Instinct

hippo

Image (c) Emdot (Creative Commons)

Just call me Jenny Hockey.

I’ve skated forwards, skated backwards, learnt to slapshot, gotten sent to the penalty box, made my first check, and scored my first goal.

I’m a rounded hockey player.

Ok, I’m a round hockey player.

I’ve developed instincts. They may be combined with the physical ability of a hippo on rollerskates, but I can feel the fledgling hockey instincts forming in my hind brain.

Edges, which are so hard in drills and training, just happen in scrimmage. Stopping happens. (Sometimes, sometimes there’s boards or other players that assist in the stopping, sometimes.) Sharp turns happen, my usual 747 approach pattern can dwindle to that of a public bus when instinct takes over and my body forgets that it can’t.

It just works.

It wouldn’t have happened without the Next Level Coaches.

They never told me I couldn’t, they only laughed with me, never at me. They gave me their time and their encouragement.

Term one is over, my first pair of hockey skates are on their way, I’ve learnt my first defensive system. (I’m not playing defence!!)

There’s some exciting things on the horizon, but this weekend is all about Chocolate. I’m going to celebrate my birthday with a 6am Stick & Puck and then a girls scrimmage on the weekend with the best bunch of women it has ever been my pleasure to sport with.

 

Term two starts next week.

What are you waiting for?

 

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Hey HotShot

2015-03-25-15.58.34-850x636I’ve said it before that anything is possible with the right playlist. So as I dragged myself out of bed at 5.30am on a weekday to make it into stick and puck, I queued up a playlist that starts with the Hilltop Hoods’ Cosby Sweater, I threw on my Crosby sweater and hit the ice.

After getting dressed under the watchful gaze of Phil #battlepotato Kessel, I spent the session focusing on finding my edges, working on those crossovers and trying to find some rhythm with my faster skating. It’s really amazing how much you can improve when you push yourself to do the same thing until it sticks.

Sometimes we are so anxious to get to the next cool skill that we gloss over the things we aren’t so good at. That’s not the way to improve.

Coach Canada reinforced that as we worked through the drills in class last week. Do it right, Don’t worry if you only do it twice, just slow down and do it right.

It wasn’t all serious though, Coach Intenso is away at the moment so Coach Canada taught us a few things that aren’t exactly on the lesson plan.

First of all, I need to apologise to my partner for the power skating resistance practise; I weigh twice as much as you, I’m really sorry you had to pull me up the ice. It was kinda fun though, and I really appreciated the work out.

Coach Canada taught us to SLAPSHOT! Ok, so I will probably never get to use a slapshot, since you can’t do it in summer hockey and I have a wooden stick right now so the whole flex thing doesn’t really happen. But it was still great fun to whack the hell out of the puck.

At stick and puck earlier in the week I actually got the net to myself for a few minutes and had a go at shooting the puck into an actual net. I don’t usually get anywhere near the nets during stick and puck, there are altogether many heroes of the rink around for me to risk, life, limb and perpetual embarrassment by attempting to send the puck anywhere I actually want it to go.

I want to give a shout out to one of those heroes, we’re gonna call him Hotshot. Hotshot and his pet goalie arrived halfway through the session, set up the go-pro  and went to town, slapshot after slapshot, and probably a lot of footage of me sucking at edges in the background… (Sorry!)

I figured I’d stay well away from the professionals and noodle around at the other end of the rink. Eventually one of their pucks slid down to my end of the rink and Hotshot asked me to pass him the puck, I almost passed out with fear and covered it with my usual snark, making a joke that the puck might not end up where he expects it if he’s asking me to pass it to him.

That’s when Hotshot surprised me.

He offered to show me some passing.

After I picked my jaw up off the ice I thanked him and declined, only because I had to go get ready for work.

Thanks Hotshot, you made my day, hope I get to take you up on the offer next time.

Mind ≯ Flesh

007

I honestly can’t believe it‘s been only five weeks since I started on this crazy scheme.

Five weeks ago I couldn’t get up the ice without falling over.

Five weeks ago I couldn’t get UP when I fell over.

