The word “hustle” is uttered constantly in all athletic events. What does “hustle” mean? How important is it? How can and should “hustle” be judged? I would define “hustle” as always exerting one’s best effort – physically, mentally, socially and emotionally.
“Physical” hustle is certainly the most common thought about effort, and this type of hustle should be performed at all times by all players. It has nothing to do with an athlete’s skills. If someone is the least talented player on the team, he/she can at least try his/her best in all situations so that one always achieves one’s potential. Perhaps, the most important physical ability that an athlete can possess is the ability to work to the highest degree. It is not difficult to discern when a player is physically loafing during a hockey game. Theoretically, if you have a broken leg, you should physically hustle as much as possible for a person with a broken leg! The most common type of physical hustle employed by skaters in a hockey game is forechecking and backchecking. What percentage of athletes do you believe always exhibit 100% effort in these areas? (Refer to my articles on "Backchecking.")
Everyone on a team should be tied for first place as the best physical hustler on the squad. If this is not the case, then the team is clearly underperforming, and some people should be held accountable. However, if it were possible to determine the level at which one’s maximum physical effort should be and everyone was delivering his/her full amount, the answer for improvement is in other aspects of hustle. Indeed, one aspect of a coach’s job is to analyze and draw the best from all players.
“Mental” hustle is learning hockey strategy by always listening to the coach, asking questions, and studying the game – remaining alert in order to recognize situations and respond accordingly. There are dozens of choices with which a player is confronted during a game. For example, if a defenseman is challenged with a one-on-one attack from a talented stickhandler and is beaten because the former was mesmerized by the puck instead of playing the body, this defenseman is guilty of a lack of mental hustle. His “physical’ hustle was likely present, but his thought process was deficient.
“Social and emotional” hustle refers to supporting properly all teammates by establishing solid relationships with them. For example, no one should use a derogatory tone in correcting a teammate after his/her mistake – if indeed one should even in the first place address someone in such a situation. A coach should clearly establish the actions that may be taken if such a scenario occurs. Disrespectfully lecturing (especially publicly) a teammate in the heat of action after a perceived mistake can have disastrous effects because it could ignite a retaliatory self-defense response leading to “whatever.” If advice must be given to any player from another, it should be in a non-threatening, uplifting, and private manner.
“Social and emotional” hustle can also involve positive comments to teammates, such as: “Good play;” “It’s great to be on your line;” “This team would be in trouble without you;” – and many more. Also, off-ice socialization can be a key to enhancing a team’s success. A team will certainly have more fun and perform better if there is a feeling of friendship and mutual respect among all players. Saying or doing anything which displays one’s passion for the concept of team, its individuals, and the game of hockey can only produce positive results.
As I have previously stated, nothing should prevent all players from being equal in “physical” hustle, but different personalities can cause varied levels in the other types of hustle. A player should do all that he/she can before a game, during a game, immediately after a game, and between games in order to promote and succeed in all areas of hustle. If it could be measured, what would be your percentage for each category of hustle, and what would your combined score be?