Practice and play: the things we love and finding the line

December 3rd, 2012

SB has been invited to attend goalie training in addition to his regular hockey practices. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming: I’ve been keeping track of the number of times SB has been put in the goal on game day and I certainly haven’t failed to notice how very good at it he is for a kid who’s essentially untrained. When I watch SB skate as a field player, I see all the ways he’s improved, I notice the things he’s gotten good at, and I know just how much hard work has gone into that. He’s a good little player, and he comes by it honestly. It’s work, not native talent, that’s gotten him this far.

When I watch SB play as a goalie, I see all the ways he needs to improve, all the training he doesn’t have, all the specific goalie tricks and traits he needs to be taught – but I also see something that I don’t see when he plays forward or defense. I see that thing that can’t be described. I see what TrainerMan must have seen, that potential that made him put SB in the net in the first place. Now and then I see him do something that he should not yet know how to do. I see promise, the kind you never know if a kid will live up to it or not, but the kind that they either have or they don’t.

SB went to his first real goalie training last Monday, in the rain, on the far back rink where I couldn’t see him properly, and he had his first drill where players ring the goalie from four angles and take shots at him and he was good. Oh, he gave up his fair share of goals, believe me – I’m not saying he’s some amazing puck-blocking machine. But – there was something. Something about the way he stood, about the way he reset his body position so quickly, about the way he came forward, maybe about the way he wasn’t afraid, I don’t know exactly what it was. Something.

If you had asked me a year ago, when SB first started going in the net, what position I wanted SB to play, I would have said I wanted him to be a defenseman. He’s good at defense, he knows where to be and when to be there and I love watching him play. I would not have said goalie. In fact, I would have said I actively hope he doesn’t end up as a goalie. Now, though. Now I’d say something different.

Now I watch him play on the field and I watch him play in the net and I see this: I see goalie as the choice that carries the greater risk, but the potential for much greater reward. I think SB will always be a fine skater, he’ll do just fine, for quite a few years still, on the field. He’ll never be the best kid on the team, and he’ll never bring down the house. But he’ll be fine. He’ll have to work for every minute of ice time, but he’ll be okay. He likes to work at hockey. As goalie though. It might not work out, but it’s also the one position where I could see him end up being something truly special. I’d like that for him. It’s not that I want him to be a goalie, per se, it’s that I want him him to have faith in that something inside of him to follow where it leads.

It’s a great deal to ask of a seven year old, and I’m certainly not asking it of him right now. I’m keeping all this to myself and simply driving him to goalie practice and to regular practice and telling him time and again that he’s got two and a half seasons before he needs to really decide anything. To just get the goalie training and see how it goes. I don’t want to push too hard, I don’t want to scare him off, and I don’t want to turn hockey into a chore.

And yet. If it’s true, if he’s really got that something and this isn’t just a mother’s self-delusion – and I try very hard to be clear-eyed about my children and I’m fairly certain I’m not being delusional – then I want him to go for it, and going for it means turning the thing he loves – hockey – into a lot of hard work at a very young age. It’s a fine calibration, how much pressure is enough, how much is too much and most of all how much is too little. How hard to push, when to back off, when to listen to TrainerMan and when to listen to my child and when to listen to my heart.

It’s not that I want him to be great; I’m not hoping he’ll “make it.” It’s that I want him to believe he could be great, I want him to believe he could be the kid who “makes it.” It’s not that I want to raise a goalie, it’s that I want to raise a kid who chases his dream. I mean really chases it, with all the hard work and bruised shins and rainy day practices that entails. I’m keeping all this to myself right now, because I know SB and he’s a complicated kid who needs a light hand and because he’s seven and this is all too much for a seven year old.

But he might have something. And if he does, in my secret mom heart I want him to walk the harder road. I’m starting to believe it’s the right road for him. The risky road. How do I help him be brave enough to choose it?