I’ve actually been asked this question a few times over my 40+ years in the game. I think it arose a few times when someone saw me looking worn down and dragging from the hectic pace I’d recently kept. I know it came up a number of times at home when personal plans had to work around hockey. Then, believe it or not, on only a very few occasions did I look in a mirror and wonder why I’m involved in hockey.
— Dennis Chighisola
Why I’m Involved In Hockey
Oh, despite this being somewhat about me, I hope it’s as much about my members by the time I reach the end…
Up front, members need to know that I absolutely love my work. However, a lot like my favorite foods — as in baked stuffed lobster and frozen puddin’ ice cream, too much of a good thing can be — well, just a little too much. In contrast to what I’ve said so far, though…
Anyone who has ever seen me on the ice has likely noticed the huge grin on my face.
Anyone who has ever been nearby — as I’ve been either writing or producing a video — knows I want to just keep at it, if only someone keeps me supplied with coffee or a Diet Coke, and an occasional sandwich.
Actually, spending parts of summer months in my “bunker” can be an absolute blast, and so can it be a ball for me to play with X’s and O’s ideas, or devise some new and very different drills.
So, if you ask me why I’m involved in hockey, I’ll quickly respond and tell you that, “I really, really love it!” And, if you sometime need to ask me why I look a little tired or frustrated, just understand that anyone can run out of gas at some point.
Now, when it comes to how I got involved in hockey, I’ve already gone in to some detail in a few long ago posts. Still, not exactly in this way…
Just so you know, it never seemed in the cards for me to be a hockey coach — or any kind of coach at all. As members might recall, however, my dad was a successful baseball coach, while I had played baseball, football and hockey with some decent success.
Getting out of school as a popular athlete, I guess I became easy prey for anyone around our hometown who needed a youth coach. That got me a baseball team of my own (without ever wanting one), and it got me an assistant football slot as a wide receivers and runningbacks coach. As it turned out, however, I didn’t get close to a hockey rink again until my son started playing in a local league.
Little did I know how frustrating the latter was going to be… I mean, while I really enjoyed watching from the bleachers for a couple of winters, one season kinda did me in. Ya, I watched the little guy’s team down below doing very little during practices, and then I saw them look almost awestruck as they lined up against opposing teams.
That last happening was actually gut-wrenching to me, seeing a group of pretty talented kids drifting around with little purpose or confidence. And, man, I couldn’t help but constantly envision the things I’d do with those kids if I had a chance. (I’d won more than ten Little League championships in a row by this time, so I knew what planning and organizing could do for a group of kids.)
The rest, as they say, is history… I put my name in to get that team the following year, I got the job, and we won the state championship at season’s end.
The rest is history, too, as I started running a skills program for young players the next off-season, word got around, and rink owners or managers started asking if they could hire me to run clinics and camps in their facilities.
Not long after came the most exciting thing of all… Unbelievably, I was eventually given the opportunity to work at hockey full-time, allowing me to walk away from an engineering job I truly hated.
I hope that all explains at least part of why I’m involved in hockey. I mean, I got frustrated seeing others coaching, it seemed they weren’t as much “into it” as I thought the job required, and I found pretty quickly that all I’d envisioned about doing things my way really did work.
Ya, call it almost immediate, positive reinforcement — actually, it was kind of a rush, and a very good reason why anyone might love this work. Of course, I wouldn’t always have championship seasons over the next four decades, but there has always been plenty going on to make me feel good about what I was doing.
As it so happened, there has been lots of delayed gratification, too… Ya, probably 10-years into my work with local kids, groups of them started to crack the really high levels, and that continued for a good many years after. I once had a website listing all my former players and their accomplishments, but the site was wiped out and the list was unrecoverable. As best I can recall, there were about 20 NHL-ers, many of them draft choices, and a few hundred who had gone on to some other levels of the pro game and high college levels. As gratifying to me were the number of former students who went on to coach in local high schools, colleges, and even in the pros. Was the feeling of satisfaction worth it? You bet.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve found plenty more reasons to be glad I’m involved in hockey…
I haven’t a clue how many players — young ones to adults — that I’ve coached over all these years. Add to all those, too, would be hundreds upon hundreds more I had in summer hockey schools and clinics. Ya, we’re talking thousands here, but that’s not my real point. My point is the fact that there were always a bunch of individual players each season who gave me extra pride in the way they developed. With a little one, it may have been from helping him or her over a difficult hurdle. I might have felt as good doing something similar for a teen or adult, although their challenges might have been quite a bit different.