We’ve hit that point where I’m getting frustrated and even Coach Intenso is telling me to be less intense.

The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak.

We had our second scrimmage session last week. I stepped out of the D role and tried my hand at Wing and even Centre. It was great, but it really showed me my limitations.

Most of those limitations are physical. Strength and endurance.

Let’s face it, I’m overweight and out of shape. My glute strength is nonexistent, and I fatigue in hockey stance way too fast. Frankly, I just don’t have the muscle strength to back myself in the turns and the stops.

I’m probably making it sound way worse than it is. I’ll be completely honest, it’s been a rough week and my self confidence which normally hovers around the “I am so awesome, bow down before my awesomeness,” is currently not quite at that level.

I’m doing well. I know I am, but I was raised with the religion of complacency being the devil and the world passes you by when you are standing still.

I need to do something to kickstart my heart* and my body. There’s something in the works, stay tuned.

The last few weeks have covered crossovers pretty heavily, which, well… you can imagine I struggle with. I think it’s mostly fear.

There’s a guy who we’ll call “The Flowrider” who falls every time we do crossovers. You know what he is doing so much better than me? He’s committing to his edges.

I’m scared. I’m scared of falling, scared of failing, just plain chicken.  I tried to throw myself into it a bit more this week and I think I improved.  We also moved onto a little bit of backwards skating and puck work. The backwards skating is good. I’m not sure why I’m ok with it, but something about it works for me (I will not be a D man, I will NOT be on D.)

Puck work? Well that’s just pucked. It won’t go where I want it! I can’t get my stick to stay in the right place, I can’t keep the puck on my stick, and most of all I can’t do any of those while skating with any type of form whatsoever.

Mind ≯ Flesh.

Yet.

*If you don’t start singing Motley crew at this point, we can’t be friends.

That. Was. Awesome! (Mk II)

I know, I know, not even four weeks in and I’m recycling titles, but trust me on this, it’s worth it.

One thing I did not expect to be doing in my third week of Hockey was to be playing in a game.

It was Mom’s idea.  Drop in games are full of heroes who think they are the second coming of Sidney Crosby and for the rookies ice-time is few and far between.  We had two goalies (and a back-up) and 22 willing, if not entirely able bodies, we were going to hit the ice.

A short skills session was the first order of the day, including my first drills with a puck! Wow, he’s a slippery little sucker!  That little palette of dark matter proved more elusive than the Higgs Boson. I chased it, cursed it, cajoled it and eventually corralled it.

I even managed to get it in the goal.

Just once.

In a drill.

There was a goalie there though!!

It’s a lot tougher to keep that little bugger on my tape on the ice than it is on the melamine in my garage.

But that’s not what you want to hear about is it?

I chickened out and hit the bench first, already intimidated by the fact my fellow newbies seemed to know how to actually play the positions on ice. Rules I’d taken care of with the wonderful university of YouTube earlier in the day and was thrilled to realise I actually understood the offside rule.

Icing, no, still don’t get it, does anyone?

Our British Import took the role of coach and assigned us all positions as we came off the bench. I ended up on Defense, “Hang back, skate backwards,” he told me. The hang back part I can handle, skating backwards? Well let’s just say we haven’t covered that yet.

I managed to fall flat on my face about halfway through my second shift, which lead to our erstwhile Referee, (the incognito Coach Intenso), getting a fit of the giggles.

I told him to shut up and chased him down the ice with my stick.

Surprisingly, this was not what ended me up in the penalty box, but more about that later.

The kids took the ice with us, (two of our Atom aged munchkins making up one player on the ice.) Jay and her friend Eee, were a like pair of persistent buzzing bees for the yellow team.  They swarmed me on the boards at one point and objected loudly when I called them midgets and explained that if I fell over I may kill one or both of them.  Needless to say they ended up with the puck.

I actually managed to get stick to puck on more than one occasion, sometimes things are easier when you don’t think about them, or more accurately, when you don’t have time to think about them.

All up the game was full of laughs, lots of clumsiness, a few flashes of idiot savant brilliance and one penalty.

Yep.

I got sent to the box.

