Once upon a time, ABC aired “Wide World of Sports.” Its host, Jim McKay, opened each show by mentioning “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.”
At the professional or international levels, it was true enough. Not so in minor hockey, as my bantam youngsters found out when they lost two pre-season games 9-0 and 10-2. For one thing, the opposition, from another branch and at a higher level, was clearly a much stronger team. They had few really weak players and a handful of exceptionally strong ones for this age and level. One boy, a defenceman, was about 5’10” and 190 lbs. with a heavy slapshot that everyone on both teams got out of the way of. I can’t blame them, partly because he wasn’t quite sure where it was going.
Were the scores reflective of their domination? Pretty much, yes. My boys got bounced around and were fairly bagged from chasing puckcarriers in their own zone. It’s one thing to do it for a couple of shifts in a row. It’s quite another when you spend most of a period doing it.
Yet after the first game, there was no agony of defeat. It certainly had nothing to do with anything I said. Kids are intuitive and far more knowledgeable than we give them credit for. They knew the team was at a different level, that their own skills couldn’t match up. The best they could hope for was to win occasional small victories and never mind the score.
Indeed, this is a lot harder to wrap one’s head around once the regular season begins. But it was a lesson for them and for me since I’d spent so many years in junior where there were less opportunities to learn from “moral” victories. So going into the second game, there was no point doing much of the usual pre-game blah-blah. They already knew what they were up against.
I spoke to the opposing coach beforehand. He was a decent young fellow, new to the region and the team, who was a little embarrassed by the first shellacking. I asked him to tell his boys for the second game not to back off. We needed the difficult challenge. Besides, I said, now we had him where we wanted him!
The boys were remarkably upbeat throughout that second game. It helped we scored the first goal and were down only 4-2 after two. Then they popped in three quickies in the first two minutes of the third. My kids, already tired, had had enough of them by this point and, while, they never gave up, their brain cells drifted into slumber mode as the opposition scored six in the third period.
Afterwards in the room, nary a headshake or frown. No agony of defeat. Just pride in having scored twice on them, and survived.
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