It's over. All done. Yesterday, I watched my second-year Bantam play his last ever youth travel hockey game. Yes, he will go on to bigger and better things in high school hockey and I'm excited for what the future has in store for his hockey career.
But what I wasn't prepared for was how hard and how incredibly emotional it would be to say goodbye to youth hockey. How did it end so quickly? Where did the years go?
There was a mite game on the ice before our championship game yesterday. The players were so little and cute and it made me reflect on just how much this sport has been a part of not just my son's life but our family's life. I remember the days when my goalie was shorter than the net and the team could hardly see over the boards even though they were standing up. Wasn't that just yesterday? Who is this big, smelly, goofy man-child that lives in his room now?
So my advice to you is this....embrace every single moment of today. When the alarm goes off at 5 am and you're driving to the rink when it is still dark, remember that this is not forever. The early practices, the long days in cold, smelly rinks sitting on hard benches, the occasional bad ref or pain-in-the-rear parent....those things don't matter. They're the insignificant part of what you are doing right now.
Right now you're making memories that will last a lifetime. You're forging bonds with other families that will be like no other friendship in your life. Hockey family isn't LIKE family...it IS family. You will spend countless hours in rinks and cars and hotels with them. You will celebrate holidays and birthdays with them. You will support each other through life tragedies. You will love them like your own brothers and sisters. Get to know them. It will be worth it, I promise.
Right now, you're teaching your son or daughter important life lessons. He's learning how to be a good player and a good teammate and a decent human being. Set a good example. Don't cut down his teammates and coaches. It poisons his mind with negativity that isn't conducive to being a good teammate. Don't scream at the refs. Most of them know the game better than you and even if they don't, it embarrasses your child. They will never say it to you, but they cringe and avoid eye contact with their teammates every time your voice rings out across the rink. (This is one I wish I had been better at myself). Don't dissect his every move after every game. All they need to hear from you is that you love to watch them play. If they want your input, they will ask for it. Keep your feedback positive. Let the coaches coach. Let the refs ref. Let your player play.
Right now you're getting a unique opportunity to spend sequestered time with your family. You'll spend hours in the car together. You'll have down time in cities you may not have otherwise visited, if not for hockey. Spend that time wisely. Talk to each other in the car rather than burying yourselves in electronics. You'll be amazed at the conversations that will occur if you unplug everyone for a while. Go see some things while you're there. The games are important, but so is allowing your child to see new places and experience new things. Push yourself out of your comfort zone or your current interests and see what the local area has to offer. Go see the giant ball of twine or tour the local microbrewery. Open your mind and give things a chance that you may not have otherwise explored. And take the team. It is a great bonding opportunity. When a team becomes a team, they play FOR each other, not WITH each other.
Most importantly, just keep it all in perspective. There will be politics, there will be coaching challenges, there will be bad refs, there will be heartbreaking losses, there will be parental drama. All of that is unfortunately part of the package. Don't focus your energy on those things. Focus on the good stuff. The friendships and the sportsmanship and the fun. Those are the things that matter. Only the seeds that you water will grow. Water the good ones!
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