After several years of resisting, I have come to the conclusion that sport can teach us about life at least as well as any philosophy class. More if we use it to grow rather than solely focus on winning. Sport then becomes process-oriented rather than goal-oriented. When something is goal oriented, the end is more important than the means. When something is process-oriented, the means are more important than the end. It is the improvement of the means that improves you as a person whereas achieving ends is only good for receiving awards, improving your resume (as opposed to yourself), and making goal-oriented management happy.

Being exclusively goal-oriented means that sometimes short-cuts are taken to achieve the end. This can result in defective products. Goal-orientation is about quantity, not quality. If quality requirements are instituted as a goal, one can be almost sure that the product will be designed to exactly those specs but no more. Goal-orientation is typical of the games man attitude.

I play hockey and while league games are entirely goal-oriented (after all, the winner gets a t-shirt) the pick-up games are very process oriented. You don’t get complimented so much on the number of goals you score as how you score them. Top shelf, point shots, and fancy stick handling get compliments. Shoveling in garbage, that is, getting a puck in when it rebounded from the goalies pads, get less respect. Hence most people there are process-oriented looking more for the perfect move or the perfect shot and assisting each other in doing that than scoring points.

I have noticed that while some people use the warm-up to skate around, stretch, and fire some random pucks off at the goalie, other people methodically practice their weak spots. It’s about fifty-fifty. However, while the former group has not seen much improvement, at least during the 1.5 years I have been playing there, the latter group is getting better and better.

Improvement in a technical sport like hockey(*) does not happen gradually. It happens in steps. You spend a long time, months maybe, practicing and playing with no apparent improvement. Suddenly you “realize” or you finally “get it” and your entire game takes a step up making you markedly better. This step is almost instant. Then you plateau again while consolidating and using what you just realized. I think the difference between those that practice methodically and those that just “play” is that the former do not hold back from trying new things whereas the latter are happy just doing what they already know. While both groups are process-oriented, one group plays mainly to have fun while the other group plays mainly to get better.

(*) I have done swimming, running, bodybuilding, power-endurance (kettlebells and clubbells), table tennis, and karate, and hockey is by far the most difficult of them all. BTW I’m contemplating picking up kendo. We’ll see how that goes.