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What a Hockey Coach’s Actions Can Teach Us About Business

Last weekend, my son’s hockey club went to Nashville for a tournament. These are always exciting times for the boys, as they love getting out of town, staying in hotels and competing against teams from all over the country.

Our team played very well, but the victories came at a cost. We lost two of our boys to tough injuries during tournament play, and another player was questionable, with a possible head or neck injury. In spite of the physical play and injuries, we made it to the finals without losing a game and prepared to play a team from South Carolina that we’d beaten earlier during the tournament. However, when we played them earlier, the South Carolina club was physical; there was quite a bit of unusually violent play from their boys that you could see was inspired by their coach, and one of our kids had to leave the game (and thus the tournament) because of a concussion.

So, already two (and potentially three) players down, with our more important State Championship tournament scheduled to begin six days later, our coach — a young, quiet, thoughtful guy — had a difficult decision in front of him.

“Talking with some of the parents and coaches, I spent a while trying to make a decision,” he later wrote to the parents via email. “Seeing the way our kids played and had a great time made it much more difficult. Why shouldn’t we stay and finish out the weekend with a win and a tournament championship banner? We were the best team this weekend. How can I look over a team of 15 teenagers and tell them that we won’t get the chance to play for medals and go home instead?”

Ultimately, our coach made the very difficult decision to forfeit, believing we’d already beaten the field and knowing that the South Carolina team was going to come out and take some questionable shots at our boys. He saw that we needed to take the long view and keep the kids healthy. Yes, the boys were a bit bummed, as were some parents, but I found it to be an impressive, gutsy choice.

“There’s a bigger picture that I began to look at when we started the season,” he continued in his email. “A picture painted with one question I asked: What’s your goal this season? The unanimous response: Win the State Championship.”

I shared this anecdote with our team at Elasticity when I returned because it oftentimes parallels the choices we make every day in relation to our clients.

For us, it begins with never losing sight of the end goal. What is the challenge we were hired to address? It might be driving sales, protecting or building reputation, or both. Along the way, we also must frequently make tough choices in the heat of moment about prioritization, brand culture, strategy, word choices and more. And throughout it all, there are frequently difficult conversations that may not be popular at the time but hopefully prove out in the long run.

Our hockey coach was able to see the forest through the trees and make a smart choice. It’s a lesson that we must also commonly manage in life and business as well.


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