Last month, my son, Tate, was invited to participate in the Western Regional Hockey Combine at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He got to skate against some of the best fourteen-year-old hockey players in the country. It was a big opportunity for Tate, and he had the honor of showcasing his skills in front of some of the top coaches and agents in the country. He caught the eye of one man in particular—an agent named Drew Shore—who asked to set up a meeting.
Drew is basically hockey royalty, having played professionally in North America and Europe for over a decade. His brother Nick also played in the NHL, and his youngest brother, Baker, is a star forward at Harvard University. Last year, Drew hung up his skates to become an agent, focusing on developing young players like Tate as they progress through high school and college. A few days ago, Drew stopped by our house for breakfast. What he said to Tate didn’t just change his life—but mine, too.
Here’s what Drew said: “Tate, you’ve got the talent and the hockey IQ to play professionally one day. You’re one of the best I’ve seen. But none of that matters if you want to reach the NHL. Do you know what does?”
Tate shook his head.
“You have to get better. You have to get better when you’re fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and then get even better at eighteen. Then have to get better at nineteen and twenty. In fact, you can never stop getting better. And the only way you are going to get better is through hard work. You have to push yourself to do things you don’t want to do. You need to be on the ice and take your reps before the rest of your team shows up, and then you need to take your reps after everyone leaves. You need to eat better, play better, and think better. The moment you stop trying to improve yourself is the moment you fail.”
Then he put a hand on Tate’s shoulder. “I would be honored to represent you one day, and you have what it takes to play Division 1 hockey and beyond. But I’ll only work with you if you promise to get up every single morning with a plan to get better.” As soon as Drew left, Tate ran downstairs, changed into his gear, and started hitting pucks.
I knew that Tate would never be the same after that meeting, but as I laid in bed that night, I kept thinking about Drew’s words. Getting better every day doesn’t just apply to rising hockey stars—it’s true for everyone. We can all be better siblings, parents, friends, teachers, bosses, and spouses. I want to be a better husband, father, author, speaker, and leadership coach at fifty-three than I was at fifty-two. As Ernest Hemingway wrote, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
Truth is, most people don’t work hard on themselves. We get settled into our career, settled into our family, and settled into our routine. We mean well and want to give back to our community, but we just can’t find the time. We’re not willing to do the hard work to fight inertia and leave our comfort zone. If I didn’t have three amazing kids who are natural heart-led leaders, I’d spend each Christmas curled up on the couch watching football. Instead, we deliver food to homeless families throughout Denver.
My children inspire me to be better. That’s why each year we travel to Mexico with the nonprofit Homes of Hope to build a house for a poor family. This is our fourth year participating, and this time I wanted to share the lifechanging power of service with others. So, I invited a hundred pairs of fathers and sons to travel with my family to Tijuana for a weekend to help build a home for a needy family. Guess how many “no’s” I received?
Ninety-eight. Ninety-eight no’s and two yes’s.
The excuses were perfectly reasonable: “Too busy.” “We’re going on vacation.” “My son’s going to baseball camp.” “We’re taking a road trip.” “Just too much going on.” And so on.
I get it. Building homes in the hot Tijuana sun is not exactly how most folks picture spending their summer. It’s hard. There are other people who can do that. The problem is, as we grow older, it gets easier to say “no” to lifechanging experiences. As we fill our homes with kids and our calendars with commitments, it’s hard putting the work in to improve ourselves and our families.
A mentor once told me that we need to constantly sacrifice the good in service of the great. A good family goes to Disney World, a great family volunteers at the soup kitchen instead. A good husband organizes a monthly date night with his wife; a great husband organizes monthly marital counseling sessions. A good boss gives performance bonuses to her employees; a great boss attends leadership conferences to become a true heart-led leader. A good organization throws an annual Christmas party; a great organization has annual team-building retreats. You get the idea.
As Drew told my son, it’s all about getting better every single day. Ironically, Tate has a good chance at playing Division 1 college hockey one day, but it’s not because he practices his butt off every morning. I realized this last Sunday, when the Colorado Avalanche were squaring off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the Stanley Cup Final. Now, Tate is a die-hard Avs fan. He watches literally every game. His dream is to play for them one day. Except, Tate made the hard decision to not watch the Avs win the Stanley Cup on Sunday night, even though he had been waiting all year for this moment. Instead, Tate sat in his room packing a bag. Then he hopped into the car with his sister to head to Camp Timberline, which is a weeklong sleep away camp that teaches leadership skills to boys and girls. Instead of watching the Avs win the Stanley Cup, Tate chose to get better at his faith in God. He’s getting better at giving back to his community. He’s getting better at developing relationships.
Tate understands that getting better at hockey is only a tiny fraction of getting better as a person. He may or may not play for the Colorado Avalanche one day, but no matter what Tate does, he will wake up each morning ready to make hard decisions and work relentlessly to get just a little bit better.
What if we all woke up every morning asking ourselves what we are going to do that day to get better. And what if we did that every day the rest of our lives – making the hard decisions to improve, grow, and get better. We may not make it to the NHL, but we will all become better versions of ourselves…each and every day.