A Newbie All Over Again

by barbaragarn

Guest blog by Michael Bernard

Three Mondays ago, I had the good fortune to become a newbie all over again. My life’s resume now includes a new line– Sessions at Goalie: 1. And what a fine experience it was.

I am an adult hockey player. I started playing in (I think) ’96-’97 when I was … 28 years old (ouch). Since then, I’ve played a lot. In the last 8 or 9 years, I’ll bet that I’ve played 600 or 700 times (probably at least that many).

To play a game 700 times, you might think it’s a body’s most favorite thing in the world (vis-a-vis 700 root canals). But, for me, that wasn’t the case. For me, hockey had become routine. Routine is a great enemy of appreciation — it’s a door left open for indifference. Hockey deserves better.

For example, 9 times out of 10, I pack my bag thinking about how late I’ll get home and whether my kids will behave at bedtime. I arrive at the rink thinking about whether anyone on the other side is mad at me from the previous match-up (league games only of course — not JMS). I get dressed talking about beer or poking fun at teammates.

I skate warm-up thinking about which opponents deserve special attention. During the game, I think about what I did wrong, how mad my goalie will be if we lose and how tired I’ll be the next day at work. Hockey deserves better.

So after I clicked the signup button those three Mondays ago, I loaded the car for another trip to the rink. But this 727th trip (or something like that) was my first trip as a goalie. This trip was different. I was excited. And I was anxious. I’m not a very good player/skater — but I know as much and it doesn’t bother me.

Further, thanks to the parity efforts of Barb and folks like her, I’ve learned that, no matter my skills, I’ll have a decent chance against the other players I’ll face on any given night. Is that confidence? — no. (well, maybe a little) Comfort? — that’s a better word.

… except, in tending nets that first time, that comfort wasn’t there. I was nervous. I wondered if I was going to get worked. That wonder — that uncertainty … it was something to be enjoyed.

Arriving at the rink and getting dressed was a blur of thoughts and emotions. … she looks like she’s pretty good — I wonder if she’ll be on my team? … I hope no one pokes fun at me … where should I stand for face-offs, how should I stand, what should I do when I’m standing there? … that guy put his skates on first, now he’s trying to pull his breezers over them — I wonder if he’ll be on my team? … I wonder if I should tie the skates into the leg pads like Brad instructed or will it be easier on my old knees to do my skates first? … why would anyone ever poke fun at someone else? … Holy cr*p, these skates hurt my feet — are they supposed to feel like this? …

As it turns out, I got worked. And it didn’t matter. Unlike the previous 726 post-game trips home thinking about that night’s poor decisions, how slow I skate, how terrible my hands are … instead of driving home thinking about the winger who got mad at me because I reminded him that I’m the only one allowed to screen my goalie (and trying to remember him for the next match-up) … instead of driving home thinking about the score … that first trip home as a goalie, instead of driving in thoughts — I drove home with senses.

I drove home with a sense of fun. With a sense of camaraderie with the other folks who are learning something new. I drove with a sense of accomplishment for having stepped out of my comfort zone. I drove home sensing senses.

Sure, I could recall a whole bunch of five-holes. But those memories quickly faded back into the sense of fun. Of having played a game. My first game. And wonder — if/when I’d play my second.

The point is: I recommend fighting indifference the next time you go to the rink. Try to remember what it’s like to think about how to put on your equipment. Remember how it was to wonder how you’ll stack up against the person sitting across from you.

Then remind yourself — in earnest — that it doesn’t really matter because it’s only a game. Recognize how people deal with anxiety and excitement (e.g., one guy is chattering while one girl doesn’t look up from her bag.). You don’t have to try something new to be a newbie again — get new in your head. Get excited all over again. Have fun. It’s a game — hockey deserves it.