Sunday, November 24, 2013

Minor Hockey - Make the rink your classroom

People always say that it's not the homework or the exams you'll remember when you're no longer in school. It's the class field trips, the school plays, and all the special events that you'll look back on with fond memories of what it was like to be a kid. The same is true for minor hockey players. No one remembers every game they ever played or every opponent they ever faced. What everyone does remember from their minor hockey days though, are the weekend tournaments, the team parties, and all the other festivities associated with being a minor hockey league player.

Minor hockey is a time like no other in the life of a hockey player and it is very equatable to academic schooling. Early on in Novice, Atom, and PeeWee the players aren't really concerned with their futures as pertaining to hockey. Just like Grades 1-7, it's about learning the basics, making friends, and having fun. But then suddenly a student hits Grade 8 and they have to contemplate their futures in academics just a little bit because they want to make sure they're taking the right courses and doing the right things to prepare for potential entry into University faculties. Let's equate that phase of school to the Bantam, Midget, and Juvenile phases of hockey. It's still about having fun but suddenly there's an end in sight. Players are asking themselves: "What happens when I graduate from minor hockey? Do I want to continue to pursue hockey seriously? Because if I do, I have to start taking my games more seriously."

There are great opportunities available to pursue hockey after minor hockey. Scholarships to great Universities in Canada and the US are available to those who strive for them. From there, there are further opportunities to continue to play competitively thanks to the Canadian Women's Hockey League, which offers players a league to play in where the caliber is high and ties to the National Teams are rich. The opportunities are there, but the players have to be willing to go get them. Just like in school, if the grades aren't there, the opportunities won't be either.

Having been around the Minor Hockey scene as an adult for a few years now, I can honestly say that the opportunities come easier to some players than they do to others. Some players are naturals. Their talent is obvious, their skills are effortless, and their physique is ideal. Maybe their parents were both athletes in their day so they've inherited the sports gene. Others are not so fortunate. They might be a first generation athlete in their respective families and the only physical attributes they may have inherited are short legs and a sweet tooth (thanks Mom and Dad!). It is a lot to ask of teenagers to contemplate their professional futures. While their friends are out having a good time and enjoying their freedom, hockey players are at the rink every day of the week trying to hone their trade. Not only that, they are also having to be cognizant of what they're putting in their bodies. Cookies or fruit? Pop or water? Drugs drugs?

From what I have witnessed, the players who are meant to have success make these decisions effortlessly and unbegrudgingly. Even if they are not the most skilled, they do have the most maturity. While the rest of their team mates are throwing back sodas before a big game, they are walking around with a homemade protein shake. While their teammates are slacking off and playing Candy Crush (addicting game, I know!) before a big game, they are in a quiet corner thinking about what they need to do to help win this big game. They are working on their physique away from the rink. Hockey players are famous for having big strong legs. Hands up - whose pants no longer fit around the thighs now that we're into the thick of hockey season? But these Minor Hockey players are focused on their upper bodies too. They recognize that if they want to shoot with velocity they need strong arms. They recognize that if they want to be hard to beat they have to protect the puck so they need a strong core. They are already incorporating extra training because they know that the on-ice portion won't be enough.

I am not trying to depress players by making hockey sound like school. It's not, trust me! It's way more fun! But I guess what I'm saying is this: if you have the talent and if you have the means, try to recognize this so that you don't waste the opportunity. It may feel like a sacrifice right now but it'll lead to years and maybe even decades of a great life in hockey. Enjoy the games, the tournaments, the parties, and even the training. You will never forget those experiences. If you're a young person who has the opportunity to pursue hockey further, give it a shot. What's better than having an ice rink as your classroom right!