Last night my oldest son and I went to his house league hockey practice.
For those without kids, or whose kids do not participate in sports, the difference between a house league team and a travel team is that house league is usually open to anyone with a uniform and an entry fee, and most everyone is guaranteed reasonably equal playing time. Coaches are volunteers and the emphasis is supposed to be on participation rather than on winning.
Travel teams usually have to be “made” (i.e., a tryout performed and passed) to get on the team, there’s more expense, and the emphasis is definitely on winning. Playing time is not guaranteed, and the level of play is higher in quality and intensity.
Talk to any given parent and their attitude on sports will run the gamut from putting zero pressure on kids to compete to putting way too much pressure on kids to compete. I probably tend toward the latter much more than the former, but try my best to let my kid be a kid and enjoy his childhood without being an overbearing sports dad.
Most days I do better than others, but some days I make an ass of myself. No rationalization offered – there it is.
Last night my kid’s house league team had team pictures taken during a portion of their allotted ice time (which I don’t understand – ice time is a premium resource, running about $175-$200 an hour at most rinks – why not have team pics OFF ice? I digress). This left about 30 minutes for actual practice time.
At the practice, all of the boys were unfocused. Their play was sloppy. The coaches weren’t engaged. It looked like a hundred other house league practices that I have participated in and watched over the years. Not a knock – it is what it is.
My son’s play last night was particularly bad. In fact, it was downright awful.
The awful part wasn’t that his play was sloppy (it was) or that he was at the back of the line for every drill (he was) or that he loafed on every drill (he did).
The awful part was that he was totally disinterested in anything he was doing out there. And it showed – big time.
What upset me is not that my son goofed off at a house league hockey practice. What upset me is that he didn’t even seem to try – and that he didn’t care.
And that he was wasting his time, my time, and everyone else’s time out there.
What’s the big deal? It’s a house league Squirt hockey practice, in Central Florida. What do you expect?
Well, I don’t expect my son to be the fastest player. I don’t expect him to be the best player. I don’t expect him to be the smartest player.
I do expect him to practice as he would play. I expect him to be the best player his abilities enable him to be.
I expect him to try. Try. Not just show up. Engage. Learn. Grow.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
In the car, we talked about the practice. I probably made way too much of a deal over it than in reality it actually was. But I wanted to emphasize that just because it was a house league practice doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give your best effort.
Character is sometimes defined as what you do when no one else is looking. I’m struggling to communicate this to my son in a way that is constructive, and in a way that he will see as a path toward making him a more disciplined person and teammate.
Heavy stuff for an nine year old, right? Practice like you play, skate every shift like it may be your last, yada yada yada.
Why is this stuff even important? It’s kids sports for crying out loud.
It’s important because life is to a large extent about how to handle situations beyond your control and how your preparations up to that point enable you to do so – or not. Poor preparation – poor execution when it counts.
Some people are “gamers” – they don’t practice hard, sometimes are quite abusive to their bodies in fact – and yet are stellar performers when it counts. Most of us are not so gifted.
Without training and discipline to get that “muscle memory”, to know explicitily what your body can and can’t do, to know viscerally the effort it takes for success – when things really count and we are put to the test, we often fail not because we lack the ability to succeed, but because we lacked the discipline to do the work to insure our success.
G-d – I hate corny sports analagies as much as the next guy. So I will resist spouting another stupid one at this point.
This post is really me struggling with how to make a teachable moment out of a nothing house league hockey practice that everyone else has forgotten.
Last night I had a horrible dream. In the dream, my son and I had travelled to a city together and were to fly home. For whatever reason in the dream, I was to fly home ahead of my son and then fly back to return home together.
Except that when I got to our home city, I found I could not get back in time to be with my son to fly together. And I couldn’t call him. And I couldn’t get another flight back. I knew where he was, I knew I was supposed to be there, but I couldn’t reach him.
Freudian doesn’t even cover it.
Needless to say, this morning I hugged him a little tighter than normal.
So, how did I do on my “teachable moment?” Who can say. Didn’t feel all that great last night, it gave me bad dreams, and it’s sticking with me all morning.
Apropos of nothing, there is a scene in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus where Richard Dreyfus takes a student (who is talented but doesn’t try) to the funeral of a kid who had zero initial talent but struggled to learn to play drums to stay on the football team. In the movie, it looked like the kid could care less.
In the final scene of the movie, where all of the students from Mr. Holland’s past appear to show their thanks for what Mr. Holland had done for them, that kid (now a man) was there – and it was obvious he did OK.
That partially describes my best hope – that mostly the good of what I want to teach my children holds and that my work as a parent will give good fruit.
And that we never waste each other’s time together.
Last night at my son’s travel team practice, he had one of his best skating sessions – ever. His first words off the ice were “how’d I do?” Good job, son. Good job.