Reflections of a Coach

There are many great reasons to coach Special Hockey.  Some do it because they have children who play while others are simply pure of heart, wanting to give back to their communities.  I do it in memory of a favourite uncle. I was fortunate to spend part of my time growing up as a young boy in a small town with a “special” uncle as a best friend.  We spent time playing baseball in the summer and road hockey nearly year round.  Plenty of times these games included my cousins but often it was just the two of us.

Hockey was a passion for Uncle Bobby just like it remains for any other Canadian boy.  He had a hockey card collection in the thousands, probably the largest I’ve ever seen.  He was also a huge NHL fan, choosing the contrarian route by cheering for the Canadiens in a house full of Leaf fans.  The good natured ribbing made the games on T.V. all the more fun. 

He would also spend plenty of time at the local rink watching all of his nephews play and that is where my hockey memory of Uncle Bobby is the strongest.  I remember the searing pain in his eyes watching me, his little buddy take to the ice while he wasn’t allowed to follow.  Being the stick boy for almost all of the local teams would be as close as he’d ever get to the action.  I recall too asking my Mom what was “wrong” with Uncle Bobby, why couldn’t he play?  I remember her telling me that there was nothing wrong with him but he was “special” in that he had Down’s syndrome.  Boys with Down’s syndrome can’t play hockey she told me.

Imagine my surprise decades later in finding a league full of “special” people like Uncle Bobby that I could help simply by giving of my time.  The rewards for a special hockey coach are numerous:  there are the small kindnesses one gives to the players being repaid hundreds of times over; there is of course the spectacle of watching a player help an opponent get up after accidentally knocking them over; or one of my favourites in  watching the toughest father (or mother) being reduced to a puddle of tears at the sight of their child’s first goal, a sight that I imagine many of them wondered if they would ever see.

For me though the greatest joy of being a special hockey coach is seeing the sparkle in the player eyes at just being able to play, at just being able to belong, at just being able to do what every other Canadian wants to do, just play hockey.  For me it is just the knowledge that if we keep doing what we are doing that some day there might be a day where no one ever has to look at those sad eyes again, of someone being told that they can’t play hockey.