Grit on display in the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Posted by Dean Holden at June 27th, 2013
by Kevin Hartzell, 6 June 2013
Recently I have had a couple of interviews for head coaching positions in our hockey world. I have been twice asked an interesting question. The question was framed something like this: “Your critics claim you are great with the average player, you coach em up as well as anyone, but you don’t prefer the high-end player.”
Where could such a question evolve? The question comes from somewhere out there in the hockey cosmos doesn’t it? Could they so believe I don’t like talented players that they felt compelled to ask me such a question? Crazy, I thought … but the question was asked. I mean who doesn’t like a highly talented player, right?
TED talks is one of my favorite web sites. TED is all about the exchange of good and even great ideas. The subject matter is as varied as can be. Guest speakers talk about subject matters where they have extensive experience, knowledge and passion. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t watch a presentation that challenges my thinking. That’s what makes TED so special.
Often a speaker reinforces something I already know or believe. This happened this last week when I watched Angela Lee Duckworth’s presentation on grit. I love the word “grit” and what I think it stands for. Webster’s definition is “firmness of character, stubborn courage.”
Mine is different and I think the speaker, Ms. Duckworth’s is different, too. I define grit more as “the ability to persevere, the ability to charge forward with the task at hand and to not be deterred by the obstacles one comes across until the task comes to a positive conclusion.” Like the old saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and they don’t stop until a positive outcome is achieved. All of this is grit.
Ms. Duckworth basically said in essence that through her studies, they have determined that the best measure for predicting success in a person is their level of grit. IQ or refined skills, neither do a great predictor for success make. Nor do many other qualities like looks or socio-economic status. But grit does.
I have had numerous debates with other coaches on the merits of talent and grit. They might tell me how important it is to recruit talent. “Can’t teach talent,” they would say. I would reply that they get too worked up on talent. Maybe that sentiment gets bantered about in the hockey cosmos and has now come back at me in the form of questioning my appreciation of talent.
I heard Tony Dungy say after a couple of years out of coaching football when asked what he thought he had learned looking at the game from the “outside.” He said, “Talent is overrated.” Coach Dungy wasn’t saying that talent was not important, nor do I. But I have argued often that there are attributes more important than talent. Maybe that is where this baloney of “I don’t think Hartzell appreciates talent” questions came from.
Talent is important, but talent without grit is rarely if ever going to achieve its potential. Put folks on your team with high talent and low grit and it will serve as a form of team cancer, of underachieving parts. It can be frustrating for teammates to watch talent underachieve and then on occasion be rewarded or acknowledged when their talent allows them and/or the team some occasional success.
Fast-forward to the current Stanley Cup Playoffs and the final four teams – Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. On the matter of grit, it is my belief that these are four of the grittiest teams in the NHL. My opinion is Los Angeles and Boston are super gritty. Pittsburgh and Chicago have the higher level of talent, but make no mistake, they are also high on grit. Their two superstars, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are two of the very grittiest players in the NHL.
Crosby does not get enough recognition for his grit, but I think he is one of the grittiest in the game. He is rarely, if ever, deterred from his mission. On top of his grit, he has some of the best pure hockey talent in the league. When high talent and high grit meet, you have a superstar, one that wears your “C” and is a catalyst in bringing out the talents and energies of his teammates. Grit brings about synergy and chemistry.
How we teach and encourage grit is the key to helping young people realize their potential. Or do we teach it at all? I see plenty of players with talent, but too often with not enough grit. Developing grit in our young people is a topic for another day. In the meantime, we all get to enjoy the best hockey has to offer with the final four teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the end, it is the grit that is the most attractive part of this long grind that makes winning the Stanley Cup, one of the hardest if not the hardest trophy to capture. Every sports championship comes with a price, but I would argue that hockey’s comes with the greatest price of all, a trophy that is rarely if ever won without resolute determination. Every shift of every game matters. And unlike the NFL championship, which I love and appreciate, an NFL team has to play and win only three or four playoff games. An NHL team has to win 16 over what could be a span of as many as 28 games. It is an almost impossible feat to achieve without a high level of grit.
I suspect we will all enjoy the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals. Four great teams full of talent, loaded with grit.
Oh … for the record, I love highly-talented players … with grit!