Apr

4

 A while ago I left my full-time employment to start a software business. I'm only a month in, but already I've got some bruises to match the bags under my eyes.

The Chair and some of his colleagues have their racquets to help relieve stress; some others play golf or go biking. I play hockey. I was driving home after a particularly character-building game thinking about why I had enjoyed it so much even though we got thrashed. My conclusion was that it is impossible for an entrepreneurial spirit to not enjoy hockey. I give you:

The Top Five Reasons Entrepreneurs Like Hockey

5. There are piles of ways to be a successful hockey player. You can be small, fast and agile; you can be strong and determined; you can be good with your hands; you can have a powerful slapshot; you can be deceptive; you can have the world's best balance. You don't need them all. Likewise the entrepreneur does not need to satisfy some master checklist of qualities. She can find a way to leverage her strengths to succeed.

4. Hitting is allowed, and encouraged. The game is real: if you allow your attention to wander you will be knocked off the puck. No reality distortion field protects you from that harsh fact. What rules exist are there to prevent serious injury, not give you a glass bubble to wander around in. Coming from school or an internal corporate project to an entrepreneurial endeavor feels like shifting from a ballet class to an NHL rink.

3. Speed and agility are key. Not everyone on the ice knows where the puck is all the time, but you better believe at least two of your opponents do. Always. And they are skating for it as fast as they can. If you cannot beat them you will lose. If you do beat them to the puck, you will have between 1 and 3 seconds before your opponent is there trying to take it away from you. You therefore have an average of 2 seconds to move the puck someplace where he cannot remove it from you, and dance out of his way so that he cannot remove you from the puck instead.

2. Hockey is played by the players. The game happens so fast, and there is so much information flowing on the ice, that there is no way a coach can even begin to puppeteer his team. The coach's role is to prepare the team during practice and maybe pull players if they're not up to snuff, but if a coach calls a timeout it's really just to let his squad rest. They have to play the game, all of it. Books and mentors and investors and seminars and support groups can help prepare the entrepreneur, but once the game starts, their help is over.

And the number one reason hockey is the King of Entrepreneurial Games:

1. Hockey is a game of time and space. Good hockey players are like chess players at warp speed. They see the rink as it is now, and they visualize it as it will be in five seconds. They see the spaces and they know how they will be filled. When a player is in the right spot to receive a bounce and go in on a breakaway, they were not lucky: they saw the pass, they saw the bounce and its angle, and they moved to get there — before the pass happened. They're wrong a lot. But when they're right, it's magnificent.

Steve Leslie adds: 

I can think of several other fascinating things about hockey.

I. On the surface, hockey appears to be chaos, five skaters trying to advance a black object and flying all over the ice with the ultimate objective of shooting the object (puck) into a net with a stick guarded by some warrior-like creature who is protecting his turf.

There are line changes when players are being substituted for other players all the while the puck is in play and sometimes traveling at speeds of 100mph. These line changes can occur ever 2 minutes or so.

There are well-defined rules such as icing, off-sides and two-line passes, all to control the flow of the game.

There are penalties assessed against a player for rules-of engagement errors such as cross-checking, interference, high-sticking, roughing. This forces a team to skate short-handed and thus utilize a host of strategies to combat an offensive onslaught by their opponents.

Conversely there are power-plays when a team has a one-man and sometimes a two-man advantage. Here they have a huge advantage for a minimum of 2 minutes, which in hockey terms is a very long time. They then resort to strategies such as power plays designed to take advantage of their personnel advantage and to score.

In order to score and potentially win a match, each player must work within the concept and framework of the team. It is virtually impossible to score without all the players working in concert both offensively and defensively.

All in all this leads to hockey being a very cerebral game and quite appealing to those who can think very quickly and creatively.

II. Hockey is performed on a very magical and special stage. It requires a rink that must be carefully built and the ice meticulously maintained. Plus rinks tend to be spread out geographically, thus preparation time and travel is involved.

III. Hockey is a very expensive sport and thus can be considered elitist. Not only is ice time expensive but also the equipment required to play is quite broad and very costly. Skates are made out of leather and titanium and can cost $500 or more. A player also needs a helmet, shoulder pads, chest guard, hip pads, uniform, gloves and a stick. A complete hockey outfit can easily run into the thousands.

IV. Hockey requires special skills. Some of which are quite unnatural. Not only must players be able to balance himself or herself, to skate forwards and backwards, they must also handle a puck and face collisions. They must be in extremely good shape muscularly and cardiovascularly. They have to be able to shift gears quickly going from a glide to a mad dash and then stop on a dime. A fit player may lose 10 lbs or more during a hockey match.

V. There seems to be anecdotal evidence that the skills required to play hockey translate very well to other sports particularly golf. Some who have made the transition to golf from hockey have been Wayne Gretzky, Pierre Larouche, Dan Quinn and Mario Lemieux who have played with distinction on the celebrity golf tour.

It then becomes obvious why an entrepreneur would appreciate such a wonderful sport as hockey and find it a marvelous outlet to enjoy and revel in.

George Zachar writes: 

I played goalie. The goalies are the only players on the ice for the full 60 minutes. The goalie must keep track of who is on the ice for both teams at all times. He must know not only the strengths and weakness of them all individually, but must know how the lines match-up against one another.

He must constantly maximize the area he presents between the puck and the net while simultaneously calculating how the opposition will move the puck to create an opening. He must be utterly indifferent to pain, reflexively placing his limbs in the path of a frozen, rock-hard rubber disk traveling upwards of 100 mph.

Finally, the goalie knows that he is the one instantly faulted when the opposition scores. It's hard to think of a better metaphor for trading.

Steve Ellison adds: 

I liked playing hockey because skating is so much faster than running. While in San Jose a few months ago, I attended a Sharks game. It was interesting to watch Joe Thornton, last year's NHL scoring leader. Mr. Thornton likes to set up in the offensive zone either behind the goal or along the boards halfway between the blue line and goal line and look for a teammate to pass to. Both of these locations are on the edges of defensive players' coverage zones, allowing Mr. Thornton an extra second or two before somebody is trying to take the puck away from him. Wayne Gretzky also liked to set up plays from behind the goal. Similarly, entrepreneurs can establish niches in areas not well covered by the big companies. 


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