Those who may be reading this who remember my basketball career will be thinking this is no surprise. I spent more than a few games paying the price for opening my mouth to the refs one too many times, and perhaps a few weeks on the sidelines after some of my more physical adventures.

That being said, this was soft by anyone’s standard.

Skill levels being what they are it was inevitable that an errant stick would catch the skate of one of my fellow players. This series of articles being what they are perhaps it was also inevitable that the referee would blow the whistle and drag me to the box for the requisite two minutes.

I may have then offered to find said referee’s Seeing Eye dog and perhaps suggest that his eyes had been painted on by an artist of little skill.penalty_sm

Of course he just laughed.

So did my team.

So did the other team.

I’m more than happy to be a pawn for your amusement, and at that point I may have also been more than a little grateful for the chance to sit down.

Thanks to Mum’s husband there is photographic evidence of the event, which I can share with you now.

But this photo is much more important. Here we are, in our green and yellow battle armour, exhausted, satisfied and united in our rookie hockey glory.oaklieghrookiedropin

Photo Credits @ Brian Galdes

Week 3 – Synchronised Swimming

The devil is in the details.  Hold your ankle like this, bend your knee just so, do you feel that? Yes. Now hold onto it. It’s more than muscle memory, it’s muscle intelligence, you can’t remember something you don’t already know.

I spent my brief coaching career as a specialised skills coach, I was all about the detail and the repetition, find the weak spot, fix it. Rinse and repeat.

I have a theory this applies to any sports person who truly cares about how and why they do what they do, the type of person who strives for milliseconds and millimetres not just once, but a million times over.

I didn’t know if Coach Intenso was that guy but I booked a one on one coaching session to find out.

2015-02-15 15.48.21
The sun wasn’t up as I pulled into the parking lot of Jurassic Rink.  The rink it was blanketed in fog and a stillness that was almost surreal.

There is nothing better than having a place that’s normally full of people all to yourself.  Years and years ago there was a Nike ad that had an empty court and a lone basketball with the tagline, this is where we worship. It captured so much of how I felt about my sport.

This morning I felt it again as I stared out over the bare ice.

C.I. lived up to expectations; He broke everything down in minute detail and made it stick.  He asked me what I wanted to work on and I told him to take it from the top.  We did, we ran through the same drills we’ve been hitting each class, taking the time to break it down to the muscle groups, the parts of the blade that touch the ice, ankle position, relative knee position. Everything my detail obsessed brain had been craving.

Did I get it all in one session? Nah. Did I learn a bucketload that I need to apply? Hell yes.

I was impressed that C.I. didn’t push me to be back next week for the next 1 on 1, rather he sensibly suggested spacing them out to monthly or even three monthly.  It works for me, if you are going to do something you have to be motivated to do it whether or not someone is looking over your shoulder.

Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long to apply what I’d learned as I was back at the rink again this evening. I was probably a bit muscle fatigued and two sessions in one day is not where my fitness level is at, but I worked as hard as I could, stretching out when I had a chance and concentrating on my ankle and knee position and hockey stance.

Some takeaways from the session;

  • Little Coach has been with us for two sessions now, he’s a really solid coach, his tips are detailed and he makes you stop and think about what you are doing and explains very clearly how to improve. He’s a young guy, I’d be surprised if he was out of his teens, but he’s got that knack for coaching.
  • Here’s a tip; Don’t be the douchecanoe who talks through the coaches instructions, loudly stating every time that you’ve done this drill before and then still getting it wrong.
  • Tip #2: Do be the guy who takes the time to give another newbie the tip that helped you master a technique even if you only worked it out last week. That was ace, big props to you!
  • Wings on skates are cool. I want some so much.

You may be wondering about the title, what does synchronised swimming have to do with Hockey? Tonight we ran our first drills that involved working with another person, simple weaves and turns. It can’t be that hard, we’re adults; I can chew gum and talk at the same time (ok, some might say I could talk underwater but that’s beside the point.)

Me and my buddy just couldn’t, both too focused on actually making it down the ice in one piece, there was no room in our brains for coordinated movement. I tried to shout it out, talking us through the drills, we’d get about two thirds through before I couldn’t breathe from how hard I was laughing at our sheer inability to make it happen. Fortunately my buddy had a sense of humour and while neither of us are going to be going out for the Icecapades I think we had a bit of fun.

