by Mike McPartlin, Headmaster, Bridgedale Academy
In my first article discussing this topic I explained why I believe our nation needs saving.
This article and the next three discuss why I believe hockey players in particular have the right stuff to save our nation.
(Caveat: In these articles I am not talking about ALL youngsters who play hockey. There are “hockey players” and there are “kids who play hockey.” Any hockey coach worth his salt can explain to you the difference. Here I am talking about hockey players. In particular, I’m talking about hockey players who aspire to the higher levels, and who have demonstrated the commitment level required to really excel at hockey.)
Do hockey players really have the right stuff?
A number of years ago, when Bridgedale Academy was still in the planning stages, I had the great good fortune to meet some wonderful people from Hillsdale College and Hillsdale Academy.
Almost immediately I knew I wanted Bridgedale to become a Hillsdale Academy-model school academically.
In one of my early discussions with Hillsdale Academy Headmaster Ken Calvert, he asked me if I thought using a classical curriculum would go over so well with young hockey players.
“After all,” he said, “our curriculum is quite challenging. Won’t the hockey players who attend Bridgedale be more interested in the hockey side than the academic side of things?”
My answer surprised him.
Hockey players are unusual
“Hockey players are unusual,” I told him confidently, “they’ll more than handle it.”
And then, for some reason, I added:
“Besides, our nation is in trouble and hockey players can help save it.”
I actually don’t know why I said that to him. I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms until those words came tumbling out.
“Really? How’s that?” asked a skeptical Dr. Calvert politely.
To his surprise I had a ready answer.
I told him that the very nature of hockey as a sport brings out the best in those who play it.
And then I gave him my reasons why:
"Hockey breeds humility, respect, honor and courage."
This article discusses the first of these reasons.
Reason 1: Hockey breeds Humility
Hockey is arguably the hardest sport in the world at which to become even marginally good. It demands an unusual commitment. Aspiring players must respect this commitment.
And this respect demands a humility that, I would argue, most sports do not.
Now, it’s true that young hockey players often will display some cockiness.
But sooner rather than later, that cockiness matures into a confidence tempered by humility.
Developing hockey’s skills is a humbling challenge
Hockey requires a unique combination of skills, and all those skills must not only be mastered but also coordinated with each other.
It does an aspiring player only so much good to be able to skate well if he cannot comfortably execute all the other required skills (passing, stick handling, shooting, checking, etc.) while he is skating. And vice versa. Because each of these difficult skills is related to and dependent upon each of the other skills.
Frustration in trying to master these skills gives way to a humble determination.
And without that humble determination, the skills refuse to be mastered.
It’s not a ball, it’s a puck
Hockey is unique in another way.
In most other sports, the “object” used for play is a ball, a ball that you can hold in your hands and throw, or catch in a glove, or control with your feet.
The object used for play in hockey, however, is the puck, a 1-inch thick, 3-inches in diameter hard-rubber disc that slides along the ice. You control it with a curved stick at a distance from your eyes. Your head/eyes must remain “up” while you play so you can survey the constantly changing positions of your teammates and the opposing players.
The game is played at high speeds, mind-boggling speeds at the higher levels.
Knocking down the puck carrier is legal … and encouraged
And, oh yes, while you are in possession of the puck, it is legal for an opposing player to use his body to knock you down.
In fact, legally knocking down the puck carrier is one of the challenging skills that young players work so hard to master.
And getting knocked down can be … well, humbling.
And even if you do everything right … there’s the goaltender
Okay. So your team has made 3 or 4 nice passing plays, and now you’ve got the puck on your stick and you are 20 feet from the opposing net, in perfect goal-scoring position with plenty of time and room to take your shot.
And the only thing between you and this excellent scoring chance is … the goaltender.
Yet this goaltender has for years been perfecting his own incredible skills set, learning how to do “unnatural” things like putting his arms, legs, hands and feet in the path of the puck.
His agility with his heavily padded legs and awkward skates defies logic.
His knack for being aggressive … while at the same time he patiently “out-waits” the shooter … is befuddling.
You take your shot … and more than 90% of the time the goaltender makes the save.
It’s like having 3-foot putts that keep lipping out. It’s maddening.
But a true hockey player will re-gather himself and line up for the next face-off. He will forget about what just happened and make sure he’s ready for the next shift.
No one, and I mean no one, just “gets by on talent” in hockey.
At some point in every hockey player’s career, there comes a day of reckoning.
Hockey requires, hockey demands, a form of humility born of respect for its challenges.
(Stay tuned for Part 3 of this blog series to learn more about why I believe hockey players have the right stuff to save our nation.)
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