Keep Your Stick On the Ice

As a long time player, and now as a coach, I've been around the game of hockey for a long, long time. One of the things you quickly pick up if you're familiar with the sport is the prevalence of certain cliches. Watch a between periods interview on TV, a post-game interview with a coach, or talk to a 12 year old pee-wee and they are all likely to sound very similar. For some reason, hockey is a game dominated by cliches. I've heard many people say that it's nearly pointless to interview a hockey player because they are likely to say the same things every other hockey player says:

  1. "We just gotta get some traffic in front of the net."

  2. "I just gotta keep my stick on the ice."

  3. "Gotta keep your head up out there."

  4. "Just gotta go hard every single shift and everything will take care of itself."

And a few others.

Being the inquisitive person that I am, I decided to think a little bit deeper about what these cliches actually mean. If everybody says them all the time, they must have some sort of relevance, right?

Don't worry, I'm not about to launch into a detailed analysis of hockey theory and system. I know most of you guys are American and don't even know what hockey is :)

Instead, I'm going to apply these hockey cliches to life in a new series I'm calling Living Like a Hockey Player.


This might be the most repeated piece of advice any hockey player ever hears. From the time you're old enough to be stumbling around on the pond you have a coach constantly telling you to put your stick on the ice (although, it's amazing how many of my college players seem to have tuned out that part of their development…) What's the big deal about having your stick on the ice? Obviously, if you're going to take a shot or see somebody getting ready to pass to you you'll put your stick down, by why does it matter if you don't even have the puck?

Hockey is an incredibly fast game. Pucks often reach 90 MPH or more. Players are flying around with razors on their feet. It's intense, quick, and changes directions constantly. Having your stick on the ice means you're ready for anything. I don't know how many goals I've scored just because my stick was on the ice and a shot deflected off of it. If I was carrying my stick around my waist I would never had the opportunity to score. The difference in a one goal game can be as simple as where the blade of your stick is at all times.

But what about life? What can you learn from the cliche "keep your stick on the ice" if you aren't a hockey player? I see it as advice to be ready at all times. Sometimes you don't see what is developing on the horizon until it is right on top of you. If you aren't ready to jump all over an opportunity, if your "stick" isn't on the "ice", you're going to miss it. How can you train yourself to keep your proverbial stick on the ice at all times?

  1. Stay on top of your work: If you're buried under work that you've been procrastinating on, you probably won't even realize an opportunity passed you by. Even if you do realize it, you probably don't care because instead of seeing it as an opportunity you see it as just another thing you have to add to the pile of work already crushing you. Granted, sometimes we get buried under work outside of our own control. However, too often I see people who are just "so busy" and "swamped" because instead of working on something logically and steadily over time, they procrastinated to the last second. Kick the procrastination habit and you'll be in a much better position to see an opportunity for what it is.

  2. Eliminate clutter from your life: Clutter serves to distract you from what's important. How many times have you missed an opportunity because an important piece of paper was lost in the abyss known as your desk? How many times did that vital piece of information get lost somewhere in your purse? Clutter prevents you from having your stick on the ice. It prevents you from being ready for opportunities you don't even know are coming.

  3. Develop the ability to switch gears quickly: In hockey, and life, the ability to change directions and adapt to situations quickly is vital. It's already tough enough to react to a 100 MPH slap shot when your stick is on the ice. If it's at your waist you're not going to have time to get it on the ice to deflect that shot and the opportunity will be missed. If your boss comes to you with an opportunity that will improve your career but you can't quickly switch gears from one mindset to another, from the "ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod I have so much to do," to "I'm busy, but I can see how this would have a positive long-term impact on my career," then you will miss out.

It's a crazy world out there. Don't make it harder on yourself by not being ready for opportunity at all times. It's not tough to do - it's just a matter of where you're carrying your stick. Are you skating around with your stick in the air while waiting for the perfect pass? Or, are you going hard to the net with your stick on the ice hoping to knock in an ugly goal? The latter might not be as sophisticated as the former, but on the stat sheet you don't get any points for style.

Keep your stick on the ice.

(Tired of hearing it yet? Gimme a lap.)