My work could be even more rewarding, because I’ve had the luxury of helping other coaches over about the last 35-ish years. It started first in sharing ideas with younger coaches at local beginner seminars, and it continued over subsequent years to include higher level coaches at advanced symposiums across North America. And, to be frank, each of those usually tended to be a new rush, too.
Being full-time in hockey also afforded me the luxury of doing other things. For example, I got deeply into video work by 1980, and that allowed me to really get into studying the game. Over time, more gear even made it possible for me to start producing my own training videos — first for my hockey school students and team players, and eventually for sale around the world.
Besides returning to college to receive my Physical Education & Coaching Degree after going full-time, I also studied everywhere I could, including at the Moscow Institute for Sport & Physical Culture in the old Soviet Union (talk about an eye-opening education and experience, and one that still influences me to this day).
I’m kinda chuckling to myself right now, because I also taught myself to type around that time. Ugh. (Trust me, that that was a lot funnier in real life than it might be for you to read.) Eventually, though, I’ve gotten to the point where I can kinda hum on this ‘riter.
Then, perhaps even funnier… I figure that my old high school English teachers are now rolling over in their graves, discovering I’ve authored a number of popular coaching manuals, I penned a magazine advice column for about 20-years, and I began this and quite a few more websites over the past decade or so.
Adding to the fun for me, I’ve more recently dabbled with an online radio station, Hockey Talk Radio US, that also carries my own daily show.
By now, most members know that I was kinda forced into semi-retirement a few years ago. Ya, thinking I was headed to my dream job — running a Junior hockey program in a new league, I left all my Massachusetts roots behind to relocate to Sunny Florida. Trust me, that there was some sadness in realizing I wouldn’t be physically coaching again, but there surely has been a huge upside…
My wife and I absolutely love the year-round climate here, and I’m hoping the ability to be outside and extra-active for most of the year is going to be good for the both of us in the long run. And, man, do Brenda and I ever love things like the swimming pool, palms, magnolias and the southern wildlife.
We started a small business together, as well, and aptly named it “Our PJ Commute“. In other words, it provides us the luxury of climbing out of bed in the morning, grabbing a cup of coffee, firing up our laptops, and getting to work. We’re talking about probably a 25′ commute here — in either our PJs or shorts and t-shirts, and — once again — doing stuff we truly love.
In reality, Brenda does more of the non-hockey work (thank God), while I’m able to stick with my writing, video work, plus running CoachChic.com and Hockey Talk Radio US.
Lest you think I’ve gotten off course here, and strayed from my original theme — on why I’m involved in hockey, let me tell my friends that all the above is tied in. A lot of years ago, I suspected the day would come when I could no longer skate — hey, it was going to happen at some point…
I recall running an in-house coaching seminar at my office back in MA a lot of years ago, when a guy in his mid-60’s asked me a tricky question. In effect, he mentioned already slowing down on the ice, not being able to demonstrate much anymore, and he was wondering if his coaching days might soon be over. Two things came to mind almost immediately:
I first told him a story about a long ago visit with the guy in charge of a well respected youth program on the outskirts of Montreal. I thought the organization’s President lucky at the time, having so many former players available to come back to coach (this was a time when my home area in New England wasn’t quite so fortunate). His response, in broken English, “Noooo… Our best coach is at AAA Pee Wees, and he doesn’t even skate!” He went on to explain that the guy is a great organizer, communicator and teacher, and that he uses others to demonstrate while he moves around the ice in boots.
I next suggested to the older coach that I’d someday be in his shoes: aging and slowing on the ice. But I was still hoping I’d have an awful lot of hockey knowledge to share with others.
Actually, that conversation — and especially my second response — stuck with me for all the years thereafter.
As it so happened, my work on the Internet was growing at about that time. I knew darn well I loved being involved in hockey, and that I’d like to continue that involvement, even if I couldn’t skate anymore.
I used to half-joke about that, telling friends that I’d only need my eyes, my voice, my fingers and my faculties to keep writing, creating podcasts and producing videos.
Of course, one always thinks he’ll have the say about retirement. Oh, I always knew an injury or illness could derail an older Coach Chic. I just didn’t realize or expect the circumstances that would ultimately bury me in the Sunshine State.
Understand that I haven’t given up on helping hockey grow here in Florida. However, at this stage in my life, that would have to include some unique circumstances — drawing mostly on my knowledge, and not so much on my physical skills (no, I’m no longer able to jump high barriers or dribble two pucks at the same time).
