Hockey, Teams and Self-Leadership

by  Heather Coleman-Voss  |  Self Leadership

We are a hockey family.  That’s for sure, and most of the time we are knee deep in it.

Yes, for eight months out of the year our time is devoted to coordinating the crazy hockey schedule while still making sure dinners get made, homework gets done, the kids are getting enough sleep and making school the priority. Our family activities revolve around the hockey schedule. Sleeping-in on the weekends between the months of September and April is a concept that we are no longer familiar with. Somehow, we have maintained our sanity during the 8 month season while simultaneously airing out uniforms and equipment – hockey parents, you know whereof we speak.  And next year, we will ramp up to do it all over again – we love it, it’s a great sport, great exercise and a great way for them to learn commitment and the value of teamwork.

Our son Tom* has been on mediocre teams, undefeated teams and like this year (in terms of the scoreboard after every game) a losing team.  It’s been a tough season for the Ravens, but in spite of what the score board says, it is this season that goes down as being the most successful in his four years of playing.  This is the season that he learned the value of self-leadership.

While it may have been a “losing season” in hockey, this season is what has ultimately taught him some of the most important lessons in life. This doesn’t mean it has been an easy season – for him or his teammates. Often, he was very frustrated with himself– other days, he wanted to blame the referees or the other team. As the leaders of our family, we took these opportunities to  guide him into looking at the situation from a different perspective.

One such conversation stands out as most poignant. While discussing a recent team disappointment, we asked him a few questions to encourage him to see this experience as an opportunity. We could see the “aha” moment occur when he stated:

“My job is to help my team”

It was then we realized that we were witnessing the birth of a great leader. He understood that playing hockey this season was not going to be as effortless as it had been in the past. A natural athlete, this was a bit of a shock to him. He also realized that as someone with more experience and gifted with natural athleticism, his responsibility this year was different: He was there to lead, and that meant stepping up to motivate and encourage his individual teammates who could use a little extra help.

“Remember the Titans” is one of our family’s favorite movies. A line that we all know by heart is: “Attitude reflects leadership.” This powerful scene is a reminder to all of us how important it is to lead not just for ourselves, but for our teams.

Attitude Reflects Leadership – Remember the Titans

This was the year he learned – and reinforced for us as well – what character building, the importance of teamwork, and taking responsibility for our own actions means in our daily lives.  It means more than spending two minutes in the penalty box only to go out and commit the penalty again.

“Do not only point the way but lead the way.” ~ Sioux Proverb.

Paul has spent a great deal of time working with our son on how to be a good winner and, more importantly, how to be a good loser. Playing on a winning team does not necessarily mean the team will get a trophy – the most important wins come from the actions and attitude one has while working through what some may consider a crisis situation. Tom* showed through his actions on and off of the ice that collaboration is key to the success of any team. He learned that competing against your own team for recognition or rewards is the first step to the dissolution of a team. This concept taught him the benefits of working as a team, passing the puck when he could and creating better opportunities for his team to score.  He showed that lending a hand to help others up (sometimes literally!) is what great leaders do – strengthening the team in spirit and in times when competition is fierce on the other side of the ice.

As you lead your team towards victory while avoiding unnecessary trips to the “sin bin”remember – leadership is a learning process. The truly great leaders are always evolving. Acts of leadership are often times evidenced in the small things which have the greatest impact. Leadership isn’t just the responsibility of the boss or the coach. As a valued team member – how do you participate in the leadership of your team?

Author’s Note: This post was written in collaboration with my husband, Paul. The post came to life after a discussion we were having on LeadChange, character-based leadership and family leadership. This is about Paul’s wonderful son, and I am fortunate to be his step-mom! (*Tom is not his real name.)

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What People Are Saying

Catherine  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Wow, it sounds like your son is wise beyond his nine years! Congrats on raising such a fine young man. (Congrats also on surviving that hockey stench for 8 months of the year. That too is impressive!)

I’m a big RtT. fan, and not just because I was am Titan myself. :)

Heather Coleman-Voss  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Hi Catherine!
Thank you for the comments! I am a new ‘hockey mom’ – this is only my second year involved in the practice/game/practice/game schedules. :) I give all hockey parents a lot of credit for their team dedication and the time commitments they make on behalf of their children.

I think part of our responsibility as leaders and parents is to take note of the passions and strengths of our children. Our son is a wonderful young man, and the correlations between his experience and the wisdom he possesses are very similar to what we as organizational leaders see in our own careers.

I appreciate your input! Go Wings. ;)


Dave Ryan  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Nice piece on the “youth hockey lifestyle”. I had two boys who played youth & high school hockey until they left the next. It truly is a rewardingand and provides life-long lessson in many different ways. And as you hang around the sport you will find once you talk with another hockey person (player,coach, parent, official) you have an instant bond.

