Legitimate Excuse for Failure: #1

contributed by Steven McKichan (Southwestern Ontario)

I PLACED A SIMPLE BUT POWERFUL quote on a whiteboard during one of my summer camps several years ago:

To have the ultimate result of making the NHL you must systematically and with vigor identify all potential issues that could derail your career. Once each area is identified and addressed you are left with only one valid excuse for failure. You weren’t good enough.

I want to expand on my quote because within those words one can find the elusive secret to playing in the NHL. Making the NHL is a dream that everyone who plays the game has had and quite frankly is still festering in the minds of the 30-plus age group in beer leagues.

bigstockphoto_Ice_Hockey_Gatekeeper_2230125We all know the odds are slim, but we still choose to believe that we are the chosen one; the one that will make our parents, our friends, and our hometown proud. When it becomes evident that we aren’t the chosen one there are two types of people.

Which are you?

I have a unique perspective on this discussion because I have made the NHL twice in two distinct disciplines, over a span of time and without the benefit of a seamless transition from player to coach. The difficulty in the coaching role was not being able to take advantage of the old boy’s network that players with long playing careers use to leapfrog into management positions.

In précis form here is a quick recap of both journeys.

As a goaltender I made the NHL by stepping on the ice to play the New Jersey Devils in a NHL regular season game December 5, 1990. As a coach I made the NHL again in 2003 when I was named as the Goaltending Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Each journey was fraught with figurative peril and the destination was arrived at against truly tall odds.

There are some key elements of my journey that directly apply to this exercise in determining legitimate excuses for failure. I think some of the more popular excuses I hear can serve as blueprint for us. These are the excuses you hear around the gym, the rink,  at parties. All failed athletes will readily discuss which successful players they played with and against and typically let it be known they were just as good as the guy that made it. The could have, would have, should have group is a large one indeed.

Indeed many of you reading this may recognize a little or a lot of these excuse traits within yourself.

My intention is not to belittle failed attempts to make the big leagues but to critically analyze why people don’t make it so that those that still can make it don’t fall into those same excuse pitfalls.

Excuse # 1: Injuries ended any chances I had to make it.

There are definitely legitimate cases of injuries that have certainly ended careers. Several players have broken necks and are paralyzed. This point is not about this miniscule yet tragic group. This is about players that are still able to play recreational hockey or at least function at a normal job. Every player that makes the NHL has had serious injuries and a majority of players have had surgeries of some sort. Players have overcome eye damage, concussions blown out knees and shoulders.

My example is typical in some respects. I dislocated my left shoulder 15 times and my right shoulder 17 times, each dislocation requiring an ER visit to reduce the dislocation. As a result I had both shoulders repaired in major bilateral surgery by world renowned Dr. Richard Hawkins.

I have had my left knee operated on, my left hip adductor muscle completely release from its insertion at my pelvis and coil up like a softball under my skin near my knee.

I have had over a dozen concussions, three distinct and lengthy losses of consciousness on the ice, including a point shot one timer the burrowed in and stuck in my Chris Osgood style college helmet.

I have had floaters and retina issues, but I still made it.

The most convenient excuse for failure is because of injuries. It takes responsibility for the failed career out of the athlete’s hands. It allows for the ego comforting thought that “I was good enough to make it.”

It is an extremely rare case where a doctor would say without equivocation that it is 100% impossible for an athlete to continue playing their sport.

Injuries kill the will to overcome them more often than the injury kills the career.


Copyright © 2008 Steve McKichen; originally published on www.futurepro.com.

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