The 5 Hockey Leadership Styles That Make Up a Winning Team

Ben LevesqueLeadership2 Comments

hockey leadership styles

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

That’s a quote from John C. Maxwell, best-selling author, speaker and visionary on everything leadership-related.

Maxwell believes that everything rises and falls on leadership, and I totally agree—especially when it comes to hockey.

After having been on losing teams where we won a handful of games all year, to winning teams where we crushed league records and won trophies, one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is this: a team cannot accomplish great things without a strong leadership core.

It can be as little as 2 or 3 players, to as many as 8, 10, or more.

And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to score goals every game or put up 100’s of points per year to be considered a leader.

Whether you’re a natural scorer, a grinder, a stay at home D or even a reserve player, there’s a way for you to lead and help guide your team to victory.

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In this post, I’m going to share the 5 prominent hockey leadership styles I’ve come across in my career that, when all of them were present, made a massive impact on our success as a team.

By the end, you’ll know exactly where you fit into this leadership puzzle and how you can start being more of an asset to your team.

And if you’re a hockey coach, you’ll know what leadership qualities to look for when analyzing your roster.

Here goes…

The Only 2 Ways to Become a Leader in Hockey

Before I dive into the 5 different leadership styles, I feel it’s important to cover the two different ways you can actually become a leader.

Many young players ask me how they’re supposed to be leaders for their respective teams if the coaching staff chooses the captains and assistant captains.

The answer’s simple…there are only two ways to become a leader:

  1. be appointed as a leader (also known as prescribed leadership)
  2. become an emergent leader (earned through your actions)

In others words, you don’t have to be given or appointed the “C” or an “A” by your coach to be a leader on your team. You can become an emergent leader by your actions and your attitude, which are 100% under your control.

So if you’re pissed off because you didn’t get a letter on your jersey when you feel like you should have, don’t let that stop you. Let your actions speak for themselves and become an emergent leader.

Keep that in mind when you’re reading through the 5 leadership styles below.

Leadership Style #1: The Performance Leader

Ahh, the coveted performance leader. Everyone wants to be one, but not everybody can.

A performance leader has the power to directly impact the outcome of the game based on his play alone. A performance leader can rise up to the occasion whenever he’s needed and help his team pull through by doing what he excels most at.

Sometimes, that’s scoring goals, but don’t get it twisted— you don’t need to score 50 goals a year to be considered a performance leader.

Performance leaders can lead in other areas of the game such as playmaking, physical play, shot blocking, killing penalties, making saves, etc.

Whatever it is the performance leader excels at though, he really is the best on his team and takes pride in bringing his “A-game” night after night.

He leads his team by his individual performance, and he makes everyone else around him want to be better.

How to Take On the Role of a Performance Leader

You find the one thing you’re exceptionally good at, and you work on becoming even better at it so that your team relies on YOU to get the job done when the time comes.

Let me give you an example…

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If today you asked me which 3 players from my championship team back in 2009 I would choose to win an important face-off, score an important goal or block a big shot, I’d give you the names of 3 specific teammates without even hesitating.

And if you were to ask any of my other teammates from that year, they would name the exact same 3 players.

Bottom line: Being a performance leader is about being so good at what you do that it instills confidence in those around you, and your entire team is better because of it.

If you don’t see yourself as a performance leader, then maybe this next leadership style is for you.

Leadership Style #2: The Workhorse Leader

crosby winning the day

On every team, there’s a guy that never gives up. He’s always the hardest worker and never backs down—from anyone or anything.

This too instills confidence in teammates, and it’s another great way to lead.

It’s easy to do (you just have to work really hard), but it’s just as easy not to do (not everyone has what it takes).

The player that fits this bill is what I like to call a workhorse leader.

This type of leader doesn’t need praise or a pat on the back to know that he’s making a difference. He’s the kind of guy that works hard regardless of who’s there watching him.

If there’s one word that sums up the workhorse leader perfectly, it’s inspiration. He inspires teammates to work harder, give the extra effort, and keep going even when it hurts.

He makes everyone around him strive to match his work ethic, and he does it without even having to say a word (he lets his actions do the talking).

The workhorse leader is also the guy that has the right to get angry when there’s an obvious lack of effort from his teammates, because no one’s going to challenge the workhorse leader on the topic of work ethic.

He doesn’t have to be the most talented or most vocal player, but the workhorse leader is without a doubt the hardest worker.

How to Take On the Role of a Workhorse Leader

The workhorse leader role is not for everyone. In fact, if you need to ask, it’s probably not for you. Becoming a workhorse leader requires work, plain and simple. Work in the gym. Work during games. Work after practice. Work when everyone else is done.

