‘How Do You Know Until You Try?’ Life Lessons Hockey Taught Me

It’s no secret sports can teach you some big life lessons. From leadership to working as a team, coaches from the high school level to the professional ranks use sports to teach athletes about basic fundamentals of life.

One of my biggest life lessons came from my dad when I first started playing hockey. It wasn’t my dad who got me into hockey — he wasn’t even a fan when I first started playing — but it was a friend of my dad’s who had three boys whom all played hockey.

I remember the first time I watched my dad’s friend’s kids play hockey for the first time. I was hooked. I don’t know what it was about the sport, maybe the thrill of scoring a goal and everyone cheering for something you did, or maybe it was because I tried every other popular sport and none of them clicked with me like hockey did.

I did tee ball, baseball, basketball, soccer and they were all fun to play, but I got bored with them or had no desire to get any better.

Then I found hockey. Hockey is a very expensive sport. Not only do you need to buy all of the equipment just to play, but you need to pay for lessons to learn how to skate. Then once you do that, you have to pay fees to be on a team, which include ice time for practices and games. Then you need to pay gas money to play in different cities. I was never on a travel team, but my house teams would still travel to Holland, Muskegon, Traverse City and other places across the state to play other house teams.

This is me as a Pee Wee at 12 years old.

This is me as a Pee Wee at 12 years old.

One of the biggest challenges I faced whilst learning how to skate was learning how to stop. Because I was afraid of falling down and being made fun of by my peers, my three strategies for stopping myself were to crash into the boards, slide into a slow stop or turn sharply. None of these strategies are ideal for a game-type situation, but who wants to be made fun of for constantly falling down? I was getting into the game late as it was — most kids start skating when they are around 3 years old, I didn’t start until I was 7 — and I needed to catch up to the other kids without being the laughingstock of the team.

I remember telling my dad “I can’t stop, I’m never going to be able to do it.” For whatever reason, I thought being able to stop was something you were able to do or you weren’t. There was no ability to learn it — you either had it, or you didn’t.

My dad’s response to this was one of the greatest life lessons I still value today: “How do you know until you try?” Of course, like every kid that age, I brushed it off thinking I knew better than my parents, and mostly because knowing that isn’t going to make it any easier when my teammates are laughing at me because I can’t do a simple thing like stop. I continued to struggle with stopping, while all of my peers could stop on a dime.

It was frustrating. But I slowly started to realize that not everything is going to come naturally to me. The only way I could improve my game was to continue to work on my weaknesses. I practiced and practiced, and I don’t remember specifically falling a lot, but I’m sure I did. And I’m sure a few guys snickered at me, but everyone had weaknesses.

The first time I stopped without falling was a monumental achievement. I remember the snow spraying up on the boards as my skate blade dug into the ice surface. I stopped, and I didn’t need the boards or friction to slow me down.

Of course, my dad was the first one to say “See, you don’t know until you try.” He was right. How would I ever know I couldn’t do something unless I tried it? Simply saying I can’t without trying is already admitting defeat.

This lesson has served me in other areas of my life, most notably, in my relationships.

Last year, I met a girl at a party who I became instantly attracted to (side note: That usually isn’t hard for me, but this girl was captivating). She was way out of my league, and I figured she probably wasn’t interested in me, anyway. With a face and body like that, she could get any guy she wanted.

But then the words of my dad echoed in my head: “How do you know until you try?” He’s right. Maybe she doesn’t like pretty boys, maybe she’s not into jocks. Maybe she goes for quasi-nerdy, awkward guys like me. How will I know unless I try?

So I gulped down some liquid courage and started talking to her. We probably talked for a good two to three hours at the party. Even when I left her to go talk to my friends, she continued to follow me around all night. I never had a girl follow me anywhere — I was always the one doing the following.

We hung out a few times and stopped talking to each other after about a month (translation: I started getting feelings, and she probably recognized that so she bailed), but I don’t regret spending time with her at all. Sure, there were a lot of red flags from the start, and I could have avoided some heart break by never speaking to her again after the party, but I had a good time with her and it gave me confidence knowing that not all girls are unattainable, even if their looks dictate otherwise.

It’s also served me well in applying for jobs, discussing work issues with my bosses and just about every other facet of life. Assuming doesn’t get you anywhere in life. And you know what they say about people who assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

Yeah, I ended my post with a lame saying. Deal with it.

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