I want to tell you a story.
It began in the spring of 1998 when my wife gave birth to pre-mature twin daughters in Marshfield. They treacherously and innocently arrived at a combined weight of seven pounds. They spent the first few weeks of their life in the NICU and first few months strapped to heart rate monitors. My wedding ring fit around their wrist.
With an older brother that played hockey and two older sisters who were figure skaters the only doubt about what skates they would wear was the color. The summer of 2006 they inquired about coming to dad’s hockey camp and “just skating around in the middle.” I agreed on the condition that they wore hockey skates. After one day on the ice they asked for sticks and by the end of that summer they decided they were hockey players.
As eight year olds in the mini-mite program they quickly decided two things. One; they didn’t like playing with the boys and two; they loved the freedom of the cross-ice games. Both were significant elements in their development. Playing with the boys was considered the recommended path for girls looking to reach their potential and small area games as we now know them had not yet been fully recognized for their value. They still aren’t today.
They continued down the hockey path finding extra ice time on the outdoor rink and dad’s many “rat hockey” sessions. I can remember watching them “waste” ice time dragging each other around the ice and goofing around with their friends. You see there is no wasted ice time, because it was those moments that began creating their love for being on the ice. That groundwork of having fun grew into a passion for the game.
Once that passion takes hold, you suddenly find them putting in the time and effort without anybody telling them to do it. Shooting pucks in the garage and stickhandling a golf ball become voluntary components to fuel their desire to be better. Passion becomes pride. I didn’t turn hockey into work for them and today they willingly put in the time to improve their game.
Who ever thought it could be that simple.
As freshmen who had yet to top five feet in height or a hundred pounds in ballast the decision was made to play another year of U-14. Trying to follow the path their brother had navigated so successfully, parlaying a year on the ‘B’ Pee Wees into a confidence cultivating experience that vaulted his hockey career, we gambled again and won. They flourished as two of the top players on the team accumulating tons of meaningful ice time.
The wait for high school was further rewarded when as sophomores they were welcomed into the “Sisterhood of the Storm” by an incredible senior class who together created a close-knit hockey family. They would encounter their first female head coach, Jana Wimmer, who balanced fun and hard work to further grow their love for the game.
While Elizabeth flourished as a sophomore, Emily found herself on the third line and as the state tournament approached, the fourth line. Touching the ice for just one shift in Madison was a motivating moment that drove her development. It was her temporary failure, not success that fueled her fire.
Trying to insulate our kids from failure only stifles their future accomplishments.
As seniors they watched as their dad was passed up to be their head coach, triggering more disappointment and more motivation. Matching sixty point senior seasons was their answer and finally the Bauer twins made it on to the “hockey grid.” For the third consecutive year they endured semi-final loses at the state tournament. I am anxious to see what future achievements those failures will spawn. At the Senior Tournament in March they turned enough heads to earn a trip to Pittsburgh for America’s Showcase and the NIT in Plymouth, MN.
Through it all, playing at the college level wasn’t really discussed much until the end of their junior season. It became their goal despite the fact that the prescribed path had not been followed. No WAHA select camps, no Team Wisconsin, no high profile AAA, just lots of used skates and hand-me-down pink stick that I thought Elizabeth would never out-grow.
This past weekend they accomplished their goal and stepped on the ice as members of the UW-Eau Claire Blugolds. Their early passion for the game had grown into an internally driven pride and was now manifesting itself into a next level performance. They achieved it by substituting thousands of miles of travel and dollars with thousands of hours of unstructured and un-coached play. It was floor hockey at the school, and countless hours in the garage and it was volleyball, tennis, lacrosse and the backyard trampoline. Yet, while hockey was clearly a priority, it never became their lone athletic endeavor.
Sometimes we become so obsessed making sure our kids are on the right track, that we forget about the need to have some fun along the way. In the case of my daughters the road less traveled became figuratively and literally a better way. They achieved their goal, not because they never stopped believing, but because they never stopped having fun.
And fun, it is still the number one reason why we play the game.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org