Once people start using words like “tireless”, “relentless” to describe your playstyle, you’ll know you’re halfway there—a workhorse leader knows he can always work harder!

Bottome line: If you enjoy working hard, pushing yourself to the limit, and not cutting corners (regardless of who’s watching), you’d make a good workhorse leader.

If not, there’s always the vocal leader…

Leadership Style #3: The Vocal Leader

vocal leader in hockey

So far, the first two leadership styles have been based on actions: performing and working hard.

And even though actions speak louder than words, that doesn’t mean we can neglect the power of words when it comes to leadership.

That’s where the vocal leader comes into play, and he’s absolutely crucial to a team’s overall success.

The vocal leader is the guy that knows exactly what to say at exactly the right time in order to get the team fired up.

He knows the game really well and shares what he’s seeing throughout the game with his teammates, both individually and collectively as a team (ie: between periods, on the bench between shifts, etc.).

The vocal leader is usually one of the players that talks the most, but there’s an important caveat; in order for his message to be received by his teammates, he needs to back it up with action.

In other words, he can’t just talk the talk—he has to walk the walk.

How effective would a comment about backchecking be, coming from someone who cherry picks at the opposing blue line all the time?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say not very effective.

What if the vocal leader on your team stood up between periods and told everyone to relax and stay disciplined, when shortly after he was the first one slamming his stick and mouthing off to the referee after a bad call?

It just wouldn’t fly.

That’s why being a vocal leader is harder than it sounds. You have to say the right thing at the right time, but also make sure you’re practicing what you preach.

If that weren’t enough, there’s one more issue—the more you say, the less of an impact it has on your teammates.

Unfortunately, a lot of the so-called “vocal leaders” I played with throughout my career struggled with this, and only a handful had it all figured out.

When you say too much, your words lose power. After a while, your teammates get tired of hearing you and just tune you out. There’s a fine line between saying just enough and saying too much, and the best vocal leaders I’ve played with know exactly where that line is.

How to Take On the Role of Vocal Leader

In theory, becoming a vocal leader is simple—just talk more.

But as you’ve read, it’s a lot tougher than that. For your words to make an impact, you need to be saying the right things at the right time.

The only way to do that is by really paying attention to what’s going on around you.

What’s your team’s energy level like? Are guys feeling a little sluggish? If so, think of what you can say on the bench or between periods to motivate them and get them amped up.

Notice a linemate has bad body language after making a mistake? Pull him aside and reassure him that things are going to be okay. Sometimes, all he needs it to be reminded that the team is counting on him.

Are you up by 2 goals going into the third? That’s the worst lead in hockey. It might be time to stand up and let everyone know the game’s far from over—that’ll get everyone’s mind back on track.

As a vocal leader, these are the kinds of things you need to be paying attention to. It’s all about analyzing things like the current game situation, your teammates, their body language, their energy levels, etc.

Bottom line: Being a vocal leader is about saying the right thing, at the right time, without saying too much. Too many words will cause your teammates to tune you out, and you can’t be an effective vocal leader if no one wants to hear you talk.

Not a fan of confrontations or having to make quick motivational speeches on a whim?  Maybe you’re more of a locker room leader kind of guy…

Leadership Style #4: The Locker Room Leader

You’ve probably heard the old hockey saying that goes a little something like, “the team that wins is not always the team with the most talent, but oftentimes the team with the most chemistry.”

That’s what the locker room leader is all about—he’s the one who fosters team chemistry and brings everybody closer together.

You can have a team filled with talented players, but if no one is willing to sacrifice themselves for the guy sitting next to them, then you don’t have a team—you have 20 individuals looking out for themselves and their own personal gain.

The locker room leader is there to fix that by bringing everyone closer together. He organizes off-ice events and gets everyone involved so that everyone gets along and respects one another.

When arguments surface (hint: they’re inevitable), he’s the mediator and makes sure no grudges are held.

He breaks up any unhealthy cliques and gets the outsiders to join in when they otherwise wouldn’t.

Much like the vocal leader, he also pays attention to what’s going on in his teammates’ personal lives so that he can intervene, give advice or get outside help when necessary. Things like school trouble, family issues, relationship woes and more are all part of the locker room leader’s dealings.

And lastly, he’s gotta be willing to do all of this without getting any recognition because much of what he does happens off the ice and goes unnoticed.

How to Take On the Role of Locker Room Leader

To become a locker room leader, you need to make team chemistry your #1 objective.

