Welcome to the NHL... I mean... house league hockey
We are officially 'hockey parents', and I can't say that we are entirely thrilled about it. Growing up, I played ringette and hockey, so I always envisioned my children would want to play, too. Soren has a lukewarm interest in the sport, although to be fair he kind of has a lukewarn interest in most new activities. It takes him a while to get used to new things.
House league hockey - or Timbit hockey - starts at aged 5 for kids. The first year is a two year age split, so all the kids are either 5 (or turning 5), or 6. One might think that they would all start off as beginners... but no, there are pre-season camps, power-skating clinics, and 3x3 summer leagues to prepare them. Which is great, if your child LOVES the sport, and wants to spend all his or her time on the ice. For us, we figured we would sign Soren up for house league, he would be placed on a team, and the season would start. I assumed some kids would be better than others, but that a large majority would be pretty novice.
We had some unfortunate luck which resulted in us missing the first four on-ice try-outs for his age group. It's not exactly try-outs, but rather 6 pre-season sessions designed to get the kids used to skating, after which they will form teams. To accommodate for missing these sessions (which happened because we were out of catchment - and had inadvertently signed up for the wrong club), I registered Soren for a 'power-skating clinic' at a local private rink. The woman I spoke with assured me it was for beginners... but it was not at all. Poor Soren stepped out onto the ice all geared up, and the coaches told everyone to skate a few laps as a warmup. A few laps?! The poor dude can barely stand... it would likely take him 10 minutes to do a lap. As he fell down - over and over again - the other kids whizzed past him and tried to encourage him. It was a disaster. He was in tears for most of the hour, but the other kids, coaches, and parents were all really nice and positive. Afterwards he was drenched in sweat and told me he hates hockey:(
So... once we finally were registered at the right club, we got an email with his ice-times for this weekend. The saturday practice was randomly cancelled due to a power outage, so today was his only on-ice session. It started off poorly - with him crying BEFORE going on the ice. Out they went - all 40ish kids, and started in on drills. The tears continued. This time, he was much more evenly matched... many kids were falling and struggling to hold their sticks. But as we watched from the stands, we could see him wailing with frustration. He would glance over and see us, and give us a thumbs down sign. Like seriously? This is supposed to be FUN. a GAME. As the 'Parents in Sport' online training course I had to take (yep, that's right), told me.
Just as we were totally questioning our sanity... are we torturing our kid? Do we take him off? Quit? Hire a private coach? - A whistle blew. The coaches split the kids up into teams, and they started scrimmaging. aka - playing hockey. The thing they signed up for. And... Soren was great! His posture improved, he followed the play well, skated to the puck, and gave it a few good whacks. We were not sure if we saw a smile, but there were definitely no tears. Slowly, we sighed a sigh of relief.
In the dressing room, Soren confidently took off his equipment as he told us he likes hockey, he just doesn't like those skating drills. I know they are super important, and essential, but I also know that pretty much every kid prefers playing to doing drills. It's too bad that we had to suffer through so much anxiety before he got to experience playing the game, which I think he will like. He's a smart kid, and already seems to 'get' a lot of the plays. Once his skating improves, I'm betting we have a hockey fan in our house.
I wonder though... is it all necessary? Next year, will we have to 'join the troops' and sign him for summer camps and pre-season skating clinics? If he wants to, great. But if not, I would hope that we could just show up to hockey. Meet the coach, get to know the players, and then slowly start back into the season. But on the other hand, I don't want to set him up for failure by not properly preparing him. He's hopeful that this season will be fun, and that's really all I could hope for, too.