Hockey is a glorious sport. It combines strength, hand-eye coordination, and agility with finesse, intelligence, and luck. At its core are such values as commitment, perseverance, dedication, and humility. When I became a parent, I could not wait to pass on such valuable life lessons to my child – what better way to create a bond between father & son?
But now, I’ve decided it’s that is should be someone else’s job.
I’ve logged tens of thousands of hours on the ice. I started my amateur hockey career at age 7, and left the game permanently at age 21 due to a terrible back injury (a herniated disc in my lower back left me temporarily paralyzed in both legs until surgery allowed me to walk again). I’ve pulled almost every muscle in my body, endured countless lacerations to my face, arms, and legs; and even fractured my lower left tibia due to a slapshot. Consequently, I’ve easily lost count of how many concussions I’ve suffered. Needless to say, when it comes to hockey injuries, I’ve earned A LOT of trophies.
But despite the physical toll the game of hockey has taken on my body, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Hockey has allowed me to make countless friends with whom I stay in contact with to this day. The sport has allowed me to travel extensively throughout La Belle Province of Quebec – even to those remote towns that have the “habitant trifecta”: the Church, the Dépanneur, and the hockey arena. I’ve grown up to love the sport which defines the country of Canada, and appreciate the nuances and cultural heritage it bestows upon us all. Knowing that a single play or missed opportunity could affect the ebb and flow or even the entire outcome of a game, hockey has taught me that there really is no excuse – every time you hop over the boards and onto the ice, you need to go big or go home.
“A life in hockey is not created in a single shift, practice, game, week, or season. A player’s dreams & aspirations take months, years, and even decades to make.” – Fred Shero
When my son Zachary was born, my life changed forever. In between feedings, diaper changes, and sleepless nights, I would think about what kind person I’d like my son to become and what lessons I’d like to impart to him. Whatever it was, I really wanted to make sure that it somehow included the game that was instrumental in my upbringing. By the time he was 3, I begged my wife to let me get him his first pair of skates. She finally agreed, and off we went to a local rink to initiate Zachary into the world of hockey. Unfortunately, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting – Zach spent the majority of the time hanging on to my wife & I for dear life, his little legs flailing, desperately hanging on to the skating aid the arena provided. I admit, I was a bit disappointed and decided to leave things alone for a while, knowing that some children were just not ready at such a young age.
A year later, when Zachary was signed up for pre-novice skating lessons, my wife and I kinda knew we were all in: we bought the entire equipment starter kit and, along with his skates from last year, diligently made the trek to the arena every Saturday morning at 9 AM for his weekly hour skating lesson. One of the pre-requisites of the program was that all children be accompanied by a parent each practice to help out with the skating development of their child. By mid-year, he started skating with his own little hockey stick., By the end of the year, Zachary was skating on his own. Every week, I saw my son evolve as a little athlete. I was a proud dad.
The following September, Zachary was into his first full year of hockey school. Consequently, it also brought a change in the role parents played. Fewer parents were allowed on the ice, and only those with appropriate “hockey IQ” were asked to stay on and volunteer as assistant coaches at practices each week. Having been out of hockey for over a decade, I jumped at the chance to help out: being a teacher made me a natural, and my energetic and outgoing personality made me a hit with the kids. Zach loved having me out on the ice, and the other parents who helped out on the ice were guys I had played with growing up. Things had come full circle.
For the next two years, our family paid its dues with weekly 7 & 8 AM practices for half the season, while the second half involved coaching a small team of roughly a dozen players playing exhibition games. My son was learning the value of hard work, fair play, and good sportsmanship, all while bonding with dad. But as Zach improved his skating stride, stickhandling, and shooting skills, I began to realize that coaching was quite the endeavor. Besides studying and implementing various exercises every week, I was also expected to attend periodic coaches’ clinics and meetings, making my already demanding schedule as a high school math teacher even more hectic. At first, it didn’t bother me but, coupled with demanding children on-ice and sometimes even more demanding parents off-ice, even the littlest things started to cause me bouts of anxiety. Hockey was no longer fun. The game which once brought me so much excitement and joy was now nothing more than just another job. Eventually, my relationship with my son began to suffer, as every miscue or unmet expectation on the ice was being blown way out of proportion. The relationship I had so carefully spent cultivating over the last few years was now being threatened by a father’s exhaustion and non-desire to be on the ice with his son anymore.
Something had to change.
When Zachary started hockey this year, I decided that I would take a step back and support my son as a hockey parent by keeping my skates off the ice. As it was, ice time in Novice increased to four times a week, and with a team of almost a dozen or so coaches on the ice with the kids, I knew my son would be in good hands. My full teaching schedule, combined with the time commitment required as an instructor/coach would amount to almost a 2-to-1 work week. And while I love teaching (and kids in general), I simply could not fathom when I would be able to fit in any “down” time. I quickly realized that if I spread myself that thin, I would be doing a disservice to my students, the other young hockey players, and most importantly, my son. The point of playing any organized sport is to have fun, and the way things were going, it was inevitable that neither my son nor I would be enjoying ourselves that much unless I decided to reassess the situation and do what was best for everyone involved – myself included.
And I guess that’s the whole point. Putting my son in hockey at such a young age is not so that he can become an elite hockey player en route to the NHL – he has an entire lifetime & career to choose whether he wants to pursue that or not. Hockey is a game that’s meant to be fun, and that’s exactly what I want Zachary to take away from it at his age. Life’s too short to be worrying about things like playing double-letter hockey anyways. Truth be told, I’d actually prefer if my son did not play inter-city hockey as if would give him the opportunity to experience things outside of the sport. However, if he does decide to follow the path travelled by his dad, I know that he’ll definitely learn how to deal adversity, feel the exhilaration of victory, and the humility of defeat. Hockey teaches teamwork and responsibility in addition to what it takes to be a leader. It fosters a sense of striving for seemingly unreachable goals through a strong work ethic. Granted, I enjoyed playing at an elite level for most of my career, but when I think back on it, the most enjoyable time I had playing my favorite sport were during the days where camaraderie, friendship, and fun rules the day. My patience as a hockey parent who encourages their child to continuously learn the game of hockey while knowing when to offer advice and encouragement is, in some ways, an even greater challenge that teaching how to pivot and skate backwards on the ice.
“I’m a realist and I understand that someday I’m not going to be a hockey player. That’s part of the game. But I’m always going to be ‘Dad,’ so I take [that] role very seriously. I’m always trying to set as good an example as I can for my (boys). I think that carries over into hockey: wanting to set a good example for your teammates, trying to lead by example, and doing the right thing as much as possible. That’s the comparison you can draw.” – Manny Malholtra
So far I think I’ve chosen wisely. Zachary’s toothy grin and beaming smile every time he looks at me in the stands is proof enough to me of how proud he is of what he’s doing. It makes me look forward to watching & supporting my son play hockey – playing for the love of the game.
‘Til the next post.