The Good Old Hockey Game and the Unhappy Child
Late last year I wrote an article, later published at OnePeterFive, on the demise of religion and culture in small towns. In it I explained how hockey was woefully being employed as a pseudo-replacement for God and community, given the absence of living a true teleological purpose for life. That the rink is full of unhappy participants and spectators on a Sunday morning, and the churches are sparse with worshippers, says it all.
Fast forward to today; the hockey season is mercifully nearing completion. I had the great pleasure of coaching my seven year old son through his season of novice hockey; I had the grave misfortune of coaching more than a dozen other seven and eight year old children through a season of tears, misery, exhaustion, and overall displeasure. To be fair, there were some wonderful children in the bunch, but the general takeaway for me is that most hockey children cry far too much. They cry over missing a shot, taking a penalty, being told to pay attention, arguing with teammates, having their skates tied too loose and, every once in a blue moon, they cry over being legitimately hurt. More disturbing than the tears I encountered were the frequent misbehaviours, attitudes of entitlement, and loud frustration towards anything that does not go perfect or easy for them. Hockey can be a great school for life lessons, yet it felt like these lessons were being lost on the deaf ears of a younger mob. I do not blame the kids. They are but a product of our cultureless insanity.
The hockey season was hectic. It seemed God angrily bestowed snowstorms and extreme cold temperatures onto every game involving travel. Trips were taken three hours away for the sole purpose of playing "a different team." Meanwhile, there was a local team that we never played. Better to drive three hours on a Sunday morning than roll out of bed and tumble straight to the local arena. Did I mention Sunday morning? It seemed that games were sought out far and wide to fulfill the new Sunday morning obligation: Hockey. My family and I went over four months without making the drive to the nearest Traditional Latin Mass. Hockey, already four plus days per week, always climaxed each week with a Sunday morning game. What else is a person to do on a Sunday morning after all? The arena of worship must be satisfied; our children's wellbeing acting as the sacrificial victim. Thankfully, in my community the Saturday evening Mass is the more conservative Mass (i.e. no St. Louis Jesuit ditties), and the liberal Sunday morning Mass is for "gathering" as a "people of God" in our "worship space" so that we can be "sent forth" to "go make a difference". Therefore, my family easily fulfilled our twofold weekend obligation of Saturday night Mass and Sunday morning hockey.
With a chance to finally take a breather, this past week brought a much needed school break. The respite meant a much needed family trip to the Latin Mass, and an opportunity to relax from all organized hockey. It was also a chance for me to take my seven and four year old boys to the local outdoor rink to play hockey. I did not have to sell a single 50/50 ticket, dry tears from a child whose life was shattered at the news of having to play left wing and not centre, or research the top crossover skating drills. We played hockey. At the rink there were other boys present, ranging from ages 6 to 12. None of these boys were the best on their respective teams. They went to the rink simply to enjoy the outdoors, the game, and their friends.
Daily over the break we would gather to partake of this play. The teams always changed based on fairness. The boys playing graciously ensured my four year old would touch the puck from time to time, thus building their own character and sportsmanship. Rules were set and maintained. Post shots were counted as goals. There was to be no raising unless the path to the net was clear. Intermissions to escape the cold were to be agreed on by everyone. Occasionally a mom would drive up to the rink, only to have her child plead for "just one more hour!" The games went on happily. Best of all, there was no crying.
At one point two boys showed up. They are what you might call the "elite" players in the community. They belong to an upscale travel team, separated from their lesser brethren. I asked if the boys would like to join in the game. Surprisingly they declined, saying something about the need to practice instead. Simultaneously there was a hockey game being played while these two "elite" boys engaged in the new national pastime of practicing. While the "lesser" boys passed the puck with the purpose of scoring a goal, the "elite" players artificially passed the puck with the sole purpose of making the National Hockey League. While the "lesser" boys skated back and forth eagerly with the intention of stopping a goal, these "elite" players skated back and forth strenuously simply for the reason that it is good for their development. While the "lesser" boys made creative plays, sometimes successfully and other times not, the "elite" boys created in-game situations to work through, though the possibility of practicing these situations in an actual fun game was lost on them. While the "lesser" boys played, the "elite" boys worked.
When the natural desire to play a game is supplanted by the unnatural call to work at a game, the death of childhood and culture has been achieved. The teleology is striking. Boys inherently wish to play, to roughhouse, and to engage in activities which they enjoy and benefit from. When boys do so, their boyhood desires to play and develop into manhood are quenched. Conversely, the boys who willingly remove themselves from playing a game in order to work at a game are stunting not only their joy, but also their proclivity to be free and to delight in youthful pleasure. They become, in a sense, less human, and thus less fulfilled. Making the NHL is not, in and of itself, part of the boyhood teleology. I do not fault the "elite" boys. They were taught to neglect their inner yearnings to play, and they were disciplined enough to obey. I do feel sorry for them though. Our godless society has removed youthful pleasure and innocence and replaced it with artificial tasks; whether they be enjoyable or not is inconsequential.
I love the game of hockey, but I do not love what it has become. As the organized season of hockey winds down, it once again has replaced what should be natural in a child, play and worship, with unnatural activities and Godlessness; thus, producing an unhappy and stunted society. Further, organized hockey is helping to create a cultureless society, for true culture tends the heart and soul. What the current hockey system is doing is destructive: Our children are given work, travel, and freedom from religion, all in the name of a game. Our children deserve to play, feel at home, and love God, all within a culture which fosters such a game. To summarize, Saturday nights should be for playing hockey, and Sunday mornings for attending Mass; not the other way around. Then, and only then, will the game of hockey find its proper place.