Blog Archive

22 April 2010

Zen & the Art of Youth Ice Hockey Tryouts

Spring is a season of rebirth, the beauty of plants and trees sprouting buds and leaves, woodland creatures and birds looking for mates, longer days, soft rains and sunshine- in short, I hate it. Spring for me means an event is going to occur that will trigger 96 hours of anxiety, madness, hope, elation and dreaded disappointment. It’s time once again for my son to tryout for his hockey team.

My kid is 10 and is by all accounts a very good player. He’s big and strong for his age, a good skater and has been complimented many times by his coaches for his work ethic and ability to follow instructions. He’s playing on a select team right now, sort of like an area all star team, and scored a game winning goal in Toronto a few weeks back. So, based on his ability and past performance, he should easily make his regular amateur team, right ? We will know tonight at 5 pm if he made the top team or if he has to try out again next week for the 2,3 or 4 team for his age group.

Going into tryout season, I told myself that this year was going to be different. I didn’t care what team he made, it’s all irrelevant and the main thing is that he is getting lots of exercise and having fun. “Impermanence” I kept repeating to myself over and over. I was calm, relaxed, my mind open and free…right up to the point where we were in the locker room getting ready.

“Keep your feet moving” I implored to my son, “stick on the ice, keep your head up” I mumbled, “look at the size of these kids, take it to them” I whispered so that none of the nearby parents could here. “Remember body position, use your size around the net” I continued “you’re faster than anyone in this room.” My kid looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and then said “Dad, why are you so nervous ? I’m not nervous.” With that, he went back to playing his handheld Nintendo, half his gear on, half of it strewn about with the confidence of a 10 year old version of Clint Eastwood.

“Because !” I wanted to yell, “this is serious business, this is a huge commitment in terms of time and money for this family, you need to take this seriously, the people picking the team are not your regular coaches, they don’t know you, jeez it smells in here, don’t you remember when I was your age and I got cut from a team and…..” With that, I caught myself surrounded by a thick wave of guilt. “Just do your best” I muttered and walked out of the room.

I walked up into the stands and sat down with the dozens of other neurotic hockey parents. There are 15 roster spots on the team and 34 kids are trying out. 19 kids are going to be disappointed, 19 sets of parents will be screaming and bitching that the process wasn’t fair, their kid is awesome, how could you do this to us. I could be one of the 19. You could read the body language of the parents in the stands as their kids were on the ice- twitches, winces, clapping, head in hands, smiles. Sort of like an immediate feedback loop tied to their kid's performance. I was trying to stay under control, barely, and limit my outward anxiety to a furiously bouncing knee and nervous facial tics.

Hockey parents are a different breed. I sneer at soccer practice when I hear a parent complaining about the $ 30 registration fee (wouldn’t even buy one glove) and the fact that they have to practice on Saturdays at 9 AM (try 6 AM when it’s snowing.) The season starts in August, and doesn’t really wind up until June. 3 or 4 practices a week, games, tournaments, another night, another rink- the entire family is soon walking zombies who’s lives are slaves to the hockey schedule on the fridge. Hundreds of dollars here, thousands of dollars there…pretty soon it adds up to real money. I've paid hockey bills before the car payment, before the mortgage payment, sold stuff to pay for fees in the bad times. Any rational person would look at this from the outside and label it madness. They're probably right.

I tried to think about why I was acting this way. I think it has to do with wanting the best for our kids, not accepting that they are anything less than handsome, brilliant and incredibly athletic. We try to shelter them from disappointment, hurt and judgment and keep them close to us for as long as possible (sort of like The Buddha's father, but I digress.) It seems incredibly unfair that some stranger can judge them, rate them, categorize them and place them on a team just on the basis of watching them play for a couple of hours. But then again, isn’t that how life works ? Life can be brutal at times, incredibly joyous at others- up, down, sideways and always impermanent.

My kid came off the ice and I met him in the hallway to the locker room. He was drenched with sweat, a huge smile on his face and his big blue eyes flashing. “How do you think I did ?” he asked. “It doesn’t matter buddy, I said. You did your best and I’m very proud of you no matter what.”

I think I need to write that down for next year.


  1. I wish your kid and you the whole Good Luck in the world.

  2. Go C-man! Let us know when the results are in Pete. But either way, we love that kid.