My son, like thousands of other 12 year old boys and girls plays hockey. Not for money, not for glory but for fun. Pure and simple fun. Like many dads and moms I sometimes fall into the dreamworld of him making it to “the show”. Is he good? Yes, I believe he is a very good player, a pitbull terrier made of sandpaper and grit. Lacking in footspeed but has hockey sense and smarts well beyond most children his age. He has played at the AAA & AA level in spring hockey as well as on the Rep 2 level and house level in his local minor hockey league.
He has dreams, “I want my name on a banner dad” or when it comes to his football it’s “I want a ring dad”. He wants those and I want those for him just as any parent would.
I pack up his bag, everything in its right place, fill his water bottle while his mom makes sure he has a pregame or practice snack. Then like dutiful parents we tote him off to the rink for 5:45am practice or after school or dinner game times.
He is in Rep tryouts now, another two week window of strain and stress. Not for him, for me and for every hockey dad or mom. I watch him hit the ice, blades flashing as he and 40 or so other kids loosen their legs. My eyes rarely leave him, I know its hard for him sometimes knowing I’m there watching as the coaches and instructors parade him and the others around the circles and pylons. Then laps and sprints. The drills he loathes but must endure in order to succeed. I watch some others dash by him as they pump their legs in a frenzy. I watch him push himself to the limit of his abilities. Drills arent his thing, game play is where he excels.
So we wait at home constantly checking our email to see if he has made the first cut or not. I know there are defencemen better than he is. Bigger, stronger and faster. I’m a realist, I know where my sons skillset excels and where he is lacking. Getting selected to the A1 camp is not going to be easy for him despite his efforts. Just as I know there were others better than him, I also know there are several that he outperformed as well, so we wait. His mom and I checking the email so often the server should have crashed. Finally the email comes, our son is going to the A2 camp. A quick perusal of the names going to the A1 camp quickly lights the fire inside. Not just inside me but inside other parents as well I would imagine. How did that kid get to go? Really? What are the evaluators looking at?
So, now we have to tell him he wasn’t chosen for the A1 camp. The last time we had to tell him the same thing he was devastated, crushed. In our hockey association nepotism and friendship carries a lot of weight when selecting the final few players for the A1 or the A2 camp. Everyone denies it, but everyone knows it is also true. The worst part about it, the saddest part about it is the kids know it’s true. It exists in all hockey associations, not just ours. Be friends with the coaches, be on the executive committee and your child gets the spot deserving or not. I despise this and always have. Once again this season the “bbq club” as it is called has filled the last spots in the top camp with the children of their friends or executive members. I know that there was another defenceman at tryouts that should have been selected for the A1 camp, even before my own son. One child selected drifted through the tryout with little or no effort. Another chosen while showing vast improvement in his skating technique still shows poor in game judgement and play. While mine and another I found more deserving are off to the A2 camp.
I write some venom and post it in anger on a social media page. Disappointed, but not in my son. Disappointed in his association which operates under the facade of openness and fairness. I get some positive feedback on my social media rant but I don’t feel better. I still have to tell my son he didn’t make the camp he was striving for. My wife checks her social media, as we all do constantly. She is upset at my verbiage and asks me to remove it. I dont want too, I want everyone to see it, read it and justify my anger. She asks again for it to disappear. This time in the name of matrimonial bliss I wisely choose to remove it.
We sit our son down and break it to him as tenderly as possible. He looks at us and asks why he and “Johnny” didn’t make it. I was better than “Billy and Tommy” and so was “Johnny”, how come they got picked and we didn’t? My son knows politics, he’s twelve years old and already knows how the game is played. We asked him if he was mad or upset. Incredibly he looked at us and said “that’s ok, now I can play with my friends”. I am amazed, even taken back a bit at his response. Why, if he is in the place that makes him happiest do I let my feelings of disappointment and anger consume me?
Now we are at the A2 camp, he is skating hard and showing his new coaches he is capable of playing at this level. I lean on the glass, I hear other parents whispering about my media outburst. A few of them, even parents from the A1 camp speak to me and agree with my assessment. I feel my sense of self-righteousness grow as my thoughts, feelings and words are confirmed by others. My son is showing well. Did I tell him I was proud of his effort or did I fail too because I was angry? Does he think I am disappointed in him? I make a mental note to voice my pride in him.
My sons team has played four exhibition games so far. A nice 3-2 win. A dreadful 10-2 shelling followed by 8-1 and 6-0 losses. The cuts begin, six here and more to come. I’m confident my son will make the team but I see the faces and hear the words of others who are not so sure. I have a feeling of who may be released, in my gut and in my head I feel I know. Kids that are reaching for the next level but are going to fall short of their dream. I know the email that is coming for them, the pain their dad and mom will feel when they tell them. No parent wants to tell their child their best wasn’t good enough. It hurts, it cuts inside like a hot knife through butter. For those parents and those kids I feel for you, I understand and sympathize.
So the season will begin. I will drive my son to practices and games at all hours of the day and night. I will sit in the stands or lean on the glass and watch him. He’s a thousand times better than I ever was, I love watching him play. I wonder if he knows that? Some of my most enjoyable moments are watching him play hockey or football. I’ll yell and scream, hoot holler and cheer like every other mom and dad at the rink. Good plays and bad plays by him and his team mates. I’ll critique his play, the good and the not so good. Do my best to compliment his team mates and do my best to keep any criticism to myself. I’ll watch him skate, sweat, clear the front of his net and perhaps even score a goal or two. He laughs and he smiles. He dances on the ice to the arena music. He is happy, he is having fun with his friends and playing the game he loves.
Why do I care so much about where he plays or who he plays with? Why? Because I am a hockey dad.
Maybe I should just enjoy being a dad and let everything else go.
These are the confessions of a hockey dad. Game on!!!