So you want to become a pro player? Follow your dreams of making it to the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup. Make a living playing a sport that you love. Live in the spotlight. Growing up, and going through the Canadian minor hockey system, players get a wide array of advice on the world of hockey. The usual tid-bits include the need to get an education, length of hockey career, and the small percentage of active particpants that get to make hockey their living. Pretty standard and very repetitive.
Unfortunately hockey, and other pro sports, have become akin to hollywood movies. A pyramid scheme with those at the top making tremendous amounts of money, while supporting players/actors are replaceable and lead a much different life. Aside from the NHL, players can make a living at hockey in the AHL, ECHL, UHL, IHL, Europe or Asia. Each league, and situation varies in style of play, salary, and format. Every individual player’s experience inside the game is different. However, there have been some noticeable trends, both positive and negative, for those making a career as a hockey player. Here are just a few:
Culture & Travel. As a pro player you get the opportunity to travel a little bit more, and usually live in a different culture. When you live in a different city and country, you begin to learn about its history and customs that are different than your own. You may learn that there are more often than one way to do things or to speak a different language, try drinks and foods that you have never heard of and take in different festivals. You will also likely get to see how other parts of this world view the game of hockey and North America.
Adaptability. Playing pro hockey, every year you pretty much have a new set of teammates and friends, that come from different ages, backrounds, religions, and values. You must be able to be a part of a group, and work towards a common goal. This makes a hockey player more open-minded, and communicative. This is partly why pro players are great dinner guests and usually do well in a sales career.
Ability to Work Through Challenges in a Group. Having to work through high pressure circumstances with a team, gives a player the ability to accept a role and stay focused on a specific task. They develop inter-personal skills, become mentally tough and learn leadership values. These qualities are being lost as more and more youths interact behind a computer screen in the internet era. These assets are great for any company in a competitive market that values teamwork and requires its employees to work together to solve problems or issues. And it is partly why many Hockey players have made their way into being a Police Officer or Fire Fighter.
Job Skills/Resume. Unfortunately to advance to the pro levels, it is required that players make sacrifices that require them to spend most of their time and energy developing their game. This leaves very little time and opportunity for an individual to build easily recognizable skills that relate to the regular working world. It is almost impossible to take quality internships or entry level positions inside a company that become your foundation for a working experience. Players end up exiting hockey at 25/30/35 years of age with a lack of real world job skills that can be easily put on a resume.
Public Image: There is no escaping it. The more success you have as a player the more friends and popularity you will have. But this is a double-edged sword! Cost the team a victory or stop putting up points, and it must mean you don’t care or are a bad person. People will judge you without ever meeting you.
Personal Relationships. One thing you never hear as a young player is the amount of strain a career in hockey can put on your existing relationships. For long periods of time you are away from your friends and family. You may not be able to attend family gatherings such as holidays, weddings and funerals. Having a relationship while playing the game is also difficult for a partner/spouse who usually will not be able to work, attend school, and is displaced from her own support network of friends & family. This can put a lot of added strain on a player as the sole provider and on the relationship.
Habits. Some habits are great inside the game, but can be detrimental outside the game. Hockey players have a need to compete on the ice and off it. It is no surprise that players turn the habit of playing cards on the bus into a serious gambling addiction fueled by uncontrollable competitive emotion.
It is also extremely hard for players to transition to life outside the game. Punching the clock from 9-to-5 and reporting to a boss day in day out is a difficult lifestyle hurdle for most players to accept after they have spent years on a different clock. Most don’t survive past the first month inside their first job.
Life as a pro hockey can be great. There are some great hidden advantages and unfortunate trends that players must consider before choosing it as their career path. The players unions, NHLPA & PHPA, are trying to provide support programs that make the transition from a playing career easier. But they have a long way to go. Get educated and be prepared for the challenges that come with a pro hockey career.
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