Detroit 2013 (part one)I need to start the story of Detroit with a story from the previous week, when Eli 11.11 played tennis with his sitter, a woman who is playing pro qualifying tournaments this summer. She graduated a few years ago, but could still play for almost any major college tennis program in the country.
She goes out and hits with us every few months.
The first time--about a year ago--Eli was totally overwhelmed. She hits a heavy, heavy ball, and the spin and depth were too much for him to handle.
Now, he can hit with her. Not every time, and he still gets overwhelmed by the topspin at times, but he's gaining ground. Quickly.
We hit a few days before we left for Detroit, and while I was taking a break, they were hitting together and started a rally. She was hitting the ball hard, and he was hitting it back just as hard. After eight shots, she hit a short ball, and he hit an approach shot and moved to the net. He hit a forehand volley deep, then hit a backhand volley down the line for a clean winner.
He has transcendent moments like that. I've stopped being surprised by them. Mostly.
"Dad, can you find out about the Junior Elite camp?" he asked me on the way to Detroit. This is the Bandits camp that is the highest-level camp they offer, and it's invitation only. The top 24 kids in the 11-14 age group have their own camp, and it's a big deal, since most of the kids in the regular Bandits camps already play AA or AAA travel. To get invited out of that group is a huge honor.
And for a kid out of nowhere, an unlikely one.
"I'll ask on Friday," I said. "I'll ask them if you have that skill level, and if you don't, I'll ask them where the gaps are, and what we can do to close them. But you have to promise me not to get discouraged if you aren't invited. You're doing all the right things, and if you're not ready yet, it doesn't mean you won't be ready later."
"I promise," he said.
Like I said, even the regular Bandits camps are stacked. The three other kids in his group were younger, but two of them played AAA travel, and the third played AA. The group above (one and two years older than him) had two AAA kids as well.
Then there was the alpha dog, a 16-year-old who played AAA and is planning on going to Michigan or Michigan St. to play. The best thing about him was that he was also the hardest working kid on the ice.
His name was Nick.
Eli worked hard on Monday, but Nick outworked him. All the kids do skating drills together, and they're intense. They usually start from the goal line, and a group of three kids skate to the blue line, the center line, or the opposite blue line, then they do one of the many lateral movements that goalies do. Pushes, slides, etc.
Nick worked harder, by far, than anyone. Eli looked good, but he wasn't working like Nick.
At the end of the day, which included two hours off-ice and four hours on ice, Eli was happy. The Enthusiasm Engine is almost always happy, and particularly so when he's playing hockey all day.
"So who is the best player out there?" I asked him after he came out of the dressing room.
"Oh, it's Nick, by FAR," he said. "He's a BEAST."
"That's right," I said. "And who's the hardest working kid on the ice?"
"Nick?" he asked.
'Right again," I said. "He's killing himself to win those skating drills by another six inches, even when he's ten feet ahead. Can you work that hard?"
"Yes," he said. "I can, and I will."
"I'm looking forward to that," I said, smiling.
By the way, Nick was also an extremely nice kid, like almost all of the kids at Bandits. The instructors, too, as well as the camp directors. It's a terrific, positive, challenging atmosphere, and it's always a privilege to see so many motivated, hard-working, happy kids.