Major Life Lessons I Learned In The Hockey Arena

hockey_puck_stick_CIRCLEEat, sleep, drink hockey. That’s what it was like growing up.

I remember that first Leafs game at Maple Leaf Gardens. And zooming around zillions of roads in the back of my parents’ car to freezing small town arenas.

I was devastated when Gretzky was traded to the Kings. And I always counted down the hours until the next time I could lace up the skates.

And those friendships help shape you in a titanic way.

Last week while playing hockey with some guys from church I thought, ‘There are some pretty major life lessons I learned playing this game.’

So I thought I’d share:

1. You need to show up to share the victory

Victory isn’t one moment; it’s the culmination of a thousand. You show up to practice. You sweat. You fall. You get up. You earn a place. You lose. You keep at it. You win.

And the fact that you’re on a team means that others are relying on you (and you on them).

Isn’t the same true for life? Show up, be there when it counts—for your family, for what matters. Victory isn’t one moment; it’s the culmination of a thousand.

2. You play the team you have (not the team you wish you had)

You can moan till the cows come home about wishing for this or that player. But it’s a distraction.

I’m taking the title of this one from Kennon Callahan. But it’s true; and you learn it over time. Look at your teammates (or your family, or church, or work mates), and if you keep longing for the players and team you wish you had, you’ll miss the team you do have. It’s about playing to your strengths.

In terms of faith I think about it like this: Your strengths are clues to what God will do through only you. In a similar way, each player and team are unique and they need to find their voice on the ice.

And you, in life.

In our families we often fall victim to the curse of constant comparison. We look around and wish our kids were measuring up by doing such-and-such or that our house looked like so-and-so’s. But that’s neglecting the gifts you’ve already been given.

I remember this one team who looked totally unimpressive. But you couldn’t knock them down and they rarely gave up the puck. They didn’t try anything fancy; they just did well what they could do. And they won!

3. The best defense is a good offense

I probably heard this from a dozen coaches. Too often (in hockey, and in life) we get on our heels. We feel like we’re defending, and that everything is coming at us and there’s no turning it all around.

But in my experience, the best way to push back is to load the cannons and push into enemy territory—eyes wide open and unafraid. Nine times out of ten whoever is on their heels loses.

The winner is on the hunt. Stop whining and go for it.

4. You have to know the rules

Hockey is a game that is won within certain parameters. If you keep going offside (when someone goes into the offensive zone before the puck does), you’ll never reach the net.

Life too is best navigated when we learn the right wisdom and apply it. Otherwise we probably won’t get to where we need to go.

5. You fall together; you rise together

Think of your family, your friends. When things are on the up, it’s great. All smiles and high fives. But when things bottom out, who’s left?

The ones who are still there are your real team. You sip the champagne together, but you also take your knocks together. It’s called fellowship.

Oprah said it like this: “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

6. The gain is where the pain is

We spend lots of money and energy avoiding pain. But 9 times out of 10, that’s where the payoff is.

I’m not talking about things like abuse. I’m talking about doing the extra lap. About bettering yourself when you’d rather sit on the couch. It’s about sacrificing good things for the right things. It’s about understanding pain not as something to be avoided at all costs, but a sign pointing you to where you need to grow.

As we often hear, “No pain, no gain.”

7. It’s just a game (but it’s a very important game)

Of course, it’s a game, but it’s never just a game. It’s about integrity and character. It’s about teamwork and capitalizing on chances.

And in the end, we all get a bag of chips and go home. God doesn’t love you any less if you lose.

But the game isn’t just a game in the way that Hungry Hippos is a game. It’s a metaphor for life. If you give up easily you might just give up easily. If you don’t care about the outcome, you might live like the outcome doesn’t matter.

I’m not sure I’d say that life is just a game. It’s more than that. But it is in the sense that there is only a certain amount of time to bring who you are to the table.

8. Tomorrow is a new day

No defeat is final. The sun comes up tomorrow. Each new day has the capacity to redeem.

There is something about sports that always has you looking to the horizon, to the next game and possible win. Your losses in life can define you—but you don’t have to let them.

9. Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been

That’s a Gretzky quote. He had a spidey-sense of seeing a play evolve before it happened. So think ahead.

Doesn’t that ring true for life too?

Change is the only constant that stays the same. Life moves. And if we’re going to be successful—whether in hockey, or as thinking beings in 2015—I think it’s best to be fully aware of where the action is headed.

There’s a reason the rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield.

To sum up, hockey was a great part of my life. And I’m glad that more recently I’ve gotten back into it. (Thanks Gord!)

Now that I look back, the arena was more than ice and that delicious smell of cheap greasy fries. It was a school. I thank my parents for encouraging that part of my education, and my friends for sharing the journey.

I’ll end with this wisdom from an anonymous someone: “There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.”


  1. Great post Matthew. I’ll be rereading this a few times to make all the connections to life in general and the church in particular. Thanks. The only problem I see is your choice in teams – the Leafs, really?


    1. Hi Grant, haha! I know it’s not a popular time to be a Leafs fan. And to be honest, I probably haven’t watched a game in a few years. But they’re my go to team and I’ll always stand by them—even if I don’t know what they’re up to! Lol


  2. Matthew-it is becoming uncanny-a God thing I am starting to believe- that you put to print exactly what I need to hear, remember and strive towards. It is just a game but one worth playing. Thank you for this message today.


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