Lessons from the Rink

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It was a Wednesday afternoon in April 2017, and I kept checking my phone for alerts. I was waiting on a delivery that would dictate the rest of my evening. Depending on the arrival, I was going to be playing hockey on ice for the first time in my life. In order to do so, I had to have the proper gear. My pants, shoulder pads, shin guards, and elbow pads were all set to arrive between the ever so precise window of 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. I paced my hallway, taking a break to periodically glance out the front door. See, I was invited to join a group of like minded hockey enthusiasts with varying degrees of skill, and our ice time began at 7 p.m.

Around 5:30 p.m. a box large enough to house a “major award” arrived. I hurriedly peeled the stickers and labels off everything and shoved the gear into a bag. Upon arriving at the rink, my heart began to race as the thought of actually maneuvering myself around the ice began to seep in. I had skated before, but turning, skating backwards and, most importantly, stopping were all foreign concepts to me. Beyond that, I never really thought about the order of how to put on this gear. I non-creepily checked out what everyone else was doing. Some did skates before pants; others went pants, then skates.

Having helped my son get ready numerous times over the past year, I mentally checked off the order of that process and managed to get myself ready. Spoiler alert, I was already out of breath. I hit the ice in time to meet at center ice with the rest of the team. Coach had us circle around him and he introduced himself and then asked if there were any FNGs.

FNGs?

Funny New Guys?

Close.

The F, did not stand for funny.

I raised my hand and he skated over to me. “Hey big boy, do what you can and we’ll get you there.” We then immediately started some drills. It had been a long time since I had subjected myself to anything where I was clearly the worst skilled individual out of the group. For the first drill, we were to line up at the far end of the ice and skated backwards as a group to the other side of the ice. I turned myself around like everyone else did and coach blew the whistle, indicating the start of the drill.

Nothing happened.

I was essentially a sweaty statue. I stood there trying to make my legs propel me backwards.

Still nothing.

I then started to drift forward…you know, the complete opposite direction as everyone else. “How are these people making their legs do this?!” Dread began to creep in.  Coach skated over to me, told me not to worry and instructed me to do something called “C” cuts with my skates and to bend my knees a little more.

Right…I was simply trying to stay upright at this point.

Enough time had passed that now everyone was at the other end waiting for the next drill and I was holding them up. All eyes were on me.  It felt like the sitcom equivalent of when you walk up to the chalk board and aren’t wearing any pants.

What have I gotten myself into…?

Some how I muster two “C-ish” cuts with my skates.  My adrenaline-filled brain won’t recall the precise details, but I do remember that the entire row of players started tapping their sticks on the ice with encouragement. It was a beautiful thing. Like a Disney movie, did the music swell as I then skated backwards the entire rest of the way?

Of course not, my back was burning and I felt like my spine was going to pop out of my jersey. I glided forward, hunched over and rejoined the team at the other end of the ice, where I was given further fist bumps of reassurance.

It’s now been a little over a year and a half and I’ve gone back almost every week. Am I now Bobby Orr?

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Pictured: not Bobby Orr after a mid-ice collision.

Clearly no. More often then not, if I catch a glimpse of myself on video, I appear as fluid as the Tin Man in need of some oil. However, I’m continuing to play with the same group trying to better myself as well as helping coach two youth teams. In doing so, I’ve added another layer of life experience and relationships to my journey and most importantly, I’m really enjoying it.

I share this story,  not as a humorous anecdote to fill space, but because I’ve skated away with these three reminders:

1. The importance of having the correct “gear” in order to be successful. For example, education via a degree or certification may have equipped me with knowledge, but what good is that gear if you don’t know how to put it to use? Just because I have shoulder pads and skates, doesn’t make me a hockey player. (see “In the Weeds” for more gear/ tool metaphors) I’ve been fortunate enough to have many coaches along the way help me put my gear to good use.

2.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a new/unfamiliar situation. Doing the same activity or duty over and over again can help sharpen and fine tune the skills used for that circumstance, but it doesn’t allow for growth outside of those skill sets. However, putting yourself out there and trying something new will help you expand experiences and grow skill sets. As an example, back at the beginning of my District 2 Presidency, I had to attend my first PRPS Board of Directors meeting. There were similarities between that meeting and my first hockey practice. I wasn’t exactly sure what my role was, and I wasn’t familiar with the format of the meeting. (Probably pulled the sweaty statue move too) It can be uncomfortable at first. However, each time afterwards I became more familiar with what to expect and how to contribute. Having gone through that process has equally enriched my understanding of PRPS as an organization, as well as put me in the path of some great peers.

3. Sincere encouragement goes a long way. We’ve all been FNGs at one point or another. Whether it’s your first day of a new job or your first time attending a conference, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes give you feedback and support. I implore everyone to do their part. If you notice someone new at the next conference or district gathering, give them a stick tap and help them on their way to becoming a better member of our society.

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Author: Mike Erno

Director of Parks & Recreation, Hampden Township

2 thoughts on “Lessons from the Rink”

  1. I am the Coach that Ern’s is referring to in this article.
    It’s remarkable and truly outstanding how far he’s come since that first night he took to the ice.
    After his second session, he sent my Team Managers and myself, a message.
    That message started out with, “Thank you for having me. I felt like a “Make A Wish Kid.” I’ve always wanted to do this, but was never given the opportunity.”
    My point?
    I’ll NEVER FORGET THOSE WORDS.
    It’s not just the Coach that impacts the player.
    Many times, it’s the other way around.

    ~Coach Rob Shearer/Head Coach of The Fightin’ Pylons

    Liked by 2 people

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