Leadership Lessons from House League Hockey

Step into your leadership presence to help your team overcome failures and setbacks. Read this story of a 13 year old boy who did just that.

At a U14 house league hockey game, my son’s team faced the last place team and suffered an embarrassing defeat. As you can imagine, the drive home was a roller coaster of emotions. My 13-year-old son flipped in and out of embarrassment, frustration, blame and anger. 

When he arrived at the house, he came to see me in my office. Calm now, he recounted the game’s twists and turns but then started to go down the rabbit hole of negativity the deeper he got into the story. So I jumped in, “Hey, tonight was a stinger. I would be hurt, too, if I was you. You can’t control people, not the refs or your team. But you can inspire them, and you can motivate them to play better together” He said nothing and walked away after he kissed me goodnight. As the sole female in a house of boys, the lack of response is typical, so I thought nothing of it as I returned to work.

The following day he had another hockey game against the first-place team. My thoughts? “Oh boy, this may be a slaughter after yesterday.” Ready to help, I woke up the morning of the game locked and loaded with an epic Denzel Washington-like motivational speech. I watched my son for any sign that he wanted to be inspired. But nope, the morning was uneventful. No signs and barely any conversation, hmmm.

Once we arrived at the arena, I couldn’t hold back anymore, so I trimmed my speech by 99.9% and said, “Be you out there and focus on what you can control.” He responded with a “Yeah, mom; I got it.” 

“Geez, I didn’t realize” eye roll. Of course, a completely internal reaction; on the outside, I smiled. 

During warmup, my son looked proud as ever. He is the Captain, and what that really means in house league, I don’t know, but he wears it like he is going to the Olympics, and there is something I admire about that mindset. Then, finally, the ref’s whistle rang out in the air, signaling the end of warmups, time to start the game. Then, something unusual happened. My son corralled his team in a circle by their own net, they stood around for a minute or so, and then the energy started to build before erupting in a cheer! 

Contrary to my beliefs, this game did not turn into the slaughter I anticipated. Instead, it was tight, so tight. Clearly our team came out to play. We went up by one goal and held on to win the game. So what the heck just happened? After the game, one of the coaches approached my husband and asked if he had seen the team huddle. “Of course,” my husband answered, “but I wasn’t sure what to make of it” the Coach nodded and responded, “Jaxson asked if he could hold the huddle with the team today instead of the coaches, so we said sure.”

Then the reality of what we witnessed hits. Did our son, the bratty, sweet boy we know, who 12 hours ago wanted to blame the world for his hurt and embarrassment, step up as a Captain? Did this 13-year-old boy take his role to heart? Did he really step onto that ice with the presence of a leader to rally his team to a victory against the first-place team? Yes, he did.

He didn’t ask permission; he didn’t play small in self-doubt. He wears the C, and that’s all he needed. Damn.

We waited until we were alone in the truck before I asked him about the huddle “Jaxson, can I ask what you said to the team before the game?” “Yeah, that last night doesn’t matter, we lost because we didn’t play like a team. These guys know we got our butts kicked last night, and they think they can do the same now. No way, let’s go run their sh*t” as he replayed the story, his voice faded almost to a whisper when he let the swear come out, which I found humorous but pretended like I didn’t hear.

My curiosity in high gear, I asked, “Jaxson, when did you know you were going to do this,” Cool as a cucumber, he responded, “last night before I went to bed, I knew what I had to do.” Awestruck, I almost asked him to come to work and evaluate my leadership skills. But, the part I found fascinating was his conviction and confidence. He wasn’t arrogant or cocky; instead, he was poised and had an air of leadership presence that was inspiring. 

It’s a reminder that when things go south, you can be critical and list the facts, who should’ve done what, and when. Or, with humility and presence, you can lead through tough times by modelling the behavior of “we win together, we fail together, we can and will raise together.” 

Which type of leader will you choose to be?

#leadershippresence #inspiringleadership #teambonding #teamwork #togetherwearestronger