Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Layers of Leadership

When Roberto Luongo gave up his captaincy of the Vancouver Canucks, one phrase he used ad nauseum to explain his decision was "you can always lead without a letter." Basically what he was saying was that while there is only room for one captain and four assistant captains on a hockey team, it doesn't mean that they are the only 5 players who are allowed to be leaders.

Think of a hockey team's composition as being similar to that of the Planet Earth - there is the core, which is responsible for controlling some of the most critical functions of the unit. Then there is the mantle, which uses what the core is generating to carry out its own functions and which works to create valleys and mountains for the next layer to use. And finally there is the crust, which uses what the core and the mantle have created to make the earth liveable and sustainable. The same functions occur on a hockey team. The formally named captain and assistant captains who wear the letters on their jerseys are the core. They are responsible for laying the foundation for the team by setting the standards and helping everyone play up to those standards. They make the tough decisions on behalf of the team, all the while keeping in mind that they must act in the best interest of the team. The core is assisted by the hockey team's version of the mantle - veteran players who, despite not being given a formal leadership role, are still very much a part of the fabric of the team. The core leans on these veteran players to provide support and build on what the core is preaching. And finally, there is the crust - the rookies and younger players of the team. They may feel like they are far away from the core but in reality they are a critical component in ensuring that the core's vision of the team pans out. And despite not being as strong as the core or mantle players, the crust players are still free to forge their own blueprint on the team.

Every player on a hockey team serves a function both on and off the ice. Nowhere in any hockey rule book is it written that rookies are not allowed to lead or that veterans are not allowed to learn from the rookies. Veterans bring a sense of stability to the group. They have been around different situations before and so they have the benefit of being able to draw upon those experiences to help guide themselves and the team through the ups and downs of a season. Rookies bring a sense of optimism to the group. For us rec-hockey players, we rely on the rookies to inject some energy into the room when we are all dozing off while waiting for our late-night-I-should-be-in-bed-right-now games to start. One of the greatest strengths of the rookies is that they don't over-analyze the game. They play it as they see it.

Women's hockey brings with it a very intimate style of leadership. Women have a special bond with each other and it means that we develop a fierce loyalty to each other. This loyalty is what fuels our desire to block shots and take hits for one another. Women are also very maternal and comforting and, in my experiences of playing hockey throughout the years, this emotion is reflected well in how women lead a team. Most teams have a few players who are quite a bit older than everyone else. They get offended if you refer to them as "team mommies" but in actuality that is exactly what they are and the title is not meant to be a jab at their age. It is more a reflection of the comfort and kindness they show to the team. Most teams also contain quite a few middle-aged (in sports that usually means age 25-35) players who are less maternal and more tough-love. They're a bit more cocky and they push the team hard every night but they are equally as supportive as the team mommies. The only difference is, they are less willing to share band aids and energy drinks with you and they don't apologize after they drop f-bombs.

One of my favourite sports quotes of all time is: "Good players inspire themselves. Great players inspire others." Before the start of each season and each game we must ask ourselves: what layer of the team are we, what can we do to bring leadership to the group, and what can we do to inspire those around us to play harder? And after every game we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves: did I do enough? If the answer is yes, we are not only building towards winning championships and trophies and medals, we are also building towards a legacy of wisdom and leadership that the next generation of players will carry with them going forward, ensuring that our legacies as players live on into the future.