Sunday, April 1, 2012

Living With Hockey Heartbreak - A Guest Post

Martha asked if I could write a guest post for her and her instructions were to "make it light and funny."  Unfortunately, light and funny is not what I'm feeling this morning.  What I'm feeling is sadness and I'm struggling with whether I'm a lunatic for feeling this way or just mildly crazy.

Henry's hockey team, for which I serve as a coach, participated in their end of season play-offs this weekend.  Youth Hockey has a very long season.  Practices are three times per week, start in late August and in our town, most teams end up playing 50-60 games.  In other words, the season often wraps up around the time you are thinking you really need to finish your taxes (and that's my next task today).

I've coached ever since Henry's first year in organized hockey in 2006 and I know from experience that all teams go through ups and downs over the course of the absurdly long season.  Henry has been very fortunate to play on some good teams over the years, twice winning the overall championship for the league of 80+ teams, twice qualifying and competing in the state tournament and recording wins at numerous holiday tournaments.  This year, Henry's team didn't do any of those things.

Obviously, wins and losses are meaningless for kids at this age and I accept that some people reading my post will dismiss me now as another crazed sports father, but I do think that winning can be habitual and valuable down the road.  Winning typically comes from dedication, focus, teamwork and "wanting it" more than your opponent.  Prepare, focus, execute and repeat.  Again and again in my work life, I've seen that these traits lead to success off the field, ice or court.  Sure, there are some athletes, investors, accountants etc. who can get by on "natural ability," but for most of us, hard work, dedication and the desire to win are required traits for success.  So, although I want the kids to have fun and get exercise, I also like them to win.  Although the only tangible benefit they'll see now is a $3 trophy, I believe that these young skaters will reap some benefits later in life if winning encourages them to develop these traits.

For most of the season, the performance of this year's team could best be described as erratic.  From September through mid-February, their play varied wildly from week to week.  Some games they "came to play" and others they just did not.

For a month beginning in mid-February, they went from erratic to just plain bad.  They lost 7 games in a row, many with painfully lopsided scores and no one seemed to be having fun anymore.  I'm pretty sure that most of the kids and parents just wanted the season to end, myself included.

Then at a game in mid-March something happened.  On a warm Sunday morning when most of the kids were probably thinking about lacrosse or baseball, the team found itself playing a first place team from another division that was made up of kids from New Hampshire, several of which appeared to be direct descendants of Andre the Giant.  Oh yeah, did I mention that we didn't have a goalie?  The normally reliable family of our goalie thought the game was 4 hours later and with the rink a good 40 minutes from their home, my call to the father 20 minutes before game time was not enough to fix the situation.

As a result, we played without a goalie for the first period or I should say, without a traditional one.  Kids rotated into the position in their normal equipment, with one racking up numerous saves and we only trailed 3-0 when the goalie arrived at the end of the first period.  We ended up losing 6-4, but the kids figured out that we "won" the last two periods of the game against a good team and along the way they had fun and bonded over the challenge put before them.

Although this was fairly late in the season, something clicked for the kids.  Everyone started working hard again and supporting their teammates, and they put together four straight wins to end the regular season.  Needless to say they entered the play-offs this weekend on a hot-streak and the focus and dedication that hadn't been there consistently all season seemed to have taken hold.

They played a hard fought game on Friday night and came away with a 2-1 win.  This win meant a match-up on Saturday evening with the first place team, who is from a neighboring town and with whom we share a rink.  So, natural rivals.

The teams played each other seven times this season and although we managed two wins, we found ourselves on the losing end of some lopsided games over the course of the year.  Odds makers certainly would have put us as significant underdogs.

Our kids played very hard throughout the semi-final game and held a 2-1 lead with 5 minutes to play.  We unfortunately relinquished the lead with 19 seconds left and ended up losing in overtime, 3-2.  After our opponents scored the winning goal, pandemonium ensued - for them.  All we were left with was a room full of exhausted 11 and 12 year old boys with tears in their eyes.  They had given their all and it wasn't enough.

Then, as I sat down to write this today, I realized that maybe I don't have this right.  I don't remember that much about thrilling wins form my sports experiences - I remember the heartbreaking losses.  The overtime loss in the State Finals in hockey when I was 15, the overtime loss in the ECAC lacrosse championship in college and countless others.  I think what I realized is that it isn't the outcome, but the process.  The wins are nice, but the times when you come up short seem when giving your all are just as important.  If Henry and his teammates are like me, the pain will dull with time, but it will stay with them as a useful reminder that not all hard work gets rewarded, but without it, there is never opportunity.


Aaron said...

Hey...Gordy's a good writer! Who would've thunk it? That was a deep and well-written piece that will resonate primarily with people who don't read a lot of blog's written by women - Men. But I was feelin' ya bro!

Martha said...

He is! And he'll be glad to see that his writing finally merited a comment.

He was feeling rather dejected. Especially since it is obvious that no one from his family actually reads this blog!

David said...

We both read the blog every posting. It is true that we don't comment. We do vote though. Beware we may start commenting if Janice can figure out how to do it-- which is unlikely.

Martha said...

Oh, that's so nice! Gordy was starting to feel like no one read his post!

and thanks for voting, too!

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