Three Things I Learned in Three Years of Hockey

Three Things I Learned in Three Years of Hockey

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been learning the great game of hockey for three years now. I’ve taken around 100 lessons, have played in well over 100 league games and probably close to 100 pickup games in my three-year hockey odyssey. I don’t feel as self-conscious as I used to when entering a rink, but there are still so many times that I feel like a beginner. I’ve learned a lot since starting hockey, but here are my three biggest takeaways from three years on the ice.

1. Hockey is a difficult sport to play

You are probably thinking “No duh!” when I say that hockey is difficult. All of my instructors have told me how hard hockey is to play. There is so much that you will need to learn: ice skating, stick handling, shooting, strategy and generally not falling on your face.

But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth doing. Hell, it may be worth doing even more because the sense of accomplishment is far greater than doing an easier task. Again, I’m not revealing anything shocking here.

If you are a hockey noob like me, and you get down on yourself for not being as good as you wish you were, just remember: you are playing a sport with a much steeper learning curve than most other activities. I think this is why my hockey teachers have stressed how hard hockey is; not to discourage me, but to remind me that I shouldn’t feel bad if things don’t come easy.

2. Improvement is incremental

There are times that I feel like I’ve come a long way as a hockey player. Maybe I chip in a goal during a rat hockey game or break up an odd-man rush in a real game, and feel good that I did something on the ice that I couldn’t do three years ago.

Other times, I swear I am not getting any better. The improvements that you make from your first lesson to your second lesson, or from your first game to your second game, will be huge. Over time, any improvement you make will be smaller and smaller, to the point where you may think you are not getting any better. But you are.

For example, I swear that my skating hasn’t gotten any better in the past year. It probably has, but so slightly that I haven’t noticed. However, I know for a fact that my shot has improved in the past year. I’m shooting the puck harder, faster and even getting it off the ice. Sometimes, I can even make the puck go where I want it to go — like past a goalie!

So, you may not improve in one area as well as you like, but you will improve in other areas. Eventually, what you thought you were doing well will suddenly seem not so great. Your expectations have gone up for yourself, which is a healthy part of learning. Embrace it.

3. You’ll repeat your mistakes

I play defense on my team, Blades of Steel, in a D-League. We used to play against a team called the Dekes of Hazard. One of the Dekes’ players, who thankfully moved on to a better league, used to burn me all the time. I think he got six goals against us in the two games we played against the Dekes that season — and I was on the ice for all six goals against.

It probably took me four times to realize that, if I was at the opposing team’s blue line and he had the puck, he was going to chip it off of the boards, sail past me, and pick up the puck for a breakaway, which usually led to a goal. You are probably wondering why I didn’t figure that out after the first time it happened. While it seems obvious now, at the time I probably didn’t realize what I did wrong.

The fact is, when you play hockey you do what seems like the right idea at the time. Get burned enough times — whether it is challenging a superior opponent for 50/50 pucks when you shouldn’t, or passing the puck in front of your own net — and eventually you’ll figure it out. Sometimes, I’ll realize that I’ve made the same mistake three times a week, or three times in a game. Once you realize that you are repeating your mistakes, they will be easier to correct. That does not mean that you will always do the right thing, but at least you are now aware of the problem and can work towards a solution.

All of this advice may seem discouraging. It is not meant to be. I’ve discussed some of the problems that you will encounter, in varying degrees, when learning to play. The good news is that you’ve already overcome the most difficult problem, which is finding the courage to take up hockey in the first place.

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