It may have been many years since I was considered a “youth” hockey player, but I think I can still identify with many of the struggles and challenges they go through. That’s because I had parents who pressured me in the sport, as well as one coach who took the game, and, more importantly (to him), winning the game, incredibly seriously. All of that added up to a lot of pressure on my young shoulders.
I didn’t really know, at the time, how much pressure I was under...until it abruptly ended. At the tender age of 15, I was feeling burnt out with the sport. I was no longer having fun playing it. I was just coasting- playing just well enough and doing just enough to keep my coaches and parents from being mad at me, or so I thought. My coach decided I wasn’t performing well enough and booted me from the team, with nary a warning, after a big loss.
The first thing I felt, surprisingly, was...relief. I was happy I wouldn’t have to play anymore. I was happy to not feel so tired and run-down and worried all the time. It was as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Unfortunately, that feeling of relief only lasted for a few seconds. It was quickly replaced by the realization that I would have to tell my parents what had happened...and face how angry they would be with me. As it turned out, my telling them what happened turned into me breaking down and explaining how pressured and bad I felt. They couldn’t believe they had let it get to that point, apologized profusely, and let me take a break that season. Surprising to them and to myself was that I actually missed hockey, the fun parts of it at least.
So, the next season, I tried out for a team that turned out to be worlds apart from the one I had previously been on. The coach was not demanding; he wanted us players to do our best, but he never really gave us grief for not winning or even focused much on winning. Instead, he helped us to build and improve skills and let us have fun too. That was what I realized I had lost on the old team- the sense of hockey being fun, not just a job. The laid-back atmosphere of the team was perfect for me. Without all the pressure to succeed, I actually did succeed! I became the team captain and went on to play for many years. Even today, I still credit my love of the sport and my good memories of it to that kind coach who knew what the game was really all about.