Like many aspiring young hockey players, I grew up with the singular focus of playing in the NHL. I was fortunate enough to have been drafted at age 18 and signed a professional contract with the Los Angeles Kings at age 20.
My first season of professional hockey was eye opening. Many of my teammates and opponents were much older than me, and some had been bouncing around from team to team, league to league and even to different continents for years. Most of them had little to no education and were hanging on to every last ounce of life in hockey. They had no idea what the rest of their life would look like and most saw playing professional hockey as the pinnacle.
I decided after that first year that I needed to have a back-up plan in case hockey didn’t work out for me. Unfortunately, my second season ended midway through the year because of an injury, but those months away from the game gave me an opportunity to look beyond my life as a hockey player and I decided to enroll in a distance education program. I was still focused on my hockey career, but I knew that I didn’t want to follow down the same path as many of my teammates had – and I knew I needed to consider the next phase of my life after hockey.
Unfortunately, a major injury forced me to retire from hockey at age 24, but because I had taken several university courses over the previous seasons, I was able to transition from hockey player to full-time student rather seamlessly. I obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and began my second career (after hockey) in the finance field.
I’m very thankful I realized how vital education is to developing a successful and fulfilling career after hockey. The sport provided me with many intangible skill sets employers desire and entrepreneurs require, but combined with a formal education, I have given myself a competitive advantage over those with neither.
The reality is that the odds of ‘making it’ to the NHL are extremely slim. For those who do, the average career length is 5.5 years. That means by the time most players retire from hockey, they have 30-35 years of working life ahead of them. Having an education will give athletes an enormous advantage when they begin the next chapter of their life.
I would encourage all young aspiring hockey players to keep their dream of playing on the NHL alive, but not abandon their education along the way. One should not come at the expense of the other.
This guest post is written by Greg Phillips, a former hockey player from Winnipeg who was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1996.