taking orders from managers, coaches, CEOs, generals, presidents, prime ministers (you get the point).  One amazing thing that sports do is change the perspective of leadership.  Sports promote “internal leadership”, where every team member grabs the rope and pulls as one.  Leadership, to me, comes in many forms and from every level of a team, an organization or an industry.  It’s about ownership and empowerment.  Being a leader means to trust in your ability and in the abilities of your teammates as you work toward common goals.  It means making a commitment to ensuring everyone else around you is getting better, picking others up when they are down and helping each other achieve their goals.  In the workplace, I don’t see this culture of internal leadership being as prevalent as it is in sport.

One of the best personal examples I have of internal leadership happened when I was in my freshman year at Clarkson University.  A teammate of mine, who was a sophomore, saw that I was struggling and took me under his wing, worked with me to build my confidence and improve my skillset.  The thing that made it so amazing was the fact that we were both defencemen, fighting over ice time and opportunity.  He wasn’t a captain or a star player.  It would have been more beneficial for his personal success to just let me crash and burn.  We were in competition with one another and here he was trying extremely hard to make sure I succeeded.  This was the ultimate display of leadership and selflessness and the amazing thing about it is that it’s contagious.  When you have a team of individuals who will go to bat for one another no matter what, you’ve got an excellent foundation for team success.

 

 

Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

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