The Best Part of Hockey: The Hugging | - Edmonton Oilers News and Rumours

The Best Part of Hockey: The Hugging

I have to admit, one reason I love hockey is because I love the celebrations after goals are scored. Rough and tumble men, who sweat, smash, and fight for an hour display toothless exuberance with their teammates –in public no less. It is one of the oddities of hockey that, at least for me, enhances the spectacle and balances the violence. [That along with the highly-advertised Swedish team uniforms, which is another story.]

New York Times

On Sunday, October 16, 2016, the New York Times wrote an article about the University of Houston’s football coach Tom Herman who kisses his players. The article noted that, what seems like bizarre behavior of kissing his players on the cheek before games, helps build a sense of team and helps players understand that the coach cares for them and that they are part of a family – the team.

The article cites Niobe Way, a psychology professor at New York University, as saying that Coach Herman is disrupting the stereotype that boys and men are only driven by competition and autonomy (independence). In fact, Professor Way notes, all the research emphasizes that humans are actually not motivated by competition or autonomy but are, instead, motivated by is the desire to be in connected communities (teams).

For example, Coach Herman’s former boss at Ohio State University, Urban Meyer, tells a story about a soldier who confided that what most compelled him to fight was not self-preservation, hatred, or patriotism, but love for his comrades.

Coach Herman has a rule: any University of Houston football player who scores a touchdown must find an offensive lineman and hug him. “We require a two-handed embrace,” Herman notes. Does it work? Researchers say it is both character building and motivating. An academic paper (published in 2010) found a correlation between emotional openness and high self-esteem in college football players. Who’s to argue?

My Research

This brings me to a connection with my own research. In the first blog I wrote to add to my son Jim’s Hockey Blog “Oil Spill,” I noted that I am a now-retired former university professor and academic researcher who has researched teaching and learning for 40 years. When pulling together what I had learned about motivation from all my research, I came to believe three things motivated teachers and students to perform well. These three things were: (1) Community, (2) Agency, and (3) Service. And, I have often written that good schools need to build cultures that support community, agency, and service.

Specifically, (a) Community means working together. (b) Agency means believing you can make a difference. And, (c) Service means doing “good things” for others.


The tie to sports seems obvious. Sometimes – in fact generally – in team sports the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That is, the team with the most talented players does not always win the championship. What is called “team chemistry,” and what I call “community,” is highly motivating. One can point to teams with elite talent – for example, the Washington Capitals in the 2009 playoffs – who did not win because they didn’t play like a team. In contrast, last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins played with sacrifice, dedication, and had players take on roles they normally didn’t play. [Remind me of Phil Kessel’s bad attitude.] So much of winning hockey is about team chemistry (building a culture of family) and what players willingly do to achieve it.


Photo By mark6mauno [Flickr]
Second, the belief that you can make a difference – what I call agency – is huge in hockey. Agency is the belief that you can make a difference in what is happening. You are not a pawn of the universe – you have the ability to change events. The biggest Oilers example of “agency” might be how Edmonton suddenly became a Stanley Cup contender when Chris Pronger came to town in 2006. Clearly, Pronger believed he could make a difference, and he did in Edmonton. Sadly, he also did the next year (2007) with the Anaheim Ducks.  Ten years later, Oilers’ fans still remember.


Finally, the belief that one can serve (do good things for others, and in hockey specifically for your team) motivates. For example, although many rank Matt Hendricks sixth on the Oilers’ depth chart at Left Wing (after Lucic, Pouliot, Maroon, Pitlick, and Caggiula), it is tough to deny Hendricks’ impact on the team. In a February 2016 article, the great Oilers’ hockey writer Jim Matheson wrote that, “If there’s a poster boy for what a hockey player should look like, it’s Matt Hendricks.” Matheson saw Hendricks’ swollen cheekbone, scar around his left eye, and willingness to fight his summer-time friend Dustin Byfuglien over a tough hit. Hendricks – the ultimate teammate, ready to serve his team.

Back to hugging after goals. Hockey is quite amazing – a bizarre mix of a culture violence and a culture of team. It will be fun to watch the new Oilers build a “team.” One can only hope for lots of hugging – so far 14 hugs in three games. Good start!

 Guest Post Jim Parsons

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