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Lessons from Hockey

One of the reasons I enjoy watching hockey is that it offers an opportunity to observe human behaviour under pressure. Sometimes it is possible to learn things that are applicable to more of life.

The National Hockey League’s website (www.nhl.com) offers a wide variety of statistics. One set of statistics is fascinating: the list of players with the most points (goals plus assists). Of the top 10 point-getters in the league, 5 are on teams that did not make the playoffs, and 3 are on teams that have not yet clinched a playoff spot with only a couple of games left in the regular season. None plays on any of the top 7 teams. Hockey is a team game; teams, not superstars, win games.

Another interesting statistic is that there are a good number of players who have a lot of goals and assists but who have a negative plus-minus ratio. That is, their team scores a lot of goals when they are on the ice but also gives up a lot of goals when they are on the ice. They may be great goal scorers but they may be weak defensively. We tend to overvalue superstars. Those who have great gifts and strengths often have glaring weaknesses to go along with them.

In contrast, of the 10 players with the best plus-minus ratios, all 10 are on playoff teams.

Also of interest is that, of the 10 goaltenders with the best goals-against averages (average number of goals allowed per game), 8 are on playoff teams.

Both plus-minus ratios and goals-against averages are largely team statistics. A good goal scorer needs to be backed up by good defensive players. A great goaltender on a bad team will give up a lot of goals.

In life, as in hockey, we tend to focus on the “great” people, the ones with the great statistics and achievements. But success often comes when people work together.

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