By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
It’s only been a few years that I have been following the sport of hockey. Before that, a myriad of other athletic diversions captured my attention. As a youngster, I did what many of my peers did and played Little League baseball. Not that I was good at it or particularly enjoyed it. In fact, after four years of mostly sitting on the bench or chasing an occasional stray ball in right field, I realized that I wasn’t having much fun. I was merely playing the game because I assumed that was what a kid was supposed to do. My attempts to play baseball did, however, lead to watching the big leagues on TV. In fifth grade, my teacher, a fanatic fan of the Detroit Tigers, planned our school day around the playoff schedule so that she – I mean “we” – could listen to the games during study time. The Tigers won the series and I was won over, becoming a devotee. I faithfully followed the Tigers until their next World Series in 1984.
Shortly thereafter, I moved to Wisconsin. It was hard to be a Tiger fan in Wisconsin; in fact, in was hard to be a baseball fan in the shadow of the state’s beloved Green Bay Packers. In a place where being a “cheese head” is a compliment (note to the uninformed: “cheese head” is the proudly self-proclaimed moniker of the die-hard Packer fanatic) I soon adopted the Packers as “my” team. Although my tenure in the dairy state was short-lived, I continued to be a loyal Packer backer after returning to Michigan.
But it was hard for me to get back into baseball. The player strikes, lockouts, excessive hype, and salary escalations distanced me from the game and left me increasingly ambivalent. Disenfranchised with baseball, I segued to basketball. Although I closely followed the college tournament during March Madness, it was not the defensive prowess of college hoops to which I was endeared, but the faster-paced, higher-scoring professional games. But, then, as the showmanship became excessive, I began to seek alternatives.
Throughout these meanderings as an athletic couch potato, hockey was a sport that I viewed as anomalous. I treated it with disdain. It seemed to me that the only activity was skating back and forth, with few scoring opportunities and even fewer goals. I just didn’t get it.
When my son, Dan, began following hockey, I didn’t immediately share in his interest and enthusiasm. To my dismay, he one day asked me to watch the game with him. Inwardly I groaned, but outwardly I agreed, because that’s what parents do for their kids. He made popcorn (okay, so maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad after all) and we plopped down in front of the tube. I watched the play move back and forth, right to left and then left to right. Soon the popcorn was gone, but the players kept up their incomprehensible dance with the puck. My eyes grew weary as one more journey up the ice began. Suddenly, Dan became excited. He jumped to his feet and exclaimed, “Watch this!” as the puck was guided past the blue line. To me it looked like the same play I had already seen a hundred times during that game. “They’re going to score!” he gleefully and confidently predicted. The announcers, too, amplified the tone of their play-by-play as they sensed that something important was about to happen. Play proceeded across the red line, then a pass and a slap shot, followed by total bedlam and an energetic high-five from my son. On the second replay, I, too, saw the puck go in the net.
I stared at my son in disbelief. “How did you know?” I stammered in amazement. “Come on, Dad, you could tell it was going to happen as soon as he got the puck,” Dan replied with incredulity. Obviously, there was more to this game than I could see. I began asking questions and for the first time in our relationship, the roles reversed and my son became the teacher. I was astonished with how much he knew and the subtleties he comprehended. Under his tutelage, my understanding of the sport grew and with it, my interest and appreciation followed. Over time, I learned about a one-timer, the five hole, power plays, a two-pad slide, and the poke check.
Soon, watching the Red Wings become one of our favorite father-son activities. Last year it was our delight to cheer the Wings throughout the session, into the playoffs, and to the Stanley Cup. During one game in that phenomenal year, we watched an uncharacteristically unproductive power play wind down. “Shoot the puck,” I earnestly implored the Detroit offense. “They didn’t have any good scoring opportunities,” Dan responded with matter-of-fact calmness.
“But they can’t score if they don’t shoot the puck,” I retorted. Dan paused and gave me a quick glance, followed by a brief look of comprehension before his attention was recaptured by the game. Perhaps I had blurted something profound. After all, it did make sense that if you don’t take a shot, you can’t score.
Regardless whether the sport is hockey, baseball, football, or basketball, playing it safe isn’t going to win too many games and is certainly not what championship teams are made of. How many times have you watched a team build a commanding lead, only to lose the game as a result of becoming tentative and mechanical as they tried to protect their lead rather than build upon it?
This example extends to business. While extreme, make-or-break risk taking is generally not advisable, tentatively protecting what you have built up will not position you to take advantage of new opportunities that present themselves. You could even squander what you have. Yes, many of your shots may miss the mark, but some will be on target. And those that are will keep you moving forward and propel you to the next level.
The same is true in life. If you expect to coast through your time on this earth, hoping that everything will work out, you will end up sad and disappointed. Intentional and deliberate action is what is needed to reach your potential and become the person you are capable of being. I once saw a poster of a large turtle. The caption read, “Behold the turtle; he only makes progress when he sticks out his neck.”
Whether it’s hockey, business, or life, you can’t score if you don’t shoot the puck.