In my years of coaching I have seen many players mistake talent for hard work. Players sometimes think they don’t have to put in the extra effort if they are more talented than their peers. This is a false sense of thinking and we have to steer players away from this mentality. With this mentality talented players will always be leap-frogged by harder working players who will develop the talent.
Hard work should not be confused with ‘heart.’ Though very similar, there are differences. Heart is when you grit your teeth and go into the corner against a bigger opponent. Hard work is when you come out of the corner with the puck. Heart and hard work will always prevail over someone with talent but lacking either of those qualities.
I like to refer as advancement through the ranks of hockey as going through a funnel. This funnel effect will happen at numerous times throughout a player’s career and will never stop, even at the highest professional level. Every time you advance through the funnel, you differentiate yourself from those who didn’t make it through the funnel. You have reached a higher level. The hard work, heart and skill progression does not stop here though.
Think of it as this; the first time a player tries out and makes a ‘travel team’ he passes through the funnel. He is now grouped with players of equal caliber and hopefully equal heart and work ethic. However, the players who didn’t make the team are still hungry, they have something to prove. If the player currently on the team does not continue to harbor the work ethic, heart and skill development, they leave the door open.
This happens every single year as players make teams. Eventually, there will be a time when they don’t make a particular team, or make a team and are not able to provide impact as they once were. Maybe this happens at the professional level, perhaps the college level or junior level. This can and probably will, for most players happen at the youth level.
It is our job to instill in our children and our players a hard work ethic. Too often society has made the athlete ‘soft’ by providing participation trophies and allowing our athletes to be comfortable with losing and failure. While this may seem harsh to some, it’s the truth. Athletes who are comfortable will never develop the work ethic, heart or skill to make it to the next level. Athletes should understand that losing or getting cut sucks and they should understand how it feels. This is the only way they will fully enjoy the fruits of their labor by winning championships or making a higher level team in the future.
Not only will this help them in sports, but it will also help them in life. Athletes are great workers because of the work ethic and heart that have been instilled in them. The children who are taught these things will inevitably grow up and take these traits with them in everything they do. They will give back to their families, their community and their careers. This produces a tight-knit society which values hard work, determination and perseverance. Something we can all be proud of.