Heather Coleman-Voss  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Thank you for your comments – aren’t kids amazing? They teach us so much while they are developing their own talents, skills and character.

I’ve noticed that “Hockey Bond” thing you’re talking about, too!


Deborah Costello  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

I think sports are a powerful teacher for kids and adults alike, and I used to think that it didn’t matter what the parents did or did not do. Playing the sport would teach the necessary lessons on winning and losing, teamwork and leadership. But sports have changed a lot in the past 20 years. There are fewer positive role models on the field, acting as coaches, and sitting in the stands. Our kids hear mixed messages and winning has become so much more important. I think parents MUST help their kids navigate the sports landscape and understand the importance of these lessons against this changing backdrop. I appreciate your sharing of this value.

Heather Coleman-Voss  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Hi Deborah!

You said: “I think parents MUST help their kids navigate the sports landscape and understand the importance of these lessons against this changing backdrop.”

That comment is so critically important, and as a former elementary school teacher I completely agree! The coaches and managers can dedicate countless hours but ultimately, it is the responsibility of the parents to guide our kids. Coaches and teachers are part of that process, certainly – but at the end of the day, we are there to support their efforts while coaching our own children through life.

Thanks for offering your insights!

Daniel Buhr  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

In the summer before his senior year of high school my son kept talking about how excited he was to be captain of the Ultimate Frisbee team in his senior year. I finally said to him, “You know, you haven’t officially been named captain. What happens if you’re not made captain?” Without any hesitation or concern he replied, “That’s ok. I can still be a leader.”
What’s challenging is that a leader can’t be made, you can only provide an environment that allows and encourages a leader to sprout and grow. Team sports are good for that. And what a glorious parental moment when our children show that they get it.
Thanks, Heather, for another great post!

Heather Coleman-Voss  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

“Without any hesitation or concern he replied, “That’s ok. I can still be a leader.”

That had to be a very proud moment as a parent. Your son sounds like a fantastic young adult! I really appreciate your insightful comments!


Jay Kuhns  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Great post. I’ve coached my son’s hockey teams for 5 years, and although we’re on a 12 month plan (whew!) the leadership growth in him is terrific. All sports can teach leadership skills, and those skills will carry over in life.

Steven Gonzalez  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Heather –

Thanks for sharing a personal story to demonstrate leadership and the amazing “things” we can learn from our kids. (It looks like your step-son is following in your Leadership Footsteps!)

I am often amazed on how our young ones are often fast to grab hold, and understand leadership skills, and opportunities, while some adults are slow to adapt to what leadership is all about. (It’s almost as if what we learn as kids, we lose as we get older!)

My favorite takeaway from your post is…. “the most important wins come from the actions and attitude one has while working through what some may consider a crisis situation. He learned that competing against your own team for recognition or rewards is the first step to the dissolution of a team.”

I have witnessed firsthand in my professional career how a leader took to finger pointing and self preservation during a crisis situation. And the team paid mightly for it. In the end, the crisis has grown, and the real problem was never addressed.

Thanks Heather For Your Post


Heather Coleman-Voss  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Hi Steven!
These are great comments – the quick adaptation you highlighted about kids who lead while some adults fail to do so through their own selfish motivations is an important point. Playing against your own team for a perceived selfish ‘gain’ is detrimental for everyone. I wonder if those people realize that the ones they hurt the most are actually themselves. Sometimes children lead where adults should follow.


Heather Coleman-Voss  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Wow! I give you a tremendous amount of credit! As Paul and I were spinning out the ideas for this post, it kept occurring to us how very similar the skills we were discussing with our son with regard to hockey were to leadership roles within the work place.

Thank you for your comment!

Paul Voss  |  14 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Wow, I’m blown away by all the great comments, thank you. As one who inspires to begin blogging…first of all, It’s quite an honor to co-write an article with Heather but to have it be for LeadChange, the place you go for leadership expertise, that is a major thrill!

Heather was tossing a few ideas around when I suggested incorporating the leadership we have been witnessing in him with leadership in the work place. I mean, his quote “My job is to help my team” – in my mind exemplifies character based leadership.

It’s been great to see the responses, and to read the stories about the young leader in your families. So having said that:

@Catherine – Thank you for the compliment :)

@Dave – Your comment about the bond between hockey folks…I need your address to put you on our Christmas card list!

@Deborah – I totally agree…I think the stands are where kids should look first for positive role models!

@Daniel – Here’s to glorious parental moments! Thanks for sharing the story about your son.

@Jay – Sports *is* an excellent way for our kids to learn skills that they will carry with them for life.

@Steven – I have thought the same thing! It kind of reminds me of the popular poem “All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten.” Thanks for the comment!

I would also like to give special thanks to Mike Henry. I am honored to have been able to participate with Heather on what is my first blogging experience. You have a great community of leadership experts here at LeadChange. Thanks, Mike!!


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