The Hockey Season without an Ending

Holding Space for Last Season and Preparing for the Next 

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. I’ve wanted to write about the 2019-2020 hockey season that, like so many aspects of our lives, was interrupted by the pandemic last March. For many children there were games that were never played. Year-End celebrations that never occurred. Championships that never happened. And dreams that were never realized. 

The hockey season simply ended. 

When the hockey season abruptly stopped, its absence wasn’t a priority for me. At the same time that the extra-curricular activities came to a halt, so did the normalcy of my work and my children’s’ education. These two areas of our lives become a high priority as I adjusted to at-home working and my children adjusted to at-home schooling. Hockey was merely absent from our day to day routine. We missed it, but we had more pressing concerns. 

As a family, we talked about the disappointing end of the hockey season. But we moved onward with our new normal. 

However, it was not until late July when I fully realized that I had missed something. My eight-year-old son and I were driving back from the store, and my son broke down crying in the back seat of my vehicle. We had been talking about baseball, and then suddenly the conversation had shifted to the upcoming hockey season. Without warning, there were tears and anger as he expressed what had been clearly weighing heavily on his young shoulders for a long time. As the tears were rolling down his face, he explained that he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his teammates and he didn’t get to say goodbye to his coaches.  He didn’t get to play his last games and he didn’t get to have a year-end party. He missed hockey and he was mad because he loved his team last year. His wonderful season had just stopped. And he was right. It did. Although I thought I had appropriately handled this many months ago, I was wrong. There was no sense of closure for him after a season that was going so well. And although he was able to continue to connect with his teacher and classmates, and effectively close his school year by saying good-bye over a google meet in June, there was no such closure for hockey. One of the most important things in his life, was just left unfinished. It was like someone had ripped a book from his hands when he had just started to read the final chapter. 

And now, nearly five months later, my eight-year-old was still harbouring this considerable disappointment. I was speechless and heartbroken for him. As a parent, I didn’t know how to help him with this type of loss. 

Then recently I had the pleasure of hearing Jeremy Allen (@deathed) talk about how we need to hold space for the loss we felt during the pandemic.  I believe this is what we also need to do for our young athletes. Although we continue to focus on our kids’ education, and their social and familial connections, we can’t ignore the magnitude organized sports has in their world. If your player was disappointed with the end of their sports season, they could still be holding those emotions inside and that could have a ripple effect on how they feel and perform in the upcoming year. 

So, what can we do to address last season and prepare for the next?

We need to help our children hold space for what they lost and what never was because of the pandemic. This space of discussion will help them prepare for the unknowns and the unpredictability of the upcoming season. 

We can’t just ignore the disappointments and move on. Instead, as Jeremy Allen suggests, in order to hold space for what we lost (i.e. the end of the hockey season) we need to reflect on the positives (aka the happies) and the negatives (aka the crappies) of what has transpired.

How can we do that with our athletes? 

Before you enter the rink for the next time, ask your child what was great about last season (the happies) and what wasn’t (the crappies). Take the time to have that conversation about it. Remember, hockey (or any sport they love) has been missed and we need to hold space for what was lost. This is the closure some of our players need. 

In conjunction with that discussion, our players need to know what to expect with the upcoming year. Sure, we can read out the rules verbatim from emails and handouts from our league, but we need to give our players the chance to express their concerns and ask questions. We need to hold the space for that discussion. I believe this is the best way for our athletes to enter a sports season of uncertainty. 

Remember that our children are looking through our changed world with their child eyes. And their lens is not as omniscient as our own. They need guidance and a time to process what is happening and what could happen in the future. We need them to be able to adapt but they need us to guide them through the happies and the crappies as they adjust. 

Hold space for a discussion about last season. Open a space for discussion about the upcoming season. 

And remember that…

Every hockey season is different. 

Every hockey season has challenges. 

Every hockey season provides an opportunity for growth. 

Happy Hockey Days

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