"We are the Champions, my friend!"
Yes, it's a tad cliche but that catchy line from Queen's famous rock anthem blasted over the East York Arena loud speaker last Saturday. On the ice, a happy bunch of 10-year-old hockey players celebrated, as the Avalanche upset the Hurricanes to claim the title in our local Toronto house league. It was a pleasure coaching the Av's; a hard working bunch of lads with a solid group of parents that made the season very enjoyable.
With that said, there's a lot of pressure playing in a championship game. So in the pre-game speech, what does a coach say to a group of earnest young kids?
I decided that sharing the truth with my squad was probably the best option.
"Guys, I know you really want to win this game. But here's the thing. The other team really wants to win too. We can't control the outcome, all we can do is make sure we give it our best effort. All year long our motto has been "Fun, Hustle, Improve." I want you to go out there and really enjoy the day. You've earned the right to be here and the reason they call it a "Championship Game" is because you have to be a champion to play in it. We've got all summer to rest, so let's make sure and give it our best effort. If we work our hardest and still end up losing, at least we can look in the mirror and know we didn't cheat ourselves. So let's work five percent harder than we've ever worked before, and play five percent better. Let's try to improve every shift and no matter what happens, we'll come back in the dressing room and celebrate a great season."
Not a bad speech.
The only curve ball was that the start of the game was delayed, leaving us a few extra minutes to kill before hitting the ice. With that in mind, I tossed in some extra words of wisdom for the boys to ponder.
"Hey! No matter what happens today, we're all winners. Of course, if we actually win the game we'll be MORE of a winner!"
I was just kidding, of course. But as it turned out, yes, we did win the game and enjoyed a fun post-game victory celebration. Being a father before a coach, one of my favourite moments was posing for a personal photograph with my son as he cradled the championship trophy. This was Max's fourth appearance in a title game and, going in, he was 0-3. It was nice to see him finally finish on top and, not only that, he's going out a winner.
Max, you see, is hanging up his skates. He likes hockey, but he loves basketball. So, starting next season, he's enrolled in the East York Basketball League. Unfortunately, as an old hockey guy, I don't know a whole lot about hoops so I won't be coaching him next year.
But who knows?
Maybe I'll crack open a few basketball books, slap on a fancy suit and some hair gel and one day start prowling the sidelines barking out offensive schemes. Or, maybe Max will actually miss hockey and eventually head back to the rink.
Whatever the case, it's been a fun three years coaching my little guy and all the great kids I've come across at the old barn in East York. It's also been a pleasure sharing some thoughts with all of you through the "Cornered Coach" blog. Perhaps our paths will cross again down the road.
But until then, remember that we're all "champions" if our hockey hearts are in the right place.
And if we have "fun, hustle and improve,” I like our chances for success—on the ice and in life.
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