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10 Business Lessons I Learned from Watching Hockey

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By John Burton ’76

I have a great appreciation for how difficult hockey can be. I broke my nose one of the first times I ever played the sport. It was just a simple pickup game with neighborhood friends so nobody wore much equipment. When an older boy lifted the puck, it quickly snapped my nose and took me out. I never held it against him as hockey is a rough sport and it’s best not to whimper about your injuries. My father was good friends with the great “Terrible Ted” Lindsay from the Detroit Red Wings, so I had the opportunity to see the many stitches in his face up close. I have always viewed my own injury as a little badge of honor.

Attending college at the University of Vermont in the 1970s turned me into an avid fan of college hockey. I’ve been going to college hockey games for the past 35 years (Go Cats, Go!). Now my young grandson is learning the many lessons that hockey has to teach and even has Catamount stickers on his hockey helmet.

Just like in a hockey game, businesses need to size up the opponent and pick the best strategy for the situation.

Here are 10 lessons I have learned from hockey that also apply to running a business:

1. The great Wayne Gretzky said that the key to success in hockey is knowing where your line-mate is headed so you pass the puck right where they will be. Make sure to leave enough space in your task hand-offs to let others receive them where they really are at the time.

2. Every time you don’t shoot at the goal, it fails to go in. Don’t wait too long before innovating. Often hesitation can be your worst enemy.

3. Winners in hockey move fast. Never stop focusing on the fundamentals, such as skating. Keep training on business basics, like writing and speaking, as you can always get better. Trust in the fundamentals.

4. From high school on, hockey is about being steady on your feet, so others can’t take you out of the play. As your business grows, work on stability so you don’t make an easy target for the competition. Make strong moves and others will tend to stay clear.

5. Sometimes hockey players take out the opponent rather than going for the puck and sometimes the reverse is true. Businesses also need to size up the opponent and pick the best strategy for the situation.

6. In hockey, every position needs to be able to quickly switch from offense to defense. Successful business people are always prepared to promote or defend their work based on the circumstances.

7. Great hockey players learn to trust their teammates by doing their individual role the absolute best way possible. It is critical to not do other players work for them but to hold your position and eventually the puck will come your way. The key to a successful business is to refine and improve your special role and always be ready to quickly respond when the work comes your way.

8. Each shift, period, game and season has a life of its own in hockey. In business, success comes from just focusing on the work at hand and not fretting over past struggles.

9. In the game of hockey, it takes a whole team to succeed, not just a few superstars. Refine your office teamwork and involve the whole team. Teamwork is a thing of beauty that everyone can be proud of.

10. Sometimes a hockey game is all about the final minutes or seconds. Often a business finds that most of the success happens at the end of the day, week, month or year. Work as hard at the very end of every single day and every little project as you do at the beginning to find business success.

-John Burton ’76 is president and co-owner of NPI Technology Management.

This post was first published on LinkedIn.

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