Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 12/18/08 at 03:20 PM ET
Adam Sherlip, formerly responsible for digital marketing and amateur hockey development for the New York Islanders, is now heeding his life’s calling. An idealistic New Yorker, Adam is looking to travel around the world teaching kids hockey, as well as write a variety of books based on the culture of sports. You can continue to follow Adam at his blog, hockeyvolunteer.blogspot.com.
By Adam Sherlip
[Special to Kukla’s Korner]
So, you’re sitting at the arena watching your favorite team play terrible hockey. The fans around you are shouting detailed & violent profanities at a roster of over-paid, under-performing athletes, some of which have questionable reputations. The players are spending more time staring at the door in the penalty box than they are on the sheet of frozen, painted water. When they’re on the ice, they’re beating the guys in the opposing color until they’re red with blood. It’s hard to see why anyone would enjoy this sport.
One of those fans is a hockey dad with his kids wearing their youth hockey jersey, and you can only image how intense he is when his kid is playing hockey…forcing his child to play, arguing with the coach - believing he has greater (rather, no) coaching experience, making deals with youth clubs, and taking all of the fun out of the game.
This is the type of situation that drags the entire sport of hockey down, and it’s something myself and many others are passionately trying to change.
Two years ago I was hired by the New York Islanders to handle a well- intended, decently covered initiative called Project Hope - a youth hockey development program in northeastern China - directed at the time by Team USA star Angela Ruggiero (3 time Olympic medalist, all-time games played leader, top defensive player, great person). Almost two years to the day, I assisted her in running the Project Hope Invitational in New York, hosting one of our teams from China to play against three teams from the New York area. A few weeks later Angela and I visited Heilongjiang Province to see the kids at the schools in which Project Hope installed outdoor rinks, and my life officially changed for the better.
Traveling to the opposite side of the world teaching kids hockey was one of the most memorable experiences in my life to date, and mostly because of the epiphany that hockey has a culture and a language unto itself that transcends borders and the differences we may have off the ice. Furthermore, in order to succeed at the sport, everyone involved has to conform to the culture of the game.
So what is the culture of hockey?
Simply put: teamwork, sportsmanship, accountability, physicality.
At it’s core, hockey is the most sportsmanlike game in the world. “Adam, what about the fighting and the checking?!”, you say? Checking allows players to knock another player off the puck to gain control, as well as intimidate your opponents with your physical prowess, a trait that is as ingrained in mammalian behavior as reproduction. Fighting, outside of the sheer enjoyment or disgust one may have, is a way to keep honor and accountability to a game that sometimes can get emotional. As we know, if a player is upset because his team is losing, his emotions can lead him to go after the best player on the ice. It happens in sports without regulated fighting all the time. The difference is that a player who acts out on those impulses in hockey has to face a tough-guy on the opposing team who is sticking up for his teammate…honor and accountability!
Hockey is also the pure team sport. You can make countless examples for other sports, but at the end of the day, hockey requires a team to win. Every player at the top of the scoring chart at the end of the season, as well as all-time, has more assists than goals. If all they did was shoot, 5 guys would just jump on top of them.
A goalie can’t stop every shot if nobody is defending in front, and a defenseman couldn’t clear the puck out of the zone if nobody was supporting him in the defensive zone. If you do not have a deep sense of what it means to be a team player, you can’t succeed at hockey…it’s that simple!
Back to China…Together, Angela and I spent 45 minutes on the ice showing the players and the coaches the basics, reinforcing the foundation of the game, but more importantly, we preached the culture.
What we found was that because of the distinct differences in the Asian culture - in particular Chinese culture - as compared to the Western World, players were being worked too hard, too long, and without an understanding of the described virtues that hockey is based upon. We also noticed that coaches relied on the best players to assume dominance. To fix this, we showed them drills to enhance creativity, worked on passing, and ran more scrimmages. I attempted (and failed) to do a somersault on the ice, trying to impart that nothing was out of bounds when it came to being creative and having fun. Let it be known, I was not in full equipment, only a track suit. Anyway, It helped! They were much better the following year at the 2008 tournament!
I ran the next international youth hockey tournament for the Islanders in 2008, and saw firsthand how much better the Chinese kids improved. They were more relaxed on the ice, had much better team skills, better puck-handling (we showed them a toe-drag drill), and were starting to understand the value of fun in hockey. This was reinforced by the teams from New York and Finland. The kids from all 3 countries bonded immediately, sharing gifts, cheering for each other when they weren’t opposing on the ice, and trying cuisines of the other culture. This is what it’s all about! These kids are going to grow up and always cherish the tournament where they had fun playing against others from around the world, interacting on a personal level, and not caring who won the game, and who scored the most goals.
For the children Project Hope has touched in China, I can take pleasure in knowing that some of the kids I worked with are going to become professional hockey players in China, a country with less than 40 indoor ice arenas, and some of those kids will represent their country in the Olympics. Guaranteed. I hope those kids remember the experience they had interacting with kids from other countries and share the warmth, friendship, and happiness that people are trying to spread around the world through sports.
This is the calling I have been waiting for…to share happiness around the world, one puck at a time, using the sport of ice hockey as the language and culture to bond over. My first destination is Ladakh, a region in Kashmir, India running on solar energy and eco-friendly practices. Phey is a rural, Buddhist village in the Himalayas, looking for volunteers to teach the kids hockey before the ice melts in early February. More information can be found on my website, The Hockey Volunteer.
Note: Adam is working hard in hopes of raising at least $3000 before the new year, with anything additional being used towards the purchase and shipping of hockey equipment to donate to villagers in Kashmir. Information on how to contribute can be found at The Hockey Volunteer website, where you can also see an interview with Adam explaining more about his initiatives.
*All photos are the property of Adam Sherlip
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