Your Life As An Unrestricted Free Agent

pro hockey
Today is the first day of free agency in the NHL

What if many companies or people were clamoring for your services?

What if nobody wanted you?

Free agency in the NHL began at noon today.

Prior to that hour NHL teams could only interview potential unrestricted free agents. No offers could be made.

I don’t pretend to understand all the intricate nuances of NHL free agency. Every professional league has their own quirky rules, but  basically most leagues have two forms of free agency: restricted and unrestricted.

Restricted free agency usually means the player can accept offers from other teams, but his existing team has the opportunity to match or best the offer and retain him. In that regard, he’s not completely free to go anywhere he likes.

Unrestricted free agency usually means the player is available to accept offers from any team of his choosing. He can decide for himself, for reasons of his own choosing, where to play next.

In both instances, free agency is typically based on years of service. That is, it’s based on how many years the player has been in the league. Each professional league has their own CBA (collective bargaining agreement) negotiated between the players’ union and the ownership to determine the rules of free agency.

A player’s value in the open market is determined by what teams think he can do for them.

Value in professional sports is determined by lots of things. Age, skill, mental toughness, injuries (or not) and much more. Teams determine a player’s value based on how well they think the player can help their team win.

Every season – in every professional sport that has free agency – fans anxiously watch their favorite team to see if they might snag the free agency prize and get that star player coveted by every team. The NHL represents my favorite sport so today I’m watching things carefully to see which teams land the best players available.

And as I watch, I can’t help but think about our lives. What about our value? We’re not pro athletes, but we’re free agents. We can take whatever job we may be able to get. We can start our own “job” and launch an enterprise. We can seek permission to be hired by somebody or we can blow that off and create our own. But no matter which course we take, we can’t succeed unless somebody wants us.

The NHL experts rank the free agents based on their subjective judgments. Here’s one such list. The point isn’t whether NHL fans or front offices agree with it. The point is, there is a ranking that goes on all across the league. Today, front offices likely have big boards in their “war rooms” where they’re watching and tracking the players they find most attractive. Each team has unique needs. GM’s all over the NHL will be doing whatever they think will best help their team for next season (and beyond).

The player can only do his best to build value in his own career.

This much is sure. If a player didn’t excel in a prior situation, it’s unlikely he’ll garner the highest rewards (or be the most sought after) when he’s a free agent. Teams will likely base their desires (and their offers) based on past success. Past failures and problems will only hamper the player’s ability to maximize his value on the open market during free agency.

I learned as a young man the value of “grow where you’re planted.” That meant, do the best job where you are because that will likely determine your future. It made perfect sense to me because I understood the value of habit. If I was in the habit of doing lackluster work, then I knew I was unlikely to do exceptional work if I were put into a different circumstance.

Sometimes players need a change of scenery. Sometimes they’re unhappy with a previous coach. Sometimes players get in a funk in one place only to blossom in a new place. It happens.

However, their stock – the desire for teams to want them – is only enhanced by their ability to soar wherever they are.

Are you waiting for a better situation? Maybe you’re a player who thinks, “If only I were on that team, then I’d show them.” But that team isn’t likely to want you because they don’t see the value based on your history.

Here in Dallas, we were blessed to have Bill Parcells coach the Dallas Cowboys for a few years. I loved watching his press conferences and it was evident the man knew how to coach football. He often said in his press conferences, “We are who we are.” He meant, our team is however successful we are based on our performance. Parcells didn’t much concern himself with potential. He was concerned about accomplishment and performance. Who cares if people (including players) think you’re a championship caliber team? If you don’t win more games than you lose, then you “are what you are.” It’s blindingly obvious, but brilliant, too.

You are who you are!

But, is that good enough? Is that good enough for people to want you? Is it good enough for customers to hire you? Is it good enough for companies to hire you? Is it good enough for you to succeed?

I don’t know. We each have to answer that question. We have to live each day doing the things that bring value to others so they’ll want us when we’re available.

Few things are sadder than the professional athlete who feels he’s got value to offer, but based on his past performance…nobody sees it. And he gets no offers. Nobody wants him. It’s the ultimate professional rejection and too many players end their careers not being wanted by anybody.

You must expect more from yourself. You must be honest in your work. Bring value every day. Grow where you’re planted. Be highly sought after.


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