The 40-Year-Old (Goalie) Virgin, Part 3: How to Lose without Playing a Game
Don’t look now, y’all, but this Rookie is 41.
Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
So this isn’t the post I’d planned to write this month. For the last two decades, the six-week fallout zone around my birthday has been a wasteland of intense depression, and it arrived on time and with zero subtlety again this year. I’ve been doing a ton of sleeping (it’s a massive step up from eating my feels, so I’m counting that as a win), and since I haven’t felt much like moving when I am awake, it’s inadvertently provided a nice little still space for assessing things. This project, of course, has been on or near my mind almost constantly.
I agreed to do this series in the first place because I wanted to leave a yarn trail of sorts for other adults drawn to goaltending. Thanks to the internet, we live in the single greatest time in human history for learning absolutely anything. Hockey hasn’t been left out: the array of tools and references out there for every nook of the game is unreal. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of that ink – especially for beginning players – has been spilled with very young children in mind. And what does exist for adults new to the game assumes that one is a normal, rational human being who chose to skate out, rather than laughing maniacally as one makes a giddy beeline for the crease.
I’m plenty weird, for sure. But with over 7 billion people on the planet, the chances of me being the last to decide to strap on the pads for the first time later in life are infinitesimally small.
The kids’ resources are great — and often infinitely more fun than anything written for adults — but there’s no escaping the fact that the experience and the challenges one confronts are very different when you’re older. I feel it’s important that I talk about the challenges just as freely as the successes, both because the solutions might make life a little easier for someone later, and because they’re what make doing something like this as an adult unique.
I got to thinking about all of this more deeply than usual behind a recent team practice on a chilly Friday night. My chest protector and goalie pants haven’t arrived yet, so practice for me is a rather lonely affair that consists of being exiled to the far end of the ice left entirely to my own devices. I usually spend the time making tentative attempts at executing the last few things I’ve read — and getting chirped at from the bench by the defensive coach because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
The arena we skate out of has two rinks, one on the east side of the building, the other on the west. Up to this point, we’d used the east rink exclusively, but a conflicting event put us in the west one this night. So there I was, doing…something…when the fellow assisting with the practice that night invited me to run a corner drill. In retrospect, the drill was more of an exercise in bad ideas: I’ve seen since then that nothing good ever happens when a goalie goes that far out of the crease. But I was excited to have something constructive to do — so much so, that I couldn’t figure out why the boards felt like they were a light year away from the net, or why such a simple skate got so tiring so quickly. I’m nowhere near what anyone would call “well-conditioned,” but by the fourth rep, my lungs were seizing up. Wheezing, embarrassed, and making a concerted effort to stay calm, I gingerly skated to the bench, fished out my inhaler, and silently cursed all of the usual suspects, being sure to save a couple choice ones for the still-chirping D coach (wouldn’t want to be impolite, you know).
Somewhere in the first quarter of our lives, we learn Something that drives us to start heavily doubting ourselves in moments like this. Toddlers don’t take failure personally at all: they take some spectacular Ls when learning to walk, but they don’t sit and wonder why they’re bothering afterwards. They just grab something and haul themselves back up. By our mid-20s, this obliviousness is long gone, and what replaces it is quite a bit darker. How many dreams and ideas lie abandoned at its feet? And of those, how many are only there for want of better information?
I went down the list as I sat there brokering a peace with my lungs: too old, too fat, too late, too weak, too fragile, too unathletic, too undisciplined (isn’t it odd how much this sounds like fans bashing every struggling pro ever), too…wrong. I’m not even in full gear yet and I can’t hang — how do I expect to pull an actual game?
I never did make it back out on the ice. By the time practice ended 15 minutes later, I could breathe, but my feet were killing me, and I was feeling pretty low. I returned the parts of my gear that fit to my bag; gracelessly waddled out of the rink like some overburdened pack mule, and somehow got around to talking to my coach in the hallway.
Oh. The west rink is Olympic-sized. I’ve only skated on NHL-sized rinks. It really was much further to the boards.
Oh. The west rink is significantly colder than the east rink. I usually arrive to the east rink 1.5 to 2 hours early to allow myself to acclimate slowly. Today I’d been late. In the west rink, I didn’t have a prayer.
Oh. Out-skater skates lock and support the ankle; but goalie skates do not, due to the need for greater mobility. That plus a correctable functional quirk with my calves is causing the pain in my feet.
Granted, I do need to put in way more work on my endurance; I do need to make good and sure I arrive at rinks early enough to get adapted and warm up slowly; and I do need to quit being a bum about doing mobility work every day if I don’t want to end up in traction. But those are all things I can actually control. Imagine surrendering a dream to a problem you had the power to solve.
I imagine we do it all the time.
I guess the takeaway here is that it is possible to over — and under — think a thing at the same time, and both are suboptimal. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of exercising extreme compassion towards ourselves and being slow to pass judgement, especially as new adult players. For reasons ranging from time to access, comparing ourselves to the kids is unfair, and sets us up for failure. Skills may not come quite as readily or smoothly for us; and we have to be more mindful in caring for our bodies, since they won’t recover as quickly as a 12-year-old’s. However, that’s not the same as being unable. It also doesn’t mean we have no potential to reach for. Seeking Ultimate Mastery (as I forever am) is fine, but there are countless enjoyable moments along the way that shouldn’t be overlooked, either: the first save, the first win, the first stolen game; the first time you make it out of the butterfly without struggling, or execute a shot off of the glass exactly the way you imagined it in your head. Those smaller events are the real stuff of hockey, and the real reason we play.