Allen Iverson was never a big believer in the value of "Practice."
When you are an all world talent, perhaps you don't need to be. For the rest of us, which is likely every single person reading this blog, practice is a necessary part of life. At some point we realize that if we want to be the best we can be at our chosen craft, we need to work at it.
Through my first eight years of organized hockey, I never wanted to miss a practice. Like most kids I grew up with, the game was a "passion" of mine from the moment I stepped foot on the ice. Practice is a word that sends shivers down our collective spines in most facets of life. We do not long to hit 300 balls on the range. We want to shank half a bucket and move on with our 18 holes, even if it means we will be spraying the ball all over the course for the next four hours.
Hockey in my early years, however, was different. I loved going to practice two or three times a week and when I wasn't at practice, I loved playing the game in the backyard with friends. All integral parts of my development. There is no question that a huge part of that "passion" had to do with the fact that hockey was a game that would allow me to socialize with friends. But I also loved hockey and practice at that age because I had coaches who made the game fun.
By the time I was 13 years old and entering Bantam hockey, I really loved the game. However, for the first time, my love for practice faded just a bit. I still had incredible coaches who cared about me and the rest of the kids on the team. The difference was that that season, for the first time, we would be asked to truly "work." We had been exposed to some bag skates over the years but somehow when you are young, even labor intensive physical activity is enjoyable. You can tell your Mite team that the kid who completes five laps around the rink first will get a post practice fruit punch and even the slowest skater will go hard all the way through the line when there is seemingly nothing left to skate for. By the time you are 13 and 14, sometimes you need more.
While our focus remained on fundamental skill development, the skating my teammates endured in Bantam hockey at the end of each practice was enough to make each of us, at least for a moment, dread going to the rink certain days. But it was also an important part of our athletic development. We realized if we were to be successful at this level and one day the next, there were certain physical sacrifices that would need to be made. We would need to leave our comfort zones.
I have written a lot in this space over the last week in particular about my youth hockey experience in hopes it will help a current young player relate or a coach out there facing challenegs at any given level. That story to this point did not include a lot about winning. This entry is different.
The core group of guys in our small town remained together and the same from the time we were Tykes right up through High School. Through Pee Wee, we never won a thing. There were some talented players and some unbelievable relationships built, but never a championship won. Yet through a commitment to allow kids to play the game rather than play a system from a number of coaches at multiple levels, by the time we were Bantams, we had a group that could play a little. In Bantam hockey, that group learned not only how to play, but how to work.
The result was our club's first state title and a fairly successful run at the National Tournament out in North Dakota that season.
To be honest, I am not sure after Pee Wee hockey I ever loved "practice" the same way I had again. I played nine more years of hockey after that Bantam season and, for good reason, nobody ever paid me a dime. Despite tough days, no financial compensation, and portions of practice that were less than desirable, I kept coming back. I had learned that I loved winning and competing far more than I could ever hate a 15 minute skate at the end of practice.