Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Eli 12.4: Adversity (part one)

Eli 12.4 has big dreams. He wants to play in the NHL.

He's not just dreaming, though. He works hard. He holds himself to higher standards. He has the attitude of a kid who's going somewhere big.

This fall, though, I've had a feeling gnawing at me.

Strength is built through adversity. I don't know of any other way. And Eli's played so well for so long that he hasn't faced much, or rather, he's handled everything he faced.

In the last month or so, I started seeing some cracks. Little technical mistakes, which are hugely important, because goalie is an incredibly technical position. Yes, reflexes and athleticism are critical, too, but if your technique isn't sound, reflexes and athleticism aren't going to save you.

He won a game 5-4 against a strong team, and they had 35 shots against him, but two of the goals were caused by mistakes in technique. His next game was against a Fort Worth team, and he game up four goals again, with two caused by technical errors.

Then he went to San Antonio.

They have the best team in the league, they'd beaten us 5-0 the day before (Eli wasn't in goal for that one), and I was worried. I knew he had the capacity to play a great game, but some of the technique hiccups were a concern.

Plus, and this is a very subjective thing, he just seemed so satisfied. The travel team has a bunch of great kids on it, and he was so happy to be part of the team. He was enjoying himself. Sometimes he didn't have that little extra edge in practice.

It's hard to manage this, because to some degree, I can't. There's this kind of Zen thing going on where I have to teach him how to drive instead of driving for him. I have to let him drive off the road instead of pulling him back from the shoulder. If I do that well, he learns how to drive.

He must learn how to drive.

This is all about the inner game, too, because even though he makes technical mistakes at times, his technique is ridiculously good. He has a goalie coach for technique, and he goes to a great goalie camp each summer. It's not about the technique. It's about having the discipline to always rely on the technique, even if the game isn't going well.

The first shot San Antonio took against him was a two on nothing, and they passed across the crease, he couldn't get to the post, and they scored. Not his fault. Then they scored again a few seconds later, on another shot where he had no defense at all.

Then they came down on a breakaway, and I saw the shot heading for his glove, and somehow he missed it.

Within another ten minutes, they'd scored twice more--and he would have normally stopped both. Then his coach signaled to him and he skated off the ice.


He'd never been pulled from a game before, never even close, in over three years. I was gutted, and I could only imagine how he felt.

Being a goalie is the best and worst thing in the world.

When the game ended, he skated off, and I could tell he'd been crying. Hell, I felt like crying, too. I patted him on top of his helmet and he went off to the dressing room. When he came out, his eyes were red and he looked like he was ready to burst into tears at any moment. And he had to wipe his eyes a few times, especially when some of the team moms said nice things to him, but he made it outside the building.

"Let's going to go for a walk before we leave," I said.

"What? No!" he said.

"Yes," I said.

"Whatever," he said.

There was a long sidewalk path around the rink, and it went past a miniature golf course and an apartment complex. When we started, I said, "Go ahead and cry, if you want to. There's nothing wrong with that. When you're done crying, though, we're going to put it behind us and move forward. Okay?" He nodded, and we walked in silence for a few minutes.

"So tell me what you saw during the game," I said. What did you feel?"

"I was fine on the first two goals, because there was nothing I could have done," he said. "I just missed the third one, though, and when I did, I got rattled."

"When you feel like that, you sink a little bit deeper than normal," I said. "It's not much--maybe six inches, maybe a little more--but it makes you smaller, geometrically." He nodded.

We walked for a little while longer.

"This is a hard path you've chosen," I said. "It hurts, and it's going to hurt again.  Are you sure you want to go down this path? Are you strong enough?"

"Yes," he said. "I do. And I am."

"Then you have to understand that everyone has these moments. Everyone gets pulled. Some people use the hurt as fuel, to get stronger, but other people feel the hurt like a fire, and it burns them up. If you're going to be great, then you'll use this to get stronger. I can't do it for you."

"I know," he said.

"I've been thinking for a while that you seemed too satisfied in practice, but I didn't want to say anything, because I wanted you to manage that. I've seen every practice you've ever had, though, and that edge you had last year isn't quite there. Do you know what I mean?"

"I do," he said. "And I can get it back."

"I know," I said. "I know you can." I hugged him when we got back to the car, then we got in for the long ride home.

When we got back, I stopped him as he was walking in to the house. "Will you do something before you start watching t.v.?"

"What?" he asked.

"I want you to sit down and write a contract with yourself," I said. "Not for me, and not for your coach. This is an agreement with yourself about what hockey means to you and what you're willing to do to reach your goals. Write that down, sign it, and I want you to save it."

"I like that," he said. "I'll go do that right now." A few minutes later, he came down with a small piece of paper in his hand. I blotted out the last name, but here's what he wrote:

I've never said the phrase "a never changing passion," in case you're wondering. I like it, though.

Tomorrow: The Response

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