Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Hockey Life: Kind words

For the past three years or so, I've taken Colin skating most Wednesday afternoons at a rink inside the Westfield Countryside mall. In that time, he has taught himself how to cross over, skate backwards and, get this, even do the moonwalk. More than anything else, though, it has helped build his stamina, skating 15-lap sets at three-quarter speed for hours on end.

My contributions have been minor. I pick him up after school (it's early release day) and head north on U.S. 19 until we're at the mall. Once there, I get money from an ATM to pay the $5.35, tax included, for the ice time. After tying his skates -- at my request, not his -- I'll grab a Powerade for him and a cup of Starbucks Pike Place for me. After that, I find a rinkside chair, sit back and watch him skate for the next two-plus hours.

The best part of our trips to the mall rink, however, doesn't come from watching him skate. Sure, it has been rewarding to watch him progress from the early, shaky-ankle days. I readily admit, without a ounce of hesitation or envy, that he's 100 times the skater I ever was. That's why I thoroughly enjoy the handful of compliments he gets from people who stop to watch every time he's working out.

Most people want to know how old he is (10) and how long he has been skating (six years). Quite a few are surprised to hear that he's from St. Petersburg, not just visiting from Canada, Minnesota or New England. Some even ask, much to my amusement, if he plays hockey.

This past Wednesday, on what could be our last visit to that rink until summer because of a change in practice schedules, Colin received some of the kindest words ever.

An older gentleman, spending his winter away from Ontario, stopped by for a quick chat. I recognized him from last year when he first complimented Colin's skating, telling him that he "skated like he was from Canada." This time, though, he was even more gracious.

"I stopped by the mall today hoping your son would be skating. I remember you said he skated most Wednesdays," he told me. "He's quite the skater. He's made great strides over the past year. Now, you  need to move to Ontario."

Like any proud father, all I could do was smile, thank him for his kind words and promise to pass along his well wishes. It's one thing when you sing your child's praises -- be they academic, altruistic or athletic -- but it's another when someone else, without prompting or a vested interest, recognizes your child's abilities.

Having said that, though, we won't let that go to our heads. Skating is just one piece of the hockey puzzle and there's plenty of room for improvement. And, just like any other "A" player, Colin must work on all aspects of the game if he wants to play at its highest levels.

Thankfully, kind words provide the motivation.

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