My youngest son had a busy weekend of hockey these past few days, on the ice four times in three days. I believe it fatigued all involved. Sunday’s game in particular got a little bit lively, more so than usual. The experience reminded me of just how easy it is to lose your perspective, and how much progress we’ve yet to make in responding versus reacting.
At that game, the parents from the other team were extremely vocal right from the start. And that’s fair enough. I can appreciate that they want to cheer for their kids. But those kids were also a little rougher out on the ice than what’s normal. There again, I experienced that as an anklebiter also. We used to call teams like that “chippy.” You learn to deal with it and move on.
Tasked with a tough job, the referees are usually selective as to whether to call penalties or not, particularly at this age. Unfortunately, they erred on the side of letting the kids sort it out themselves. In other words, there was a lot of hooking, holding and body contact, and the whistle wasn’t blowing. It escalated, and control of the game began to slip away. Or so it seemed.
As this happened, the kids continued to play, of course, under the supervision and “leadership” of the coaches, the referees, and the rest of the people in the arena (in other words, the parents). But the behaviour in the building quickly deteriorated to inappropriate levels. The energy rose, and tensions with it, and a number of people that I know to be very good, solid individuals, lost their cool and began shouting things which they almost immediately regretted. It was all unnecessary and uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing. As soon as the game was done, and the players came off the ice and sat down in the dressing room, helmets were removed to reveal … 9-year-old kids. And those kids, in my case, were the ones on the losing side of this particular game. But they were happy. The drama and anxiety was all being felt by the people who were projecting their expectations on to the event. But the participants, in this case, children, had not lost perspective. Sure, the game was “chippier” that it probably should have been. It would have been nice to have seen some leadership shown and order restored, but nobody got hurt. Overall, it was not really a big deal, and the kids knew it. But the coaches and parents were still wound up. Some apologized. The kids looked around like they didn’t know what the fuss was for. Meantime, many of the adults had allowed the uncomfortable energy to tell them things were not okay, and they had reacted. Poorly.
This phenomenon plays itself out over and over and over again in our society. People tend to react to a situation, rather than respond. When tension grows, your perspective narrows, and the “fight or flight” feelings kick in. It’s only later, when you’re calm enough to recognize the larger picture once again, that you realize the situation did not, in fact, merit the anxiety cast upon it.
How many times have you had a bad day at work, or have you received some unwelcome news and suddenly felt your world spinning out of control and all positive thought crashing down around you? What seemed so manageable, maybe even enjoyable, one moment, became unbearably bad the next.
What changed? The bad day at work? The news?
The refs at the hockey game?
The world didn’t fundamentally change in any of those cases. Only your choice of perspective did. Life is going to happen. It isn’t good or bad. It just is. It’s the perspective we choose – the choice we make – that tells us it’s positive or negative. But that’s our choice.
To react or to respond. That’s your choice. One involves taking a breath or two and giving the situation some space. The other does not.
The coach who yelled, “You’re ruining the f—king game” on Sunday for the benefit of a bunch of 9-year-olds is hurting himself a lot more than he may realize. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to be hurting the kids much.