Hockey is more than just a sport

"When coming to the rink is fun, the dressing room is a safe place to be who you are, and when your players call each other brothers, sisters, family or friends, you have accomplished something special."

The benefits of playing sports at a young age are both tangible and intangible. John Wooden said that sports do not build character, they reveal it. I am a firm believer of this, learning first hand the positive effect a healthy and active lifestyle can have growing up. Sports, and more specifically, hockey, is a fun way to pass the time for some, and to others, it is a way of life. In many processes, the hard work you put in inside the walls of an arena can transfer over into certain skills in the real world. The lessons you learn can be applied outside the glass of the rink and the bonds one makes over competition can last a lifetime. With this in mind, it becomes apparent that sports can play a big and boundless role in the development of an athlete, staying healthy is just a small cog.


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Head Coach of the Bantam AA Barons, Lee Ulmer, echoes these sentiments, and talks about the goals of his hockey program.


I feel it is very important to develop our youth through sports. It teaches them many life skills like hard work, discipline, respect and teamwork,” Ulmer continues, “We're trying to help develop the kids to not just be better hockey players, but to be better people. I believe that hockey does have a positive effect in our players lives and what they learn will help them throughout their lives with their education, careers & relationships.”


The dedication one instills into themselves, and their team, is not the only intangible aspect that can carry over into the classroom and to life itself. Discipline is vital on the ice; being smart with the puck, staying out of the penalty box -  doing whatever you can to help your team. It is also a big part of what creates a successful human being. With discipline comes leadership. This value is yet another quality the sport of hockey can teach, whether it’s vocal, or letting your play do the talking. Universally, if one is trying to grow and develop in all aspects, there is one concept to work on: the repetition of practice.


“I believe that learning to work hard through hockey is something players can take with them into the classroom, whether it’s your slap shot or math class, the harder you work at it the more you'll improve, you can't expect either to get better if you don't put in the time and hard work in,” Ulmer says.


In no better way is that value taught and absorbed through sport. Waking up at 5 a.m. for the 6 a.m. practice, putting in work on the ice, learning, practicing, and applying the knowledge you have gained into a game, is a perfect example of how these lessons can seamlessly be transferred into the classroom.


Shawn Robinson, who has had the privilege of managing and working closely with the AAA Battlefords Stars for the past 10 years, says their program continuously monitors the success of their athletes when it comes to their education.


“The expectation we hold our players to regarding education is that their grades meet or exceed the previous year. If you commit yourself to the game of hockey it should carry over to the classroom. Both our team governor and our assistant coach are educators. All schooling is closely monitored. Education and hockey go hand-in-hand.”


Chairperson of the AAA Stars and head coach of the JPII football team, Bruce Yockey, understands the correlation between school and athletics.


“There are very few athletes that will actually earn a living from sport, so it is extremely important that they do well in school to keep all options open for career choices. There are opportunities to combine success in sport with education and earn scholarships, so our athletes understand that they must look after their education. We find that athletes who display a strong work ethic in the classroom also transfer that work ethic to athletics and therefore find success at both. These players often take leadership roles with our team.”


Not only does sport and a successful life draw comparisons, but there are people within organizations, especially when players begin to work at higher levels, that are able to help athletes achieve their goals within a teaching atmosphere.


We have talked about the growth of character and how the role of hockey can assist in developing a habit of hard work, but what about the social aspect? Growing up within a sport not only facilitates friendship, but it constructs a family-type atmosphere. There is something about going to “war” with your team, whether it’s on the ice, the field, or the diamond, that establishes a deep-rooted connection.


Head Coach of the Battlefords North Stars, Kevin Hasselberg, says this bond is forged over a long campaign.


“At the beginning of the season, you hit the ice with a group of players. Some may know each other and some might be meeting each other for the first time. A huge responsibility of the staff is to help bring the individual characteristics of each player out, and nurture the process of appreciating one another,” Hasselberg says. “No two players are alike and each bring unique qualities that will make up the identity of your team. This identity becomes your family. When coming to the rink is fun, the dressing room is a safe place to be who you are, and when your players call each other brothers, sisters, family or friends, you have accomplished something special. This process can not be accomplished without the willingness and cooperation of the entire group.”


Sport provides an opportunity for players to engage in valuable and positive relationships with their teammates, while learning to respect one another and their coaches. It provides them with the freedom to be wrong when done so in a welcoming atmosphere. It gives athletes the chance to take risks, knowing that your teammate, or “brother,” will be there to back you up. It allows a player to become a member of a community.


“Hockey definitely creates a common bond,” Robinson says. “If you attend any initiation game or practice, you can see it's really a family affair from the start. Friendships are made on the ice and in the stands that blossom over time.”


Ulmer believes much of the same.


“I think that our team becomes our extended family, we spend a lot of time together & we end up depending on each other for support throughout the season.”


It is well established that sport plays a bigger role than previously thought. It develops a player into a successful individual while creating relationships that have the opportunity to last a lifetime. These athletes can’t develop on their own, though. It is up to the coaches, who play a vital and influential role and who cannot be forgotten.


“For days, months and years I will do my very best to push players to be the best they can be,” Coach Hasselberg says. “They may not always think I care and at times they may think I'm crazy, however, when the message sinks in, eventually they do get it. My hope in the end, is that it makes the quality of life for that player better. I love all of my players, I would not be where I am today without any of them.”


Coaches, too, set goals for themselves and for their players. But more than anything, they enjoy showing up to the rink, working tirelessly to get the best out of their athletes.


The role of sports and hockey are interchangeable. Some are tangible, some are intangible. The structural habits of an athlete can smoothly transition into the classroom. Sports construct an opportunity to succeed, grow and learn in a welcoming environment organized by coaches who want the best for their athletes. They create an identity. The lessons learned outside the rink are crucial, but some may argue that what goes on within the locker room walls, on the ice, or on the field, are equally important.

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