He did it!
Last night, at age 19, our son J.J. played in his first competitive ice hockey game. Now you may think that’s not a very impressive accomplishment for someone his age living in Canada, but there’s a backstory here.
I was raised in Canada playing hockey on frozen ponds and makeshift rinks in our neighborhood. Later, I played on my high school team and eventually participated on the team here at Kingswood University for two years before transferring to complete my undergraduate degree at Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina. You will not be surprised to learn that SWU did not have an ice hockey team. Except for one freak storm in my senior year, they didn’t have ice…except to put in their sweet tea!
Now, here we are back in Canada 37 years after I played my last game at Kingswood. I’m blessed with 3 wonderful sons and all of them have enjoyed learning to ice skate since we moved to Sussex, New Brunswick. John, our oldest son, had a late start but really improved over his time here at Kingswood. As much as he wanted to, John never quite got the hang of stopping quickly on skates. That is important to ensure sure that you do not unintentionally injure yourself or others when you’re playing the game.
Back to JJ. The local arena offers free ice skating over the noon hour so JJ began skipping lunch and practicing every time he could. He learned to skate forward. He eventually even learned to skate backward. But, no matter how hard he tried, he was frustrated for two years trying to learn to do the hard stop. Friends and father alike offered suggestions. He kept trying. Still, no success.
This year, during the Christmas break from classes, JJ had more time to practice his skating. He went every time there were free sessions at the arena. He was so determined that he even ended up with frostbite. That wasn’t in the arena but on a frozen pond in the fields behind the college. The temperature was well below freezing, but he would not be denied. He worked on stopping over and over again. He fell, got back up and tried again. His gloves were designed for winter wear but were not intended to keep fingers warm for hours in subzero temperatures.
But I’ll never forget the look on his face the day he told me that he’d finally figured out how to do the hard stop. He was triumphant. He was exuberant. Yes, we did have to help him care for his fingers and make certain that the frostbite didn’t cause permanent damage.
His determination and sacrifice had finally paid off.
He still had to do a tryout with the hockey coach to demonstrate his proficiency. The tryout was a success and he was given the green light to suit up for his first hockey game last night. He certainly wasn’t the fastest skater on the ice and he didn’t score a goal, but I couldn’t be any prouder of him.
I am more proud of his effort than his accomplishment. Even if JJ had never mastered the skill of the hard stop, his determination and perseverance were building something deeper in his character that will serve him well as he moves into leadership challenges after graduation.
Perhaps the skill that you are trying to develop won’t require you to endure frostbite, However, for every meaningful accomplishment, there is a price to be paid. Don’t give up. Push yourself a little further. Stay in the race a little longer. You are becoming strong and better in the process.
John Wooden, Hall of Fame basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, wrote:
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur…. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.” – John Wooden
On that scale, JJ was a success.
And who knows, before he graduates JJ may just score that game-winning goal!