When you think of pain, what do you think of? Probably physical pain. There are two other types which come to my mind instantly – mental and emotional pain. However, all three kinds of pain can weigh heavy on the mind of an athlete.
I think back to when I was the skinny-as-a-rail kid in high school with no jump shot and no handle who thought that his 5″10′ 140 lbs frame would carry him all the way to the NBA. Good luck with that. I was proud of the fact that I could box out a man and grab a rebound, I could put that board back in the basket and I could pass. I was a decent defender too. Not great. But above all else – I was able to push myself through the pain. I could tell myself that even though I had limitations I could go out and play. Even if I sprained my ankle (which I did constantly), I should just lace my shoes tighter and get back out there.
Reality came sinking down not too long after like a lead balloon. Recreational after-school basketball is only so competitive. When it comes to trying out for your high school hoops team guys start to laugh at you when you sign up year after year and you never show up.
However, I started to accept that I had those limitations that I just couldn’t overcome and that dream of basketball was only just make-believe. Even in the back of mind from when it first started I knew it wasn’t real. I was always the last kid picked, so how was the short tiny kid suddenly going to turn into pro ball material much less high school team material? Funny thing – I never did.
Years passed and I took a sports psychology course only to realize that all along I’d been analyzing myself from the time I could play a game. Any game. Every move I made, every decision and even every time I decided not to tryout. I wasn’t being an athlete anymore, I was taking that role away from myself before I had the chance. My mind was telling my body that it couldn’t do anything and my body was agreeing without putting up a fight.
Sports psychology also taught me that for years I had been able to dig deep during those basketball games because there was a goal I wanted to attain. In the lead up to the final let down, my mind would convince my body to go so far to the point that I could get physically hurt. If I was to get close enough to emotional damage though, my mind would shut down the process. I could dig and dig but at some point I would drop the shovel out of fear.
As I near forty years old and I learn to play ice hockey I’m struggling with that same set of limitations. This time I have the added burden of age to go along with the pain. Things that didn’t hurt at all or for very long – now take the wind out of me. I can tell my body to keep digging but it feels like I’m digging in concrete and I’m just hearing the clang of metal on stone.
Reaching for the puck and I’m trying to skate.
Trying to make a pass.
The frustration sets in. I’m mad at my body, I’m upset at myself and I’m bothered. At least when I played basketball there was something to be proud of. I could make a good pass or rebound. Now – well hell – everyone is skating past me like I am pulling a Zamboni. Everyone is skating around me like I’m seeing the puck for the first time. Everyone is coming to MY side of the ice. Pick on that guy, he’s terrible. Hey, I get it. I’d pick on me too. That doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. In fact I’m downright pissed, angry, sad, frustrated and don’t know what to do about it.
My stick handling leaves so much to be desired. I can’t stop so I’m constantly running into people and instead of my ankles taking a beating it’s my ribs. I damn sure know what it’s like to get the wind knocked out of you and get back up. I respect the hell out of those guys in hockey that get hit, get back up and find their way back to the bench with an injury. Trust me – it’s not easy. I can’t shoot. I can’t defend. Oh screw it – I can’t play hockey. There I said it. It’s out there. Even newer guys than me can play. Good for them, I’m glad they are more talented than me. Many of them are really good. Hell they are all good.
I’m juggling that emotional, mental, physical pain when it comes to hockey. It makes me wonder if it’s right for me or if I’m right for it? Is it me questioning myself too much? I love the game – but damn you got to have a goal to try to attain. What’s mine? To be proud of something? When every week you switch strategy between laughing at yourself or being pissed at yourself to flat-out trying to enjoy hockey and you feel like you peaked months ago – where do you go?
I know I’ll never be more than a rec league guy – in any sport. But I’m not even sure I’ll be a rec league guy in hockey. I don’t know if I can be good enough not to let myself down much less a team. I struggle just to keep the momentum going in skills drills. Wow – confidence, pain, heartache, struggle, emotion – there’s hockey for you in a nutshell. Is it a crazy dream to want to learn how to play this game?