I’ve discovered the rink is a really meditative place to write, I perch myself upon the bleachers and while my face slowly reverts from beetroot red to its normal freckled motley I catch up on my deadlines. The Intermediate group runs as I type and a lot of our group back up for both sessions. Jay and Zee hang out while I type, catching me up on their week while their Mum hits the ice for her send of three sessions she takes on Fridays.

Our group of determined women hit the ice once more this weekend, we have a group private session and scrimmage booked. A game! I really don’t know the rules but I’ll work it out as we go along.  I’m pretty sure I have no clue how to handle a puck but still…. Game Time!!

I can’t wait.

Week 2 – Games, Guilt and Goalies

Red Red rover…

Well not quite, more like BullRush, remember that game? Giant herds of children, the narrow piece of ground between classrooms, and vicious tagging as we tried by sheer weight of numbers to overcome whoever was “It”.

Coach Intenso thinks this is a good game, morphing into Coach AllSmiles as five coaches take on class of newbies. I suspect he has a competitive streak. Needless to say I didn’t make it through the first round. In all honestly I believe I shrieked as I twisted to try to avoid the tag. Both times.

Eh.

I tried to impress upon those standing next to me the importance of teamwork, do they have screens in hockey? It’s a thing from basketball, take a hit to give your player the open lane and a clear path to the net. I could see that testosterone wouldn’t allow the boys to take one for the team, they were in the headspace of proving themselves, all bravado and, well, bullrush.

I felt more confident as I hit the ice this week, my feet felt more stable underneath me, I wasn’t as “in my head” as I was last week. Once the games were over we settled into more of the dreaded “C”cuts. Now this is where I expected to find myself muttering some choice ancient Greek curses in the general direction of the coaches and generally failing to make my way up the ice as per week one. But then a marvellous thing happened, Coach Intenso said, “Lean your knees forward two inches past your toes.”

I did.

I waited for my facemask to make intimate contact with the ice.

It didn’t happen.

I glided forward like a swan. Ok, no, more like an elephant, ponderously, steadily, determinedly.

I made it through; I took a win from the fact that I don’t “Kangaroo” when I do it.

Coach T. pointed out that I’m struggling with some parts of this due to thigh strength, so I’m going to make sure I put a little extra effort into the squats this week.

We broke into groups and started working on edge turns and stopping. I started on turns with Coach Funky Stache leading the group. I really could have pushed myself more here, I did OK, but I still lack a practical understanding of edges. Coach Funky Stache is not the best explainer in the coaching group, Coaches Canada and Intenso are much better at explaining the little mechanical adjustments needed to get technique. While of the three stations this was the one I did best at, I still feel like it was the one I understood the least.

This was followed up with more turning and stopping with C.I. and then hockey stopping with Coach Canada. C.C. explains things so well, I feel like I absolutely get the technique when he explains it.  I was disappointed that by the time I got to Coach Intenso I was cramping up so much I felt like I couldn’t go as hard as I wanted to without my back deciding that the ice was the place for me to spend some quality time reflecting on my life choices. I felt like I looked like I was phoning it in, just coasting through the drill.

Throughout my life nothing has ever given me the same gut churning guilt as the fear that someone might think I’m not giving 100%  I know it’s week two, I know that for the last year and a half I have done exactly zero physical activity while I recovered from surgery on both hands. I know all these things, but it’s still not enough.

I’ve put in the call (ok the tweet – I’m a modern woman), I’m going to grab a few one on one sessions. I need that bit of extra time on the ice with someone who won’t let me phone it in, who knows that  ”good enough” is never good enough. Who can spot the adjustments small and large I need to make the technique stick.

Just before I sign off I want to talk about encouragement. Last week I spoke about the encouragement in the ladies locker room, this week I’m going to talk about it on the ice.

“Mum” is one of the true joys of our group. She and her two daughters Zee and Jay are always there with a word of encouragement and quick with a joke. I value the stick taps and encouragement of the coaches but the check-ins and the words of those fellow learners means so much.

