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Good to Get Back to Life Lessons on the Road

By Matthew Thompson  
The varsity boys hockey team, like all amateur sport teams and athletes, have had a trying couple of years. COVID-19 is well documented and has taken away much more than sport, but as a coach of young men, seeing sport taken away has at times been very difficult. As coaches, teachers and educators, we pride ourselves on being able to reach our students and athletes. We constantly seek ways to motivate and bring real life into the lessons that we are teaching on the ice.

Over the last couple years, it has at times been difficult to see the light of the lesson as the adult ,so getting that lesson into the teenage brain has been that much more complex and difficult. When you boil that down, though, that in itself is education, learning and coaching. 

Just under two weeks ago, the varsity boys hockey team left on a road trip to Toronto. We played our first games since December, and the undermanned Spartans performed well. Life on the road is simple, more simple than it was before, but also far more complex in its own unique way as we navigate balancing sport and safety. Although we lost to Upper Canada College in the finals of their tournament, the sparkle in the players’ eyes and the joy of competition, the pain of bumps and bruises and the taste of defeat were all welcome emotions, because they were real emotions. Sports, for most who play, are an outlet. Sometimes an outlet for a bad day, a bad test result or just in general an outlet for pent up energy. It was good to have our outlet back. 
After Toronto and a quick pit stop in Stanstead over February break, it was on to The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, about 30 minutes outside Philly. A few cheese steaks were had, thanks to our new “cheese steak guy” Rocky, and again we played hockey. It was not perfect, as injuries again prevented all Spartans from being able to be present, but it was competition and athletic adversity that we all so crave in the best of times. In total the team spent 11 straight nights together and countless hours on the bus and played 9 games, going 5-3-1 and averaging about 5 players out a game. Emotions ran from laughing on the bus (or sleeping) to the joys of scoring, the highs of winning and the lows of losing. But throughout the entire trip there was a lot of learning. 
Sport has always been something that to me represents life so well. The lessons that we learn through competition help us to understand the things we need to know when “real life” takes over. We were not perfect in our play, but as a team we were able to be close to each other and really see how and why we tick the way we do, which will set us up well for what is to come as we hit the final stretch of the season. 
I am not a big fan of the use of clichés in sport like “battle” or referring to a player as a “soldier.” Those words are, in my mind, much larger than sport. It has for sure been a difficult 24 months for young athletes, but as I have rambled on before in a previous “Coaches Corner” and in keeping perspective, I hope that we have been able to continue the learning process in making our players better people, students and athletes. 
I coach for the moments of seeing Elijah Young skate over to his mom after a period to tell her about his goal, or watching big tough Eli hug her after the game. Or hearing Mr. Dee speak so calmly about how many grey hairs he got seeing Liam stop 8 straight attempts in the shootout after making not one but two breakaway saves in a huge win. I am excited to see our team keep moving forward and skating towards our goals and truly enjoying the ups and downs that come with competition. We know more than ever that it is something that should not be taken for granted and something that should be enjoyed in the good times and the bad times. As people, we know we must to a certain extent embrace advertising even if we are getting tired of hearing that phrase.
The Spartans will play at home for the first time since November this weekend, and I know I speak for the entire team when I say that we look forward to the support of the school community. Hopefully we will show the growth on the ice that I, as the coach, feel we have accomplished over the last few months.