Another season ends

Another season ends. Over the weekend my eleven year old sons’ hockey season ended. Hockey started with off ice training back on August 1st, 2011. That’s 222 days of hockey season according to my calculations. That’s almost 61% of a complete year devoted to one team, to one sport, to ones self being the best they can be for themselves and for their team. That’s somewhere between 110 – 150 trips to a rink somewhere, I just didn’t feel like going back to count all the workouts, practices, and games.

As I sat down to write this, I started with a title, which I usually save for the end or sometime throughout the journey my mind takes me through. As soon as I wrote the words, my mind, which connects dots that aren’t visible at times, thought of the ELO song, Another Heart BreaksFitting in a way, I guess. Maybe my mind is on to something. So I have listened to that song a couple of times now while writing. If you like ELO at all, the album, Time, on which the song is found, is pretty good.

Anyways the hockey season ended for my sons Pee Wee team. They played 56 games during the season, winning 27, losing 27, and tying 2. I am proud of his effort. He worked hard to improve. He observed often and learned to be a better teammate on the ice. He did improve. He led the team in assists. He played team hockey, and he is better for it. But, this post isn’t about my son, it’s about a season, about a team.

I am thankful to my wife who, at the sacrifice of her own viewing pleasure, spent many cold hours in rinks all over the northeast, watching our twins while I kept stats, comments, and scores of games all season. See, I had the pleasure of following this team closely all season. I enjoy statistics and measurements, but I also like what my eyes, heart, and mind tell me outside of numbers. I really was the fortunate one. I tracked this team, wrote the articles recapping the games, tournaments, month summaries, and input the scores and scheduled games on the website. I had help from a friend here in town who posted many pieces and updates to the town website he runs. Those who know me, know that I have been known to utter the words, “It’s all about the kids”, on more occasions than I could count. That’s the reason I spent the hours this season with my spreadsheet, my little note pad, taking home the game sheets, and plugging everything in to any computer I could log in to. The kids.

I remember as a boy certain folks who would ask me at church on Sundays, how my baseball season was going, or how the State Tournament went, or where did you play this week, etc. I know that unless you knew my family, were at the games, or knew someone else on the teams I played for, then nobody knew that we were even playing anything. Nobody knew we were playing, much less winning, succeeding, growing as teens and teammates. Don’t get me wrong, I had some awesome coaches and devoted parents around me too, but it clearly wasn’t all about the kids as much as it is today. I say that with caution because there’s a lot of people who don’t get it even today. They run around with their heads’ cut off as if their life depended on it, almost as if their son or daughter is an after thought. Kids still need time and space to be kids. I am waiting for the day when an adult no longer says they wish they could be a kid again. They’ll grow up on their own time, just like you and I did.

So, this season was long, it was hectic at times, maybe even grueling here and there. But I would do it again. I love hockey. I love kids who play hockey. I enjoy the family camaraderie that materializes over the hours spent huddled together on a bench, rink-side in sub-forty degree temperatures. The odd ice times, travel schedules, and time it takes to gear up and gear down to play this sport, is all part of it. There are more sleep-overs, come play at my house times, and team lunches than there is in other sports. It’s also pretty cool that most hockey programs pull from more than one town, meaning that these players will play against each other in high school, and so on. It’s another plus for hockey and for the individuals it produces when the hockey gods whisper softly in the players ear letting them know their time playing hockey competitively is done.

Like any season there were ups and downs. There were injuries. There were tough losses. There were exhilarating wins. There was team bonding. There were hours and hours spent in vehicles coming to and from rinks. I know if I were to assess my own performance in the vehicle demeanor with my son, I would have maybe snagged a C for a grade. Kind of like when I was back in school. He would probably be harder on me. Which is the same issue I faced, being too hard at times, I am sure. I am largely in favor of kids being kids and I know I will be better at it next year than I was this year. Like him, I want to improve.

Our team was a mixed team this year, so we had players who were second year Pee Wees playing with first year Pee Wees. Thankfully we were able to get enough kids to have a team by combining the Pee Wees for this team. This also means that as tryouts for the 2012-2013 teams continue as we speak, half our team from this season will be moving up to the Bantam level next season. So, next season we will be spending these many hours with some different parents, and the kids playing alongside some different kids. Good for hockey.

A word (or several) about tryouts. Hockey does tryouts at the end of the season. The teams are selected and then 5 months later you show up and play with your team you made in March. It’s not that simple, thanks to the adults involved, but hopefully you get the idea. Anyways, in my sons particular case this past week, he had tryouts for the next season a couple of days before playing in this season’s State Tournament for his tier. Our team lost in the tournament so the season ended on Saturday afternoon. Tryouts for next season concluded today. Given the timeliness, or lack there of, regarding tryouts as it relates to the current season, I can see how it can be hard to distance one from the other.