I should also tell you about how the Next Level guys take it to the “Next Level”. Our Pet Goalie had a rough session and C.I. took the time to come check on her and make sure she was ok, then give her advice on how to avoid the situation next week.  It wasn’t lip service either, it was solid advice and it showed an understanding of physical training beyond just skills coaching that perhaps I wasn’t expecting.

Speaking of goalies, I need to share this video with you. If happy goalies don’t make you smile then we can’t be friends. (Skip to 0.32 to skip the fighting prelude.)

See you on the ice!

H.D.

THAT WAS FREAKIN’ AWESOME!!

I’m early, I was always going to arrive obscenely early, it’s a nervous habit. I hate and despise being late. On the ice, goalie school is happening and some kids are getting private tuition at the other end. ProShopCoach asks if I don’t mind waiting since I’m so early.

I take a seat and start flicking through twitter. visitorsThe clock ticks on and I start to get a little anxious, there’s a constant stream of people through the tiny proshop and I’m pretty sure he’s forgotten about me. I stick my head in and sure enough he says “Oh god are you still waiting?” He hands me a jersey and tells me to go get some gear. I eventually find the gear room and find myself staring blankly at the gear. So I traipse back and ask for some help. I’m introduced to Coach Funky ‘Stache and he helps me find some gear and I find myself in a locker room full of women, all of whom are getting ready to hit the ice, asking for advice on how to get dressed.

I realize I’ve missed this, the camaraderie of the locker room. It’s been over a decade since I was here, different sport, same feeling. There’s chirps, support, & as all women know, most importantly, shared deodorant. We are as different from each other as we could possibly be. We are students & mothers, we are young and we are older, we are fit and we are the not-so-fit, we are hockey players. After a LOT of advice on the correct order of pants, socks, pads from the trickster goddess Owen and the lend of some tape (thanks to our pet Goalie – J.Wil) I’m ready hit the ice.

Dead Last.

Remember above how I said I hate being late? I can feel myself shaking and I’m grateful for the layers of gear that muffle the sound of my heart trying to beat it’s way right out of my chest.

Coach Intenso is talking but I can’t hear him over the blood rushing in my ears.

We start with “C” cuts, I think I may sell my soul  to the devil if I never to have to do another “C” cut. I struggle up the ice, cursing my practically non-existent VMO* strength. I’ve not even had a chance to find my ice legs, I’m so nervous I want to puke and I’m the only one (it seems to me) who can’t do this stupid maneuver that even 2 year old’s can master. I start to think this just isn’t going to work, I can’t force myself out of my own head. I can’t make my knees bend and I can make myself take my eyes off my feet.

Then Coach T. skates over and applies just the right amount of instruction & gentle encouragement.

I throw myself into the next drill, literally, it’s a falling drill. I flail like a turtle on it’s shell and Coach Canada lets out a giggle as I land on my ass as I try to get back up. He gives me an encouraging butt-tap as I finally right myself and just like that the bubble bursts and I’m pretty sure I can do this.

We break off into groups and us newbies are taken aside by Coach Canada and Coach T to practice falling over again, while the other groups do more advanced things.

Coach T sticks close and offers tips and encouragement, Coach Canada keeps shooting worried glances at my hockey pants, which I’m pretty sure are going to end up around my ankles at any minute.

Time starts to fly by, I exchange a few fist-bumps with some of the newbies from the guys locker room, once upon a time I was a captain, it’s basic instinct, even when you at your lowest point you reach out, it’s what you do. Before I know it we are given 5 minutes to practice what we like, I throw myself at the ice a few more times then some of my regular overconfidence returns and I steal the puck from Coach T. That’s what I’ve been waiting for; the friction of puck against tape, my skating isn’t good enough to keep it but I know that’s what I want out of this whole thing, that delicious feeling of control, of flying along the ice, of dancing past opponents and sending the puck to the back of the net.

That’s not what happens, not yet, but I’ll get there.

 

*VMO – Vastus Medialis Oblique. It’s the inside front part of your quadriceps. It’s often weak in women causing patella instability and pain.