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Kids deserve to keep playing

09/08/2020, 11:00am CDT
By Kevin Hartzell

Being risk-aversive is counterproductive

Don’t know how your handling these crazy times. Me, I don’t know I am handling them the best. I bleed Red, White and Blue, but feel like mostly we are letting ourselves down. Some of you are not going to agree with what I am about to share, but also, many of you will.  So here’s what I have to say about all this fear permeating our land.

They say in hockey, and it is true, the two-goal lead is one of the more dangerous situations in hockey. That meaning, if you have a two-goal lead and the teams are mostly equally matched, maintaining that lead is precarious. There are at least a couple of reasons for this.

First, there is motivation. Human instincts are to cruise a bit when things are “good”. Remaining disciplined and hungry is the goal but often is a difficult thing to maintain. When life is good, we sometimes skip the hard. After all, when life is good, why would anyone want life to remain “hard.”    But, of course, to maintain the good needs just as much work as getting to that point. As an old saying goes, “it’s hard to get to the top, but often even harder to remain there.” That’s mostly a motivation issue for the team at the top.

The other side of the coin, the team that is down often “grits their teeth” with added motivation to get what they don’t have – to get to the top. With one team on cruise control (and often not knowing it) the team that is behind and more motivated creates for a hard opponent to hold off.

However, motivation is not the only large factor in this difficult two-goal lead equation. The factor that folks often miss in this two-goal lead scenario is risk taking. The team with the lead too often starts to become risk-aversive. One never wants to take unnecessary risk of course, but not taking some risk…well, it often comes with a lack of reward. We all know in all things there is a risk-reward formula. What plays into this is the team that is behind feels they have less to lose (they are already behind) and their risk taking continues or even at times accelerates. There still needs to be a smart balance in risk taking even when behind, but risk taking often swings in favor of the team that is behind. So, this problem with the “two goal lead” is not just one of motivation, but also one of risk taking.  

I say, “Welcome to America” in 2020. We have had, in my opinion, better than a two-goal lead as a country for many years now. It seems to me we lack the perspective needed to stay on top. We have, as a society, become tentative and a bit risk-aversive. We want life to not be hard, not to include risk. Things are too good, too nice, to risk what we have…right?  

I have seen this coming for some time. No one should ever go hungry or be given too steep a climb. With how good many have it, everyone should have it good. There are many mantras out there I personally find troubling.  We as a people and a country, in my opinion, have become that team with the lead – spoiled by our success and not wanting to experience anything much that is hard, and certainly not risky.  

AND PLEASE DON’T GET ME WRONG, I KNOW SOME PEOPLE DO INDEED HAVE IT HARDER THAN OTHERS. Some are victims in our world and we should all be committed to helping them, but those that are true victims are not many.

Most have the same opportunity daily. To get out of bed with purpose.  To be honest and hard working. To not make excuses for whatever happens in their lives. To take charge. To take risk. To win and to lose…all part of everyday life.

But in my opinion, many, too many, are playing afraid. It seems many are thinking that because America climbed the mountain, now we should all enjoy the fruits of our labors. I never looked at the fruit, the winning of a game or championship, as the reward. The reward is in the struggle.

So I sit back and watch, and it all makes me sad. We are afraid of so many things. And now a virus to boot! Our kids should be playing hockey and other sports. Heck, our kids are at higher risk from the sport itself than they are the virus. But no matter. We are risk-aversive, and of course we have this crazy culture that should you allow risk in your “thing,” you may have a lawsuit coming at you. Just more reason to be risk-aversive.

That many of our kids are being held back from sports, and many of the other crazy things we have submitted to, is sad. It’s sad because we have the science. Kids will suffer more from the sport itself – both short term and long-term injuries will no doubt be more detrimental than this virus. Yet, the virus poses another risk, another risk which some will say, “why take more risk…we do have a four goal lead you know!”

Had we taken better care of our elderly, we wouldn’t be talking so much about any of this. And we need to keep being careful with granny, but we always should have and we always should going forward for a multitude of reasons and potential ailments.

To see us in our current state makes this one person pretty sad. Kids should be playing their sports. If you don’t like it, stay home and take no risk. Living every day requires risk. Like you, I have seen the numbers. The risk to our kids is low (and that doesn’t mean NO RISK). I have no doubt that there is more risk in just playing the game…which never stopped us before, nor should it.  Its’ time to stand up for our kids!  


A St. Paul native and forward for the Universityof Minnesota from 1978-82, Kevin Hartzell coached in the USHL from 1983-89 with the St. Paul Vulcans and from 2005-12 with the Sioux Falls Stampede. He was the head coach of Lillehammer in Norway’s GET-Ligaen from 2012-14. His columns have appeared in Let’s Play Hockey since the late 1980s. His book “Leading From the Ice” is available at

Tag(s): State Of Hockey  Youth  Kevin Hartzell