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On focus, work ethic and problem solving

07/03/2018, 9:15am CDT
By Kevin Hartzell - Let's Play Hockey Columnist

How do we better prepare our kids to have a Stanley Cup Playoff-type work ethic everyday?

Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill

Every year, we are all reminded how great the Stanley Cup Playoffs are. They were again this year. I love all the other sports, especially football, but there is no other championship where the players have to pay such a severe price to win the playoff trophy. Twenty-plus games at the highest intensity are required to win team sports’ oldest trophy, the Stanley Cup. For the NFL, it is a three-game minimum, four-game maximum effort. Those three or four wins for football are not easy. However, it is not the 20-plus game grind of hockey. Hockey takes a grinding work ethic and sacrifice like no other. I am always amazed.

I have been thinking, how do we better prepare our kids (and hockey players) for such adventure. To have a willingness to persevere. To sacrifice. To have this kind of Stanley Cup work ethic day after day, night after night. Twice this week, I heard complaints about our younger generation. One such complaint was from a grocery store worker I have seen for many years in “my” store.  “These young kids today,” she said, “no work ethic…” You likely have heard it many times also from adults in various fields of endeavors. 

So how did this happen? I am not pointing fingers here; it happened on my watch as well. I am a parent of this generation of young people. I am pointing an equal finger at myself.  

We have kept our kids plenty busy. Our kids are occupied with tasks from morning till night, which include homework and many activities. We run them to this and we run them to that. When they have a minute to breathe, they are often occupied with social media. They grow up busy and then out of our homes with a different sense of “intensity.” They grow their own sense of what they feel might be acceptable sacrifices in life after high school. In the end, grocery store workers, and many others, complain about their work ethic. 

I conducted a hockey camp-experience in May for high school seniors moving upward and onward, as well as for high school underclassmen who endeavor to return to their high school teams in leadership roles. I tried to give our attendees an experience unlike any other. I thought it went well for a first-year endeavor. There will be things I do different next time, but a lot of things were pretty good, I think. It was a great learning experience for me as well.  

Before what I learned, here’s a camp highlight for me. For the three weeks, each Sunday night was a competition Sunday. We did more than play 5-on-5 or 4-on-4. We included odd-man rush competitions, team shootouts and more. The first Sunday, we had five events which included full-ice 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 as two of the five events. In these competitions, we shared with team captains (who then shared with their respective teams) that at each faceoff, the puck would be placed on the faceoff dot, teams would line up and then Team White would win all faceoffs during the first half of the competition, Team Blue the second half. At the end of the Sunday competition night, we met as a group and shared thoughts from the week of things learned.

One of the things I shared with the group was that during the just-completed Sunday competition night, that during the 5-on-5 and 4-on-4 portions, where each teammate knew a faceoff would be won, not once did either team at any time, have a plan for the faceoff. Each team simply brought the puck back to a D, and then went about playing. But not once, was there a “plan.” It was a failure by everyone to not recognize the opportunity, devise a plan and then execute the plan.

This, in essence, was the purpose of the camp. To recondition these boys to think. To be active, proactive participants in the problem-solving equation, both as the presenter of ideas and as listeners. To cooperate as a team to execute the plan. For those moving on in hockey, or at the “grocery store,” this will be expected of them. Pay attention to details, always have situational awareness and use the information gathered to be a problem solver.

Over the three weeks, our group made considerable progress in this regard. I watched many young people start to analyze a drill and ask themselves, “what does this drill ask of me?”, “what are the important details?” and a bigger question of “how I hold myself and my teammates accountable?”

The boys at the camp worked hard physically, they really did. But the key to work is to work hard mentally. To work “smart.” To do this, one must live in the current moment, observe and understand what it is that is about us. Situational awareness! We must learn to work, with focus, with purpose and to problem solve. And know that accountability runs in every direction throughout the group.

As groups go, this group of boys was quiet. They were polite. They were respectful and “nice.” I like nice in a trait for everyone. To a point. I think what our young people need more of is the focus, the attention to details, the problem solving. I suspect that too often society asks for the physical work, but does not allow the time and the freedom required to think and problem-solve. Today’s world of constant “noise” is of little help in this pursuit. 

I could be wrong about all this. But then how do we explain the complaint of the grocery store worker and many other adults with complaints of our current generation of young people and their general lack of desire in the work place? I don’t have answers. Only suspicions.

A St. Paul native and forward for the University of 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

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