Why Understanding Pareto’s Principle Is Key to Success as a Hockey Player

Ben LevesqueMental Game4 Comments

Why Understanding Pareto’s Principle Is Key to Success as a Hockey Player

Pareto’s Principle.

The Law of the Vital Few.

The Principle of Factor Sparsity.

All of these refer to the same thing—the 80/20 rule.

Ever heard of the 80/20 rule?

If not, don’t worry—I’m going to walk you through exactly what the rule is all about and how you can apply its underlying theory to become the best player you’re capable of being.

Now I’m not saying this is your easy ticket to the NHL or even a D1 University…hockey is NOT a video game and this is NOT a cheat code.

BUT, if you apply this simple framework when working on your skills, you WILL allow yourself to stand out from the crowd and be an asset to any team you play on—the rest is up to you.

The players who understand this rule are the ones who make it far in their hockey careers.

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I consider my hockey career a success—even though I didn’t make the NHL—and that success is due in part to applying the 80/20 rule to everything that I did over the years.

Here’s what the 80/20 rule is all about…

The 80/20 rule for maximizing your success in hockey

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Simply put, the 80/20 rule stems from the idea that the majority of results come from a minority of inputs.

In other words:

“the majority of your successes as a hockey player come from a small minority of things you do well.”

And while this Pareto Principle is just a theory and not usually a perfect 80/20 split, its underlying meaning holds true—the majority of your success comes from a few things you do better than other players.

Just think about it.

Think about players currently in the NHL. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Duncan Keith?

Great skater.

Niklas Kronwall? Devastating hitter.

Jonathan Toews? Incredible leader.

Alex Ovechkin? Pure goal scorer.

The point I’m trying to make here is that more often than not, the players that stand out do so because they focus on being exceptionally good at a handful of things, rather than trying to be the best at everything.

In other words, they might be average at a lot of things, but they’re exceptionally better than others at a select few things.

Once I understood this concept, I went ALL-IN on my strengths and it changed the course of my hockey career for the better.

Sure, I was able to chip in goals and set up plays as a young player, but there were other players better than me at scoring goals…

The things I did exceptionally well—my 20%—are what got me drafted. They’re what got me noticed by coaches & scouts.

Not the goal or assist I got here and there.

It was my exceptional speed, my strength, my in-your-face style of play and my ability to shut down the opposing team that made me stand out.

Those skills were my bread and butter. Those were my ticket to playing competitive hockey.

And once I realized that, I started to focus all of my efforts on perfecting my 20%my skills that were going to take me somewhere.

I had no idea what I was doing back then (i had no idea what the 80/20 rule was), but it just made sense to me to focus on my strengths and make them even stronger.

I became dominant at what I already did well.

And when I got to Junior, I just kept going with this mentality

Applying the 80/20 rule to on-ice practice

ben levesque and taylor hall


My Junior coach Guy Boucher took the 80/20 rule a step further, and this is where I really learned what this theory was all about.

He applied the 80/20 rule to our team as a whole.

Let me explain…

A team is made up of many different players—all with their own strengths & weaknesses.

Where a normal coach would focus on improving a team’s weaknesses, Guy did the opposite.

All our practices were geared towards improving what we were already very good at—our transition speed and defensive zone play.

I kid you not, there wasn’t one single practice where we didn’t work in some way on these two skills.

As a matter of a fact, I’m comfortable saying that we spent several hours a week on these two skills alone—transition speed & defensive zone play.

Well guess what…

We became the best damn team at those two things over the course of the season.

Sure, we had some little issues because we focused heavily on transition & defense and less on everything else, but these strengths more than made up for our little mishaps.

He even applied the 80/20 rule to individual players after practice…

When we were done our regular practice time, we always had a few minutes of “overtime” where we could work on our own individual skills—no structure, simply free ice-time.

Guy made it clear to us early on what our individual roles on the team were and what our strengths were. He also made it clear that we should each become masters at what we were already good at.

After practice, he would go around and make sure we were working on our 20%the skills we were already good at that got us to this level in the first place—in order to improve.

The shooters were shooting.

The grinders were working on puck-battles down low (here’s where I spent my time).

The skaters were working their agility along the boards.

Everyone was working on mastering their 20%.

So while the 80/20 rule means that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts, Guy applied it to practice…

He made us focus 80% of the time on our strengths, and 20% of the time on our weaknesses.

Over an entire season, that added up to a heck of a lot of time working on what we were already good at!

Both as a team and individually when practice was over.

It worked

Our newly-mastered strengths won us a President’s Cup and took us all the way to the Memorial Cup semi-finals.

Heck, we even broke over 20 league records that year.


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The 80/20 rule is powerful, and if you apply it to your game, it might just take you further than you ever expected.

So players, once you feel you’ve got a good base in all the fundamentals, find your 20% that leads to 80% of your success.

Spend most of your practice time mastering that 20% (your strengths). Spend whatever time is left improving your weaknesses.

And coaches, what does your team excel at? Consider focusing most of your time on improving those strengths, and spend whatever time is left on the rest.

You’ll be unmatched at your 20%, and it’ll lead to much of your success as a team.

Follow the 80/20 rule to stand out and dominate the game.

How do YOU split your practice time between strengths & weaknesses? Leave a comment below because I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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About the author

Ben Levesque

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Ben has been playing hockey for 20+ years and has learned a ton from playing with the world's best coaches & players. Among his accomplishments are a National Championship, a President's Cup, a Semi-Final finish at the Memorial Cup, several Queen's Cups and a helmet in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

4 Comments on “Why Understanding Pareto’s Principle Is Key to Success as a Hockey Player”

  1. Trevor

    Great advise and insight. Pareto’s Principle applies to so many things and recognizing that players and teams can’t be great at everything if coaches start leading their teams with an eye to a couple key things that will make a difference then (macro level) then get the players to individually focus on a couple personal strengths the outcome can be Fun and Success for everyone.

    1. Ben Levesque

      Definitely, Trevor! Coaches in minor hockey can really benefit from following this principle when everyone else is trying to master all facets of the game. Thanks for your comment!

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