Okay, has anything I’ve done in all these years been for selfish reasons? Ya, maybe close to all of it. Oh, I was sincere in every attempt to help a player, to help a parent, to help another coach, or to give a team its best chance to succeed. At the same time, I derived a huge amount of satisfaction with every success any of us had. I mean, I thrived on that, and it didn’t hurt that a job like mine often comes with some pats on the back.
My dad always answered his three young sons in the same way when we asked for a specific piece of advice (I paraphrase)… “Do what you love,” he’d say, “and the rest will take care of itself.”
That’s kinda what I’ve been suggesting here, in that I was fortunate enough to do something I truly love. And, not so surprisingly, everything else did fall into place, or take care of itself.
So, how about you? Have you ever asked yourself why you’re involved in hockey? (Don’t forget, that I’ve been around for a very long time, and I’ve likely seen it all.)
Probably 99% of those I’ve met in hockey have been honest, sincere people (which probably led to my being so naive or gullible in my Florida hockey negotiations).
When it comes to coaches, I’ve noticed that most get involved in hockey for one of a few fairly obvious reasons…
I’ll bet the majority of them jump in to help with their own child’s team. I did it, and I’ve seen that work out towards the positive most times. If anything can go wrong with this arrangement, it would be when the parent/coach is mostly there to help his own, instead of caring about every team member.
I’ve had mixed emotions when it comes to retired players getting into coaching. So, here are a few random anecdotes…
I had a Boston Bruins player work for me one summer, and the first thing he said to me in the dressingroom was, “You’re not going to make me run anything, are you?” 🙂 At least he was honest, in the fact that he knew how to do things at an NHL level, but he wasn’t yet able to teach the game. (Nothing is permanent, however, because years later he emerged as a pretty successful coach in the AHL.)
Mike O’Connell, ultimately an NHL coach and GM, also worked briefly for me. A summer later, he opened his own camp, and he was absolutely awesome — I mean, one of the best and most organized camp directors and instructors I’ve seen.
On the other hand, the disasters I’ve seen had to do with former pros retiring and immediately working with kids’ teams. In particular, there have been problems when such a coach lands his job because of an extensive playing resume, and then he (figuratively) tosses that resume into the lockerroom and onto the ice, expecting that will do the teaching for him. Naw, ain’t gonna happen.
What I’ve also seen a lot lately are former players who go exactly the opposite from my dad’s advice. In other words, they see the dollars possible in slapping up an advice website, running clinics or hockey schools, and then they attempt to back into the job — maybe loving it, IF they ultimately stay with it. I haven’t seen many Mike O’Connells in this category so far, mainly because most have needed a number of years before they figured out how to do the job right.
If I had any advice for the guys in the latter two groups, it would be to spend a number of years in a position that allows you to drink in the development process. I’d already been coaching two other sports before I got my first hockey team, and I’d spent a couple of winters sitting high above an ice surface observing and thinking about what I felt was right or wrong. Then, above all else, I suggest new coaches: study, study and study some more.
Why are you involved in hockey as a parent? My guess is that it’s because: 1) you’re a hockey fan, and you wanted to introduce your young one to a game you love; or 2) it was your youngster’s idea, maybe because his or her friends were playing. In any case, I have a treat for you, and something I wish I’d have seen before I ever became a hockey parent. It’s a letter from a hockey dad to his son, written as the son was ending his organized hockey career. I promise that you won’t be sorry for reading it, you might want to print a copy to save, and you might even want to share it with others.
As for my adult rec hockey friends, there’s only one reason you’re involved in hockey: you have to love it. You probably like the smell of the rink, the feeling of bonding with a bunch of like-minded guys, and maybe sharing some war stories over beers in the post-game parking lot…
A funny thing… My grandson is now where I’d hoped he’d be. Sure, he’s had some truly great successes through the years — becoming a leading scorer and all-scholastic in high school, a record-setter in college, and even being the top draft pick in a lower minor pro league. But the true test of whether he loved the game or not came when he ultimately “retired” to an adult league shortly after leaving competitive hockey.
Before I left MA, that’s where I’d see many of my former youth, high school and college players, and they were usually mixed with former pros — from the NHL, European and lower minor leagues. Many of the biggest names from around Boston would be there, enjoying the rink smells, and hanging with a bunch of like-minded guys. I’d pass them as I was heading to my car in a dimly lit parking lot, listening to them laugh like heck, sipping on a cold one and sharing their war stories.
Ya, at least the ones who truly loved the game were there.
Well, do you have your own impressions on any of what I’ve said? I’d love to hear those. Just add your comment below.