Highlights of the Frozen Four: Lessons from the Ice

Top 10 lessons from the Frozen Four that apply to high performance teams.

Written by Kenneth M Boxer, President and founder, Boxer Advisors, LLC and Gregory Scott Boxer, Private Fleet Sales Executive, Coyote Logistics

After attending college hockey’s Final Four this past weekend, my son, Greg and I want to share with you a list of top 10 lessons from the Frozen Four that we think apply to high performance teams, including:

1. Sometimes David does slay Goliath; however, David has to believe that it’s possible! Unfortunately, we couldn’t be in the Union College locker room before the final game; however, we are sure that the coach of Union College communicated his faith to them: faith in a team representing 2500 students that had never won the Frozen Four versus that a team representing 50,000 students and has won college hockey’s Frozen Four several times. The way Union College played, they obviously believe they could win.

2. Play within yourself and trust your teammates. Hockey is a 60 minute game broken into 60 to 90 seconds shifts. Focus allows you to win your shift every time. Implication for high performing teams is to do your best at every stage of the process. If your team plays well for 60 minutes, more often than not, you’ll win.

3. Shoot the puck: you have to shoot to score. Sometimes, organizations don’t make decisions, don’t pursue business opportunities, or don’t take any risks for fear of failure. Most goalies save 90% of the shots they face. I suspect that these statistics would inhibit performance in many organizations; however, you have to understand the statistics of success in your industry and play the game accordingly. Bottom line: if you take no action, you’ll be sure to lose!

4. Don’t overthink your play. One of the things I most like about hockey is how fast the s blog post focused on generating innovation and I discussed how important it was to plan for innovation and not to over think creating innovation. In hockey, they emphasize keeping s good advice for any high performing team.

5. Control your emotions. In any hockey game, there are going to be changes in momentum and sometimes players on the other team will try to distract you by trying to initiate a fight or instigate you to the point that you take a penalty . You have to be prepared to withstand shifts in emotion in a game or in business. Someone on the bench needs to remind everyone to stay in the game and not get distracted by the other team. This is often done by a leader, formal or informal — and is a critical role in any organization.

6. You have to be willing to sacrifice and go into the dirty areas (the boards in a hockey rink or in front of the goal). Everyone loves scoring the slapshot in hockey; however, the teams that win have players on their team who are each willing to do their job for the greater good of the team. Sometimes, that means taking a pocket out of the corner, sometimes it means standing in front of the goalie while players literally hit you with their sticks. The implication for high performing teams is that great teams have players who serve multiple roles and everyone on the team knows the role and is comfortable playing that role.

7. Outwork your competition. Probably the thing I love most about hockey is that if two teams are equally matched and one team out works the other, that team will win. It seems simple, but I have never seen it not play out that way. Unfortunately, in hockey, as in life, many people think there is an easy lane to success that doesn’t require hard work. Untrue! Great teams don’t become great by not working hard in practice and during the games. They just enforce their will on the other team by outworking them every shift of every period, of every game. If you think about the great teams in business that you know, I would imagine that they too, can be characterized by individuals who just work hard.

8. Accentuate your strengths. Whether it is skill, speed or strength; every hockey player has his or her specific strengths. The good ones accentuate those strengths and force their opponents to adapt to them. I think the same thing is true with high performing teams that leverage the individual and collective strengths of the organization to achieve results that sometimes are beyond their expectations.

9. Be persistent and play until they blow the whistle. We probably saw one of the most exciting endings to a hockey game Thursday evening, as Minnesota scored: shorthanded with .05 seconds left in regulation. We were certain that the opponents did not think it was possible for Minnesota to ski down the ice and get off a quality shot before the end of the third period. However, that’s exactly what happened and Minnesota won the semifinal game in a thriller. Many times, individuals and/or teams give up early, assuming that the score is final and that there’s no opportunity to impact results. Unfortunately, there are many examples in business and in government, where the final push produces the tipping point for spectacular results.

10. Savor the sweet victories! Union’s victory over Minnesota in the final game of the Frozen Four was spectacular. You could see the pure joy of the Union team celebrating their success when the referee blew the final whistle. You could again see it when they were announcing the winner at center ice and how the teammates were responding to one another. As someone who has had to learn the importance of taking time to smell the roses, I do believe it’s critical for high performing teams to celebrate small and large victories and for every member of the team to know their role in helping support the team success.

Boxer Advisors, LLC, is a full-service consulting, training and coaching firm with more than 50 professional consultants, facilitators, and coaches and carefully selected partners providing services to Federal agencies and Fortune 1000 companies since 1996.

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Jon Walman

Great piece, Ken. As a former hockey player and native Minnesotan, you really nailed it! As a basketball coach, I always tell my players that you can’t score without shooting and the need to defend “the basket”, or in the case of hockey, “the net” (which Minnesota’s D was unable to do). I’ve always been fascinated how sports teaches life and job skills. Congrats to the Dutchmen!