A Brilliant Disguise: Learning to Disguise Your Weaknesses and Play to Your Strengths

On youth hockey teams, player depth is constantly changing as players move up a level, graduate, focus on other sports and suffer from injuries. When the talent is deep, even the most skilled players battle for playing time. That is hockey. You are not alone. No crying in hockey. Keep on your course and keep the faith. Trust me, every player has been there. A really great piece of advice to everyone wanting more playing time may sound simple but it is very important: Hide your weaknesses and highlight your strengths. (This advice goes for both the stars and the non-stars on the team—all are equally important members of a team.)

“Any guy who can maintain a positive attitude without much playing time earns my respect.”
—Magic Johnson, basketball player

The biggest weakness in my game was my hands. Over-handling the puck was my nemesis. (In fact, a friend once asked why I was wearing wrist guards at warm-ups. I told him my wrists were torn up from getting chopped. He said, “You carry the puck long enough to get chopped, buddy?”) Trying to beat guys one-on-one while stickhandling around them was not my game—but at times I thought it was. And I found that when I over-stickhandled…I was benched. But I also learned that I fared much better if I made one quick move and passed it out of my defensive end. I had a hard accurate pass and that was my strength. So, I began to take pride in my tape-to-tape passes. For me, that feeling was like scoring a goal. I always say, put the puck in the forwards hands and let them work their magic. Figuring out that passing and shooting was my strength and highlighting it was a tactic that seemed to be working. More playing time for Serowik.

After practice, I worked on my weakness: stickhandling. I did it all—figure eights, golf balls, tennis balls, cones, forehand, backhand, saucer passes against the boards. Anything to soften up my rough set of paws. Over and over and over and over and over. During my pro years, every summer day I practiced my stickhandling in school parking lots where I had enough room and could focus with nobody around. I did whatever it took to work on my weakness.

“You’re never a loser until you quit trying.”
—Mike Ditka, football player and coach

The top player on every team has weaknesses, too. Disguising them—learning to not call attention to them—is key. No hockey player is expertly skilled at all aspects of the game. Working on skills is important, but hiding what we are not as skilled at is also a strategic move. If you are a grinder, don’t over-handle the puck, grind it out. If you have gifted hands and can dangle, go for it but do it responsibly. If you are too slow, question what kind of shape you are in as that is something you can control and change.

Remember, “It could be you and it should be you,” right? It is going to be someone, so why not you. A dream becomes a reality when you make a plan. Plan your work and work your plan.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Jeff Serowik, a former NHL player and founder/president of Pro Ambitions Hockey, for this story.

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