Pull the Goalie

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A good storyteller engrosses a reader in a topic he had no previous interest in. A great storyteller also distills a globally applicable truism in that story. Malcolm Gladwell is such a storyteller.

I want to tell you about a story from Gladwell about ice hockey, not just because I’m Canadian and it’s about hockey, but because it has an important lesson.

Background: Here in Canada we strap knives to our feet and slap a round piece of rubber with sticks on a sheet of ice. The goal is to put the piece of rubber, called a puck, passed the goalie and into the net of the other team. Oh, and there’s fighting allowed.

Odds are that if you grew up in Canada you played hockey. I played hockey. Getting beat up on the ice is why I started lifting weights, but that’s a story for another day.

If a hockey team is losing at the end of the game then it’s common practice for the coach to remove the goalie in favour of an extra attacker. This calculated risk gives the losing team a better chance at scoring a goal to tie the game. The downside is that it leaves an unprotected goal.

Today our story is about pulling the goalie.

Today our story is about how every professional hockey team ignores the data and does this wrong.

Today or story is about you caring less about others’ opinions.

Let’s dive in.

When to Pull the Goalie

In addition to apologizing for everything, every red-blooded Canadian knows that the best time to pull the goalie is when a team is down by a goal with about a minute and a half in the game. If down by two goals that can be extended a bit – to two minutes. Maybe 2:30 if the coach is a risk-taker.

Tradition dictates one way, data seems to suggest a different story. According to Pulling the Goalie: Hockey and Investment Implications, it’s irresponsible to wait that long. Instead, a goalie should be pulled with:

  • 5:40 left in the game when down by one goal.
  • 11:30 left in the game when down by two goals.

Sorry. Not sure what I’m sorry about. But feel like saying sorry.

I haven’t analyzed the study. I’m not smart enough. I can only assume that it’s accurate. Sorry.

Assuming that the data stands, why don’t hockey teams pull the goalie earlier? Sure, the risks of getting scored on putting the game out of reach increase, but who cares? In hockey it doesn’t matter if you lose by one goal or ten.

Or does it?

Data plays a central role in other major sports. It’s led to more 3-point attempts in basketball, shorter starts by pitchers in baseball, and risky fourth-down conversion attempts in football like the one by the Philadelphia Eagles in last year’s super bowl where quarterback Nick Foles caught a pass in the end zone.

The catch by Foles is heralded as one of the best play calls in modern-day football. I loved it because Boston lost. Sorry, but you jerks from Boston have won enough for a few lifetimes. Going for it on the fourth down was a risky call by Doug Pederson, the coach of the Eagles, because if the play didn’t work, it would have gone down as one of the worst play calls in history. It was a big risk. Pederson was going to be the hero or the goat – there was no in-between – it was not a safe call.

Pederson did something in last year’s superbowl that it seems like hockey coaches are still unwilling to do – he relied on the data for an important play call and was willing to absorb the vitriol (and probably lose his job) if it didn’t work.

Pederson pulled the goalie early. He didn’t choose the safe play. He was willing to stick his neck out and rely on data at the riskiest time when the stakes were the highest they will ever be. He stubbornly made the right decision because it was the right decision – not caring what other people thought, confident that it didn’t matter what others thought because he knew that others were wrong.

The play worked. The play caught the Patriots by surprise. The Patriots lost. Not sorry.

Tradition is Safe, and Very Often Wrong

Confidence is a willingness to stick your neck out and challenge the way that things are supposed to be done. The safe path is to incestually copy others. It’s comfortable. If somebody else is doing it and it doesn’t work for you then it’s not your fault. You can blame others.

I’ve said countless times here, and in all of my books and publications, that you have to get good. There is no other way. You have to become dedicated to self-improvement. You must invest in your own business development first. You have to acquire marketing skills. Nobody is going to do it for you because nobody cares as much as you. You’re on your own.

When you seek out and invest in high-quality sources that most ignore, you begin to see opportunities that others miss. You also become aware of how many obvious, knock-you-over-the-head stupid mistakes your colleagues are making with their marketing.

Gladwell argues that the reason coaches don’t pull the goalie earlier is that they don’t want to lose their jobs. It looks bad on a team to lose by 3 goals as opposed to one. Tradition dictates that you pull the goalie with a minute and a half left. If you do it and lose, you cannot be blamed. If you pull the goalie with five minutes left and lose by 3, then it looks bad, fans leave earlier, and it makes for a less competitive finish. Even though the odds of a comeback and win are higher and it’s the right decision, the coach has more to lose by pulling the goalie early.

I can’t speak for the hockey coaches, but I want you to ask yourself whether you’re taking the safe, traditional, route because you are scared of looking bad?


Are you willing to take risks if you knew that they were calculated and intelligent, despite how you feel it might make you look to others?

If you’re the latter, then you’re just the type of person I want as a subscriber to Fitness Marketing Monthly. The next issue is all about Positioning. My lead column is called “If You Think You’re Competing, You’ve Already Lost” and begins with the following quote,

“The money we receive will always be in a direct ratio to the demand for what we do, our ability to do it, and the difficulty in replacing us.”

You don’t want to miss the next issue, and the only way to get it is to subscribe. Here’s the link:

–> www.theptdc.com/fmm

It’s time for you to go for a touchdown on the fourth down. It’s time for you to take a risk, not caring what others think. It’s time for you to pull the goalie.

-Coach Jon

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