Take initiative and organize outings with your teammates away from the rink. It can be as simple as having a few guys over to play Xbox or hitting up a local restaurant to watch an NHL game. It really doesn’t matter what you do—the key is to create as many scenarios as possible to allow team chemistry to grow and flourish.

You’ve also gotta watch out for anything that can hurt or hinder team chemistry. Be on the lookout for negative attitudes or players that dislike or hold grudges against others. Address these players and deal with the situation as soon as possible before it snowballs and completely destroys any team chemistry you’ve already built up (believe me…it doesn’t take much).

Last but not least, make an effort to include everyone when you plan things. There are usually a handful of players that shy away from team events and outings and end up being outcasts. This can severely hurt your team’s chemistry in the long run. Do whatever it takes to include them right from the start so everyone can learn to get along and respect each other.

If you can manage to have everyone ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for the guy sitting next to them, you’ll be amazed at what your team can accomplish over an entire season, regardless of how many superstars or talented players you have.

Bottom line: Being a locker room leader is about putting the team first and doing whatever it takes to make sure there are no distractions in the team’s entourage. The locker room leader is every player’s best friend.


Leadership Style #5: The Roleplay Leader

shot blocking


Last but not least, there’s what I like to call the roleplay leader. This is one that isn’t spoken about often enough in my opinion.

On every team, there are players that get a lot of ice time, and there are players that get less. That’s just the way it goes, and the higher the caliber, the more this statement holds true.

Think fourth liners that play a few minutes per period, guys that log most of their minutes on the penalty kill, or reserves that only play every other game.

Even though they have reduced ice-time, these players are still crucial to the team’s overall success.

Unfortunately, they don’t always see it that way (it’s easy to get down on yourself when your ice-time gets taken away), and that can pose a problem if they start to build up a negative attitude, as it can affect their teammates and everyone around them.

That’s where the roleplay leader comes in. He takes players with limited roles under his wing and shows them that they’re just as important to the overall team’s success as everybody else so that they stay positive and continue to support the team, regardless of their own personal challenges.

How to Take On the Roleplay Leader Role

If you find yourself in a limited role, you can take charge and be a roleplay leader for the other guys in your situation.

The key is enthusiasm. You must be enthusiastic in all that you do, from workouts to warmups, and from practices to games. Everything you do has to be done with full enthusiasm.

When teammates in your situation (ie: limited playing roles) see that you’re having fun, working hard, and supporting the team, they’ll feel like complete idiots for being negative and will, in turn, follow suit.

Enthusiasm rubs off on people, and the more you can get your limited-role teammates to jump on your ‘I’m happy even though I’m not playing as much as I’d like to‘ bandwagon, the less likely they are to develop the kind of negative attitude that can destroy your team’s chemistry.

It can be hard to keep at it when you’re not happy with your own play time, which is why being an effective roleplay leader so tough.

But if you can find a way to maintain your enthusiasm and realize that you’re still an important piece to a bigger puzzle, you’ll be seen as a leader by all of your teammates (not just the ones in the same situation as you).

Bottom line: Being a roleplay leader means having a level of enthusiasm that’s contagious, regardless of your playtime, in order to help keep everybody positive—especially players in similar situations.


leadership in hockey


Being a leader isn’t easy, but it’s not as tough as people make it out to be.

You can be a natural goal scorer and lead by your performance alone, but you don’t have to be.

You can also lead by your work ethic.

Or if you’re respected by your teammates and have a certain influence, you can lead with words.

Or if you’re a social butterfly that likes listening to people, organizing events, and providing advice during hard times, then you can lead off the ice.

And lastly, if you’re part of a small group of players who’s playtime is limited, why not help the team out by making sure everyone remains positive with a level of enthusiasm that’s contagious and gets everyone fired up?

These are the 5 leadership styles I’ve seen most often throughout my career, and the winning teams I’ve been on had all of them covered.

So the question is no longer, “are you a leader?” but rather, “what kind of leader will you be?”

Leave a comment below with your leadership style, and if you’re a coach, share which leadership style your team is missing right now!

(NOTE: Want to stop making mistakes with the puck and start taking control of the game? Grab a copy of The Hockey Sense Handbook and take your Hockey IQ to the next level. Click here to learn more.)

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2 Comments on “The 5 Hockey Leadership Styles That Make Up a Winning Team”

  1. Kevin Butler

    Hey Ben! Love the Website…Have been using it with my team since mid-way through the year and I think it has definitely improved our game and overall outlook on how to play. Thanks & Keep up the Great Work

    Kevin Butler
    Wyandotte Roosevelt High School

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