I have coached some basketball over the years, and coached a lot of baseball with various age groups from age 9 thru 19. I have evaluated players at tryouts several times. The point is this. The coach in me is happy to know the things I know about the existing player in the existing season, or even previous seasons. I like knowing the makeup of the player, the compete level, the player they are when the game is on the line, the work ethic, the temperament, their athleticism, etc. It’s a plus to know these things. But, if I am coaching this team and looking at the players trying out, I am not looking at the sheet of ice through my rear-view mirror, I am looking forward to the team I see next season. I am looking, not at the player who scored a key goal this past November, but at what that player can give the team next March in the tournament, and the distance required to bridge the gap from now until the moment we need that player to be the best player possible in that position. See, to me, it’s fresh. It’s new. A clean slate. Everything to this point matters; only as it relates to what I can put together in the vision I see looking forward, made up of the players in front of me now. That’s part of the joy in it. It’s not about power or control, agenda or familiarity. It’s about what’s next, it’s about how do we best equip ourselves to get there, and who is coming with us. I would ask that my son be evaluated not by whom he knows, whom he is friends with, how good or bad a season he had, but how does he look today? How does he project? I tried out for teams I didn’t make. I worked harder because I wanted to show myself, and certainly that coach, that I was good enough. I’d show him. One of my older sons was cut from baseball teams a couple of times in Little League and from a school team. I remember talking to him on those days and hearing the resolve in his young voice to work at being better and proving those coaches wrong. Well he did get better. He pitched, and won the State Championship Legion Baseball game in 2010. He had a tremendous career on the field, and he’s an even better person. I’d like to think that some of those obstacles he overcame helped him be the young man he is today, as much as his effort to improve on the field helped him to an outstanding run as a player in high school, in Legion ball, and on several all-star teams.

And I am back. Okay, so this season was long. It was wonderful. It was downright frustrating. It was so much fun at times that joy was hard to contain. It was gut wrenching to watch my child along side his teammates as they poured their hearts into their games and fell short. At least on the scoreboard they did. Sometimes you can look in the mirror and know you left it all on the field of competition, but still came up short in the final score. That’s okay.

Our season really took off in January when the team played 17 games in 31 days. It was crazy. It was so much fun. The players responded. They played better the more they played. Then it was into February, a slower paced schedule, but the importance of wins and losses taking a new meaning as teams jostle for positions in the standings. When all was said and done, we made the tournament. We didn’t win it, but we made it, and we played well in the tournament. Sometimes there are just better teams playing better than your best on any given day. So as I sat on my bleacher seat Saturday afternoon, after the teams had left the ice, and many of the parents had started for the exit, I thought, just like that, another season ends.

I personally would like to thank the coaches who not only have to get their kids to games and practices, but have to be with the team before, during, and after each event. We get to sip our hot coffee, while laughing with friends, as we watch the games and enjoy the strength that exists among a group of people who want and hope for the same things. The coaches are on the bench dealing with the game, the players, the lineups, the ebb and flow of each minute, and the differences that exist from one player to the next. Thank you.

I would also like to thank the parents from our team this season. So many were willing and able to help us and others. Rides to and from rinks were always available. An extra set of eyes on a wandering twin were much appreciated. The commitment to get our kids to where they needed to be in order to be the teammate they aspire to be, is not one to be overlooked. Thank you to our devoted team mom who did an outstanding job keeping us all on track with information and changing schedules. Thanks also to our team mom for getting to the rinks so early and grabbing the best parking spots. Truthfully, it was comforting to know that the long trip to some tucked away rink paid off when I pulled in and saw her vehicle there.

Finally, as I usually do in other season pieces I have written in the past, thank you to the players. Thank you for smiling no matter the result of the game. Thank you for the boundless energy that somehow intensifies when a day of hockey is done and your free to enjoy your teammates and friends. Thank you for asking every time if a friend can come over, or if you can go home with a friend, or if we can all go eat together, even if the answer was often “no”. You wouldn’t be a kid otherwise. Thank you for playing as hard as you could on any given day. I know there’s school, there are projects, there’s family, there’s only 24 hours today, there are body parts that hurt, or sickness you are fighting, there are times you feel like nothing is going your way, there are times you might even be intimidated, and so the list goes. All things considered, thank you for showing up to play. Thank you for celebrating your successes and for feeling your losses. Thank you for being kids playing a team sport. Because even though you might hear the voice you wish you could avoid for at least that hour you’re on the ice, you still play, you still compete. Meanwhile, sitting on a cold bleacher seat rink-side there’s us parents who in some corner of our minds wish we were in your position. Thank you for your commitment to play this sport, as a team, for such a long season. It’s our pleasure to be there in the moments we are fortunate enough to see our youngsters become young men and women.

As I fold my last game sheet so I can return it to our team mom, I close my little note pad, and don’t care what happens to the pen I have in my possession, another season ends.

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