With the recent front office hirings of hockey outsiders like Sunny Mehta, Brian MacDonald, Tyler Dellow, Eric Tulsky, Cam Charron, Rob Pettapiece, and Darryl Metcalf, many independent analysts are getting more serious about their craft, while the previously silent are considering taking a plunge in the world of hockey analytics. If you consider yourself among them, want some advice?
I’ve been at this a long time, and although I’ve received plenty of advice over the years, the best advice came from a rather unexpected source. He taught me how to find and trust my voice, how to keep coming up with good ideas, and how to build my audience. Having gained so much from it myself, I’m more than happy to share his wisdom with you.
The mystery mentor? Darryl Lenox, an absolutely hilarious stand-up comedian, who knows absolutely nothing about hockey. See, I’ve dabbled in some amateur stand-up comedy over the years, and once found myself in a workshop where the advice that the experienced artist gave those pursuing their dreams in comedy translated surprisingly well to someone pursuing a dream in the world of hockey analytics.
His most important advice came first, which is to trust your early voice, because you ultimately wind up going back to it later. Why? Because it’s your natural voice. Your first priority has to be to figure out what ideas you bring to the table, and how you are most comfortable expressing them. Then stick to it!
For example, given the success of some of the more abrasive members of the community, I’m often asked if it pays to get attention by aggressively challenging the work of mainstream journalists and/or fellow hockey statisticians. Lenox would argue that the answer is no, unless that was your natural style.
Some analysts make this approach look far easier than it really is. Not only do the more prominent poop-disturbers come by their style quite naturally, and therefore know how to strike the right balance, but they also back up their work with incredible analytic brilliance and a mind-blowing volume of study. It’s not the easy path! That’s why for every colourful colleague who earns his due, I hear of several others whose temperament actually cost them a great opportunity.
Lenox stressed that we need to find something that makes us unique, and not to simply emulate what others have made successful. Identify your passion, find your voice, and pursue that with your entire focus. And remember that the only way negative people can be right about you is if you quit.
And yes, there will be negative people. Lenox described comedy as a competitive and individual business, not a collaborative one. Sure, there are lots of people who will support you, and help refine and promote your work, but ultimately a comedian will always find himself alone on a stage with nothing but a microphone, trying to be funnier than the next guy in order to land his next gig. Likewise, in hockey analytics it will be your name at the top of an article, with only the quality of your own analysis helping you score your next opportunity.
To that end, Lenox’s advice was to create your own market. When he comes to town, the comedy club already has an audience, and books him only because of the additional people he will bring in. If he doesn’t bring his own audience, then they will book someone else who can.
Don’t rely on a website, radio station, or publication to provide the audience for you, cultivate it yourself. Reply to emails, respond to tweets, and get engaged in the comments sections. This is invaluable information to discover who your audience is, and how to hit their mark.
Finally, Lenox’s closing advice was to write every day, and the ideas will surface. There is absolutely no substitute for hard work, and you’ll need a genuine passion for the field to stick with it.
Remember, the passions of even the fortunate few listed at the top of this piece went unrewarded for the longest time. And even now, they’re being asked to shut down their life’s work, quit their (generally) lucrative day jobs, and toil silently in potentially a very limited corner of the organization. That’s a sacrifice that only the truly devoted can make.
In the end, Darryl Lenox’s advice helped me find my own voice, develop my ideas, and build an audience. I hope that what worked for me also works for you. Good luck!