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My son recently signed up for an all-week hockey clinic this summer for three hours each day. He’s seven-years-old, and a handful of people in my life questioned whether or not he might be too young for such an intense class.

When my husband first brought it up, I have to admit, I asked myself the same question. Was he too young? Would it be too much for him? I tried to dismiss my worries, because he’d just spent the last eight Saturdays at a Learn to Skate & Play class with the same coaches and many of the same kids. The coaches were supportive, encouraging and generally awesome. They made it so much fun for the kids.

Back when we signed him up for the Learn to Skate & Play, I thought there would be other kids in the class who couldn’t actually skate yet. Wrong. Let’s just say, I knew Mainers liked their hockey, but I didn’t realize these kids were born skating. And not just in the arena, they flood the parks in the winter here. How’s that for some dedication?

During the 8-week class, Jasper was the only kid who couldn’t skate. At all. He used a skating walker, and while he missed out on some of the drills, he had a blast.

Jasper has always been on his own timeline for things. He just turned seven. When we moved to Maine in November he wasn’t reading; he could barely recognize any sight words. When he started reading in January, it was like he went from a complete stall to a gallop.

He’s always said to me he never wanted to be on a sports team. So, this winter, when he asked to play hockey, we said, “Sure.” I had a feeling he was interested because Greg, my husband, plays, and a few boys in his class play.

In between when the 8-week class ended and his all-week clinic began, we got him skating lessons with one of the coaches, so when he started the all-week clinic, he could skate without the walker, and gosh did it ease my mind to see him become more included with the other kids.

Even with his new skating ability, he was still the worst one on the ice. Was he too young? I still wondered. Half the kids on the ice were smaller than Jasper, but none of them struggled as much.

I kept reminding myself he was brand new, but it was still difficult to watch him be the worst, not because I care if he’s the best, but because whenever we are faced with watching our kids struggle, it hurts. Every day ones or momentous ones, it hurts a parent’s heart to watch.

I don’t care if my kids are ever star athletes. But I’ve always hoped they’d do team sports at some point. I’m probably the least competitive person on the planet, I don’t have hard core allegiances to any team, and I’m uncoordinated when it comes to most sports.

Unless it involves swimming. From about age eight all the way through college, I was on a swim team. I was never the fastest on any team, never the most competitive or the star. But to this day, my swim team memories are some of my best memories, ever.
To be a member of a team means you have to learn how to communicate and work together cohesively towards a shared goal. You work your butt off and build strong relationships with your teammates in the process.

Even in swimming, which includes many individual races, there are relays which require a connection, a communication between the members. And that’s just for race day. I never would have made it through practices if it weren’t for my teammates. In college, I never would have stayed on the team if it weren’t for my teammates. Practice was early, practice was long, practice was brutal. The amazing people kept me swimming. I will cherish those relationships forever.

I want my kids to have the kinds of connections I had through swimming. I want them to have fun, feel good about themselves and make friends.

But there’s so much more they can gain, isn’t there? How to communicate with different types of people. How to encourage and help others, how to learn from others. What it feels like to win, what it feels like to lose, and how to handle both of those gracefully.

Jasper struggled all week. One day he even crawled off the ice, although that had more to do with his tendency toward the dramatic as he was laughing and smiling at me while he did it. He struggled to skate, to skate backwards, to keep his ankles upright, to hold his stick the correct way. He fell and had to figure out how to get back up. He navigated how to talk to the older kids, how to fit in.

Yes, it hurt to watch my son struggle, but therein lies an important question? Do we want our kids to struggle? Of course not.

But also, yes. Yes we do.

Not the life and death struggles that come with fighting for that next breath, literally.

But striving to acquire a new talent, to communicate with others, to do things outside their comfort zone. Yes, I want my kids to experience these difficult things, because to pursue challenges and stick with them, is to reap great rewards, and develop skills they can apply to life.

Jasper was exhausted, and he was so sweaty. But oh! The look of pure joy on that kid’s face at the end of every day!

Jasper didn’t just love the game, he loved the connections he made with the coaches and other kids. They all encouraged my son, they passed the puck to him, they lifted him up when he fell. They even laughed at his jokes in the locker room. I’m pretty sure the people Jasper met that week cemented his love for the game.

But these kids more than just made it fun for him, they taught him a very valuable lesson, that yes, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to play hockey, but being part of team like that can be so worth it. My husband and I tell our kids this regularly, that in order to be good at something, you have to work hard, but Jasper’s hockey clinic showed him. I watched, during the week, as this understanding came over my son. No, he was definitely not too young to learn this lesson.

Sara Ohlin

Puget Sound based writer, Sara Ohlin is a mom, wannabe photographer, obsessive reader, ridiculous foodie, and the author of the upcoming contemporary romance novels, Handling the Rancher and Salvaging Love. You can find her essays at Anderbo.com, Feminine Collective, Mothers Always Write, Her View from Home, and in anthologies such as Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak about Healthcare in America, and Take Care: Tales, Tips, & Love from Women Caregivers. Find her at www.saraohlin.com

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