If you have ever read any of my blog posts before, you know that I am a big believer in the so-called unique and almost magical qualities that I think the sport of hockey has. (see Yesterday, Hockey Won) Maybe I read too much into things at times but sometimes things seem to jump out to me.
Last weekend I experienced one of those moments.
The game reminded me.
This season I have helped coach a u16 and u18 AAA program where hockey is played at a very high and intense level. Let me first state that I love and care deeply for my players. They are extremely good kids. I also work in the hockey advising and hockey agency world. Believe me when I tell you that I know firsthand how competitive and cutthroat the ‘business’ of hockey can be. It is unbelievable at times. The pressure faced by players and families as the season rolls along is something that still amazes me. I even feel it coaching. The quest to win and put a ‘competitive’ product on the ice so Little Johnny can be showcased properly is something that is real and at times very concerning to me. At the time of writing this post in mid November, our teams have won approximately 85% of their games. During this ‘success’, players have quit (only to return), threatened to quit again, some parents have complained about ice time, questioned coaching methods and techniques, worried about National Rankings, and talked negatively about other players and members of the team to anyone who would listen. This at the same time they are spending an incredible amount of time, energy and money to chase the dream of playing hockey at a higher level. Sounds like fun right??
Our team has traveled first class in beautiful buses. Our kids have been fed well. All have top of the line equipment and we stay in great hotels when we travel. Recently at a road game one of our our players couldn’t find his sticks so he said he would just buy a new one at the pro shop…….probably cost about two hundred dollars….
So all these thoughts and things about our teams and parents were running through my mind last weekend while I was standing at a rink in York, PA, beside the bench of a young team who was playing and where our teams were about to play a set of weekend games.
I stood gazing aimlessly out through the glass while I stressed about my lineup. Who would play with who that day so everyone would remain relatively happy and I would limit the amount of pouting both on the bench and in the stands?..…..
Then the game reminded me.
I snapped out of my fog when my eye caught the face of a young player competing in the game right in front of me, (probably squirt age) who was smiling and laughing his ass off!…….on the ice…….He was having the time of his life.
I looked up at the scoreboard and saw the score was 10-0. I just assumed his team was winning.
Then, shortly after that as I focused on that young smiling player, another puck went in. It was against his team…….they were losing. ……11-0.
And he was still smiling.
By this time I moved a bit closer to his bench and as he came off I watched and listened to the interaction with him and the coach, “Good try Nick,” the coached patting him on the helmet.
“Yes coach, I almost had him……!” Another big smile……..
“Nick, we are doing a lot better……keep it up!”
Another huge smile……And he was not the only one. All the players were smiling……
Glancing down at the Jerseys of the team I saw the Snider Youth Hockey Logo on the front and the moment became even more meaningful. The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, created by Philadelphia Flyers Chairman Ed Snider is a fantastic program that has helped young players from all over the Philadelphia area play the game of hockey who may not have ever had the chance to do so. (Please read more Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.) A lot of these young players come from very challenging situations. They certainly aren’t concerned about buying their next two hundred dollar stick……
But this blog isn’t about what these young players are missing, it’s about what they have. Whatever they may lack in financial resources, they certainly showed me they make up for with incredible passion and love for playing the game. They have what our players and our parents at times seem to lack. Joy……
I chatted briefly with the coach and he was kind enough to allow me to go into the dressing room after the game and say hello to the kids. I spent the next five or ten minutes chatting with the kids. We laughed and had a great time talking about hockey, who their favorite players are and who their favorite NHL teams are. They told me repeatedly how much they loved getting to play games. No matter what the score……
The coached thanked me for coming in, but I knew right at that moment that I owed him a big thank you.
That day in York, PA., the game reminded me.
It reminded me that this game is still played in its truest and purest form by kids who are smiling, laughing and having a good time as they learn about life…..not concerned about the score and certainly not worried about their national rankings…….
It reminded me how fortunate we are to be around the hockey and why we got involved in this game in the first place.
It reminded me that in some places and at some ages, it’s still just a game and not a business.
It reminded me to remember to smile. To have fun. To enjoy the real beauty of the game……being able to smile no matter what the score.
I just hope my team and their parents watched some of the game and they too were reminded….