With the Vegas Golden Knights defeating the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Finals, the 2023 NHL season has reached its end. As exhilarating as watching hockey can be, if we take a closer look, we can find some valuable lessons for our own lives.
“Playoffs are like a quarter-long sales battle, minus the injuries.” -Kevin Dahl, NexGoal CEO and former NHL player
Two teams of committed team members working toward an ultimate goal is always something we can learn from, even if we aren’t athletes ourselves. Here are valuable career lessons those of us not on the ice can learn from hockey’s ultimate games.
Play like the Cup is in the house
The physical Stanley Cup isn’t present at every game of the Finals. The iconic trophy is only “in the house” when a team has a chance to win (by winning three other games). Having the trophy in the house is a powerful reminder of what teams have been fighting for all season and can make the favored team play harder, but it isn’t a necessity.
Successful teams never forget what they are working toward, which is something we can all appreciate. Learn how to visualize success for your team and remember your ultimate goals. By turning your goals from something abstract to something tangible and achievable, you’ll fight harder to make them a reality.
Don’t be afraid to swing big
It’s good to find a realistic and sustainable way to win, but sometimes the process needs a kick in the rear, and all organizations must take a big swing. The Athletic’s Sean McIndoe highlights the Panthers’ blockbuster trade for Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk as a big key to their success this season. Florida was aggressive in pursuing this trade, barreling through with a massive offer that many thought might be an overpay. But the results spoke for themselves.
While moves like this can put pressure on you, when you’re shooting for success, you must take risks. Whether that means trying to break into a new industry, embracing a new sales strategy, applying for a leadership role, or hiring a promising candidate that doesn’t quite check all of the boxes, we have the potential to make career-altering decisions more often than we think.
“Carolina heavily invested in analytics and thinking about the game in a non-traditional manner for about a decade running now. You are seeing the fruits of those labors.” –John Fischer on 2023 playoff lessons
It takes hard work all year
You don’t get to be one of the final teams in a sport by coincidence or by just doing pretty well late in the season. Even when games aren’t currently being played, owners and general managers are making moves, coaches are watching film and coming up with new strategies, and players are training to be the best versions of themselves.
Vegas missed the playoffs last season but refused to admit defeat. They responded by looking for every big name player that could help their team get back to the postseason. They succeeded, landing a good amount of players, even if they had to make some challenging decisions to deal with the cap space.
Meanwhile, in your career, you need to take a big-picture approach. What will it take for you to achieve your ultimate goals, and how can you work on them today?
“The ups and downs of a post-season resemble business, what these guys endure will prepare them for anything.” -Kevin Dahl
Never count yourself out
Sometimes in a best-of-seven series, finals come down to the final game, with each team having a hot streak. Sometimes, a team takes the lead early and never looks back. In either case, the losing team doesn’t just roll over and lose. They’ll fight until the final buzzer.
The Panthers found themselves in this situation down 1-3 heading into Game 5, a potential end to the series. But as the great Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning is not everything – but making the effort to win is.” The Panthers fought hard to keep their season alive, and even though they fell short of the Cup, they fought admirably to the end. This type of resilience is the key to success in any area.
We view hockey players as tough and gritty, and many will play through battered bodies to achieve their goals. We don’t need to go that far, and we never want to sacrifice physical or mental well-being for the sake of work, but it’s vital to learn how to become resilient at work. Not only is resilience one of the most sought-after skills by employers but it will help us cope with the struggles we’ll face on the way to achieve our goals. Keep trying, and don’t be afraid to change your approach.
Hockey players have a reputation as some of the grittiest, toughest players out there, but that’s not all the sport represents. Team building and training are year-long, thoughtful processes, and even those of us in positions with seemingly little in common with professional hockey can learn from their approach. Keep these career lessons in mind and you’ll be a champion off of the ice!