Last Friday, Ryan and I had a plan. I was off from work; He skipped camp because he wasn’t interested in that day’s trip. We had some errands to run, but the real highlight of the day was to be a session of father and son “stick and puck” at our local ice rink — basically what public skating would look like if everyone was in hockey gear and they allowed sticks and, well, pucks.
Ryan was very excited. As the day drew near, he kept boasting how he was going to “kick my butt.” I reminded him that it wasn’t going to be a game, per se, more like a bunch of disorganized pickup games on different parts of the ice. But I knew better. Ryan would find a way to create competition, and keep score. He was anxious to show me how all his hard work — on his muscles and his hockey skills — had made him a better player.
There was just one problem.
As Ryan rummaged through his hockey bag Friday morning, checking to make sure he had everything, he yelled upstairs “where’s my helmet?”
There was only one reason the helmet could be out of the bag. He must have left it hockey practice on the previous Tuesday.
I tried my best to swallow my annoyance over the loss of $100 hockey helmet. The look on Ryan’s face — pure disappointment, not anger — made it easier. I told him we’d go to the rink to check the lost and found. If they had it, we could still play. If they didn’t, well we’d be off to buy a new one, with the money coming from his savings account.
We went to the rink and scoured all the lost and found spaces. Nothing. I was proud of Ryan’s response. He was bitterly disappointed but there was no lashing out in anger, which would have been automatic a few years ago. He blamed only himself. We are long past the days of accompanying him in the dressing room to make sure he has all his equipment. That’s his responsibility and he knows it.
As we left the rink for the equipment store, I sent an email to the director of Ryan’s hockey program. By the time we got to the shop, the response had arrived. His coach had the helmet after someone spotted it sitting in the locker room. Good news — no new helmet needed. But bad news, too — no stick and puck for us that day.
Ryan made the best of it. We got him new skates, an errand that was already on the agenda. He patiently tried on a few pairs and tied them himself, both markedly different from the last time we had been in this same store. We went out to a pizza lunch. We went for a long walk. We made plans for the Yankees game the next day.
It was a great day, but not as good as it could have been. Ryan remained calm throughout, and remorseful. He also circled July 26 on the calendar — the date of the next stick and puck session.
And so it was that we found ourselves at the rink a few minutes after 9 a.m. Saturday morning. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having never attended one of these sessions before. I was quietly hoping for a small turnout. I preferred to work with Ryan on a small chunk of ice and not play in a more organized game with a larger group.
We took the ice with perhaps 10 other kids. I was the only adult. The rink operator put out four nets, a bucket of pucks, and a bunch of cones. The rest was up to us. As I turned a few warmup laps, I watched some of the other kids, close in age to Ryan but clearly more experienced players. They pushed nets in place and worked on shooting. The set out cones and worked on stick-handling.
Ryan and I grabbed a few pucks and passed back and forth as we skated in one end. I tried to remember various areas of his game I thought were in need of pointers. I’m far from a great hockey player, but I have played the sport for 35-plus years and have benefited from a lot of coaching.
I set up some basic drills. Skate around a certain cone, give, and receive, a pass, then shoot. We worked on shooting, passing and stick-handling without looking at the puck. We worked on body position. I tried to show him how to use his rear end to shield defenders away from a puck along the wall. I taught him how to sneakily shove an opposing player on the hip, throwing him off-balance if he’s going by you (hey, I was never good enough to get by on skill alone).
And yes, he found a way to stage a competition. We did a series of one-on-ones, taking turns on offense and defense. I paid more attention to teaching points than the score, but at 9-9 he made a nice move to score and win. He beamed. I knew I would be hearing about this for the rest of the weekend. He got what he came for. He had shown me how much better he was getting.
He is getting better. Just as with his strength training, he is learning the value of repeated practice. After I told him he should stick-handle the puck any time he’s waiting in line for a turn at a drill in practice, I saw him diligently working on the skill — eyes up, just as instructed. Whatever Ryan may lack in physical skill, he has a couple of things going for him. He is supremely coachable. When he’s engaged in a topic, and there’s nothing that captures his engagement more than hockey, he’s a sponge. Anything I tell him once is repeated back to me, word-for-word, over and over. That’s why individual instruction is so important. It’s easier to lock in his attention and pass along information in a smaller setting.
His other advantage is that he enjoys repetition, which fits neatly with the order and structure he prefers in all aspects of his life. Several times Sunday he went outside to work on stick-handling. Just as with his push-ups, or studying for a test, he has learned that repetition of a task leads to progress.
We will have to find more stick and puck sessions to attend. The 90 minutes went by very quickly. About the only thing that disappointed Ryan was that there aren’t any more on the rink calendar. I remarked to Veronica that it was quite expensive — $30 for the two of us, earning an “are you kidding me?” look in response.
“Five or six years ago, did you ever think you’d be able to do that with your son?” she asked.
She was, of course, correct. Spending Saturday mornings at (if not on) the rink with my son was part of the original plan. I was going to have him on skates as soon as he could walk, just like they do in Canada.
That was not to be our path, not for another six or seven years, anyway. But we’re here now, and it’s glorious. And another thing — the delay has made it that much sweeter. I don’t care if Ryan ever makes an all-star team or plays at some high level. To see the smile on his face when he “beat” me is to see pure joy defined.
It was worth every second of the wait.