What Skills Can Team Sports Teach You for Working Life?

Like almost any Finn, I love watching ice hockey. The World Championships every spring are of course a must, but this weekend I went to see my 11-year-old cousin play in the local league (okay, I’ve been there two weekends in a row now, I can’t even go get a cup of coffee during the game because it’s too exciting, and I got my cousin’s autograph – I might be becoming their biggest fan).

Watching the 11-year-olds pass the puck from one to another, skate faster than I ever could, fall down on the ice and get back up again in a matter of seconds got me thinking how many amazing skills these kids are developing through their hobby. Not just techniques to win the game but skills that are in high demand in today’s working life. Here’s my listing on what team sports can teach you for the working life, inspired by a local Finnish little league ice hockey game:

1. You Cannot Win Alone

In sports, many teams have their “star players” who everybody cheers for. They score most of the goals or otherwise lead their team to a victory. However, these star players would have a hard time getting the puck behind the goal keeper if somebody else didn’t pass it to them in the first place. And somebody else didn’t pass it to that player previously.

If you try to play all the roles in the team by yourself, you’ll learn very quickly that you ain’t getting too far. You cannot win in ice hockey, or at work, or in life in general, unless you learn how to work with others.

2. Fail and Get Quickly Back on Your Feet

One of the things that really impressed me during the game was the way the kids dealt with failure. They would fall down on the ice and be back up in a couple of seconds, they would lose the puck to the other team and immediately take steps to get it back, or someone would score and the goal keeper would just toss the puck back and get ready to continue.

During the game, there is no time to feel sorry for yourself, or to blame others, or to dwell on past mistakes. You just get yourself back together and keep going. This mindset is so important in some of today’s most successful organizations. Rather than thinking about what was done wrong and whose fault it was, you focus on moving on and finding a solution.

3. Everyone Has Their Unique Set of Strengths

Just like in work teams in organizations, everyone in the ice hockey team has their own purpose based on their strengths. One is a fast skater and can get the puck quickly to the other team’s end of the rink and another one can read the game well and anticipate where to position themselves to be in the right spot at the right time.

Understanding what you are good at is SO important when choosing the right career that will make you happy. And it is equally important to understand what other people are good at and to appreciate all the different skills and strengths. This is crucial for leaders in order to help their teams to develop and succeed. An increasing number of organizations is starting to recraft the roles to fit each employee’s skill sets and fully utilize their strengths, rather than trying to fit people into strictly defined job descriptions.

4. Plan Strategically

Even though ice hockey is quite fast-paced compared to some other sports, it doesn’t mean that the players are just winging it the whole time. Indeed, someone more knowledgeable in ice hockey could probably tell you all about the strategies behind the game.

However, it is clear even to a non-specialist viewer watching a local little league game that there is a LOT of thought behind the moves on the ice. The players cannot act based on the current situation but rather they need to anticipate where there game is going to so that they can be in the right spot at the right time. This is, of course, a crucial skill in the professional world as the companies that don’t plan strategically for the future will usually lag behind in the competition.

5. Learn How to Win, and to Lose

Finally, a competition teaches you to always aim to win, and also that sometimes you don’t, despite your best effort.

Watching the game it was clear that all the players were giving their 100% until the very end. In fact, one of the games ended in a tie after my cousin’s team scored a goal during the last 45 seconds of game time. Being persistent and aiming to reach your goals is of course important also in the working life. However, it is equally important to learn that sometimes the other team, or sales person, or candidate was better, and to think how you could improve to win next time.

What professional skills have your hobbies taught to you? Share in the comment section below or drop me a line here!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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