How did the Vegas Golden Knights, the team of misfit players, make the NHL Finals?
Let’s make a not-so-bold assumption: that the Vegas Golden Knights do not have the best players in the NHL. In fact, this team, a compilation of 20+ players discarded by their former clubs, were 500/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup before the season started.
So, let’s answer the number one question in the sports world right now: WHY and HOW are the Vegas Golden Knights dominating the playoffs? The answer is simple. They have, and have always had, intrinsic motivation (the right type of motivation).
While the players on the other 30 teams in the NHL have different combinations of external goals, all hopefully culminating in winning the Stanley Cup, the Vegas Golden Knights players have something different. Their goal: to prove that they are not throwaway hockey players.
The ability to manage what players think and how they feel in their environment is the best way to unlock their true potential.
This is a powerful motivator because it is deeply rooted at the individual level. There are a lot of emotions and psychic energy focused on this. It’s what players on this team thought about for an entire off-season, through every workout, practice, meal, nap, and plane ride for close to a year. It is so deeply ingrained that it has the power to connect each player to every other player, including the coach (who was left on the side of the street like a hitchhiker after he was fired during a road trip!) on a personal level.
The reason that intrinsic motivation (prove my worth as a player) vs. extrinsic motivation (score points, win games) is more powerful is because it can be related to all of the players’ actions every day. Imagine being able to celebrate achieving your goal every day. Jeff Haden, author of “The Motivation Myth” tells us that achieving goals on a regular basis actually increases motivation over time. Now, imagine an entire team and coaching staff that are achieving these goals, and supporting each person to achieve their goals every single day. What do you think practicing, playing and traveling in that environment feels like? This is the essence of building a PRODUCTIVE CULTURE (which is more effective than a “winning culture”).
The powerful proof of this approach are the results on the ice. In the playoffs, when the games truly matter, the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t just winning: they are dominating. Twelve wins and three losses: any other stats at this point in the season are irrelevant. The proof also lies in what players say about their teammates. After clinching the Western Conference, Nate Schmidt said, “I would go to war for these guys”. This shows how deep the connection is within the team.
Remember “Moneyball”? How analytics changed the way players are assessed? That is only the beginning and a small part of what makes up a person.
The ability to manage what players think and how they feel in their environment is the best way to unlock their true potential. In the salary cap era of the NHL, building a team based on a couple of superstars is the “old” method. Building a team around an idea, that is Golden.