I remember my first real hockey game. I was six years old and I had never been so excited for anything in my life. I was bad. In fact, I was horrible. After multiple goals scored against my line, and getting a breakaway just to shoot the puck in the wrong direction, the father of a boy on my team approached my father. He told my dad I should really choose a different sport.
As bad as it may sound, my dad asked me if I wanted to switch sports.
I replied, “No, Dad, I want to play in the NHL.”
He said, “Well, okay. As long as you’re passionate about it.”
I remember this vividly. It really stuck. This may not be a realistic goal, but for a six-year-old, what could it possibly mean to me?
The word is thrown around so freely. But what does it really mean to be passionate? Wanting to succeed more than you want to breathe? Wanting something so bad it hurts? In sports the ones with the most passion are the ones to succeed and stick out from the pack.
Growing up in the hockey community, it was easy for me to pick up on this kind of lingo. The words really didn’t mean much to me until I began to mature in my sport. There are millions of athletes who say they want to be the best. There are millions of athletes who say they want to win world titles. There are millions of athletes who say they can do anything, if they really put their minds to it.
I quickly became aware they cannot. They cannot unless they are passionate.
Passion is not just wanting to win. I’ve learned there is such thing as being obsessed as opposed to being passionate.
My senior year of high school, a teammate on my prep hockey team was in the running to play for the Canada U18 national team in hopes of some day making it to the Olympic national team. She was amazing, but not naturally talented, and knew she had to work for it. She worked so incredibly hard that her skill level kept increasing. I always thought to myself, ‘This must be what passion is. She wants to be on Team Canada more than anything.’
After getting to know the individual throughout the year, I began to understand that she was, in fact, not passionate in a healthy way. She was obsessed with the sport and the thought of being the best. So obsessed she didn’t sleep at night, nor did she do well in school. So obsessed she made no time for friends or social activities. And so obsessed she stressed herself out to the point that she didn’t reach her goal.
This experience taught me if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, it can’t be passion. To be passionate isn’t to be a perfectionist. It isn’t to be afraid to fail. It’s not to throw everything away.
Being passionate is wanting to reach your full potential. There are times you will fall short, but it’s recognizing where you need to go to succeed.
Being a part of the hockey community has opened my eyes to athletes with amazing talent, talent a person could only dream of being gifted with. Some were lucky enough to be born into the right family, some developed quicker than others and some just had incredible skills from the get-go.
I have seen many people take this talent and run, achieving outstanding goals. I have also seen this talent go to complete waste. Like I always said, I would rather have a hard-working and dedicated player on my team as opposed to a talented player who is lazy and doesn’t care.
Losing passion can occur for many reasons that may be personal. Back in my home town, Thunder Bay, Ont. we eat, sleep and breathe hockey. I spent more time at the rink than in my own home as a kid. This allowed me to watch and play with all the young superstars.
One of my best friends from home was talented. Her father played in the NHL, her grandfather was an National Collegiate Athletic Association hockey player and her mother an NCAA volleyball player. She was born to thrive athletically and boy did she ever have the skill.
Her family forced her into training at a ridiculously young age. She was on skates at three-years-old and playing hockey with the boys by five. By the time she turned 14, she had contacts from multiple NCAA Division 1 hockey programs that were drooling over her. The twist is, she hated every minute she spent at the rink. After verbally committing to University of Minnesota, she decided this was not what she wanted to do. She ended up quitting hockey all together.
I remember thinking, ‘What a waste.’ I could not understand how someone who was so good at what she did could give everything up. But I eventually realized that pursuing this opportunity would have been a waste of her time. She had no passion for the sport anymore, and there were other opportunities in life she didn’t want to miss out on because of hockey.
Now, take Matt Murray. A guy who has made history in the NHL with two back-to-back Stanley Cup championships under his belt. Now believe me when I tell you he was a no-namer in my home town until his senior years of high school.
He tried out for the elite boys team every year and was cut, time after time. No one really thought he would even have a chance at making it to the big leagues. So what changed?
Every coach who coached him said he has the size but he is just not good enough. They said he lacked skill but made up for it with his hard work. Every trainer he worked with would say he was the hardest worker in the gym. They would say he used his early failures to motivate him.
This is passion. This is wanting to be the best. This is using your failures to achieve your end results. Some may say he was lucky to have made it to where he is, but I say he deserves nothing less.
As I entered the second half of my third year playing for St. Thomas University women’s hockey team, I understood. I understood why my dad asked me if I wanted to change sports that day. I understand why he always told me to make sure I was always passionate. And now I understand what it means to be a passionate athlete.
This does not only apply to hockey and athletics, but also everything in life. I am grateful sports have taught me to know the feeling of passion. It’s something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.