I hope that everyone is enjoying the Passover holiday. It is a special time when we retell the story of our exodus from Egypt and freedom from oppression. It is a major event in our people’s history and one where Moses and the Jewish people experienced the thrill of victory. (I know some who believe the moment of victory is page 47 of the Hagaddah when you finally get to eat.)
Many of you will remember the old ABC television program, Wide World of Sports.It had its dramatic opening montage with Jim McKay emphasizing “the thrill of victory and agony of defeat (with Slovenian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj crashing his way down the ramp).” It was one of those phrases etched in everyone’s mind.
Last weekend I got the opportunity to experience the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. I try not to write about my family, but allow me to share a story. Last week, I was in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with my 14 year-old son. He plays ice hockey for the Portland Junior Winterhawks Bantam (13-14 year olds) ice hockey team. His team was in Florida competing for the 14-Under Tier II National Championships (think of Tier I like major league baseball and Tier II as AAA baseball).
The tournament began with a series of round-robin games based on region in the United States. I remember how nervous I was sitting in the stands not knowing how his team would stack up against the others. Plus, if you did not win, you could be finished playing after only three games. South Florida is a long way to go for only three games.
In the opening round, we beat teams from Montana and Wyoming, yet lost to the team from Nevada. Portland was fortunate based on a series of prescribed tie-breakers to advance to the next round. One team, however, was suddenly out of the tournament based on some crazy math equation. I can only imagine how they felt.
Our team won its next game and on its way to the national championship final.
Let me express how hard that evening was for my son and for me. He was nervous and anxious. He thought about how cool it would be to win. I, however, was quietly concerned about how it would be if they lost. Since it was right before Passover, I asked him how nervous Moses must have been leading the Jews out of Egypt. What if the “game plan” did not work and the Jews were not freed? Moses had only one chance – basically one game to win it all. I thought I was clever – he just scoffed at my analogy and told me they did not play ice hockey in the desert 3,000 years ago.
Before each and every game I tell him the same three things -- “Play hard, have fun, and I love you.” To me, it is not about winning or losing, it is about doing your best and enjoying yourself. I have read enough articles about parents who “ruin it” for their children with comments either before or after a game. In fact, earlier this year I blew it and said the wrong thing. He was angry and hurt. I was wrong and committed myself to never do it again (yet I still feel guilty).
On the way to the rink for the championship game, I asked him what was on his mind. I expected him to tell me how much he wanted to win the tournament. Instead, he told me, “I just want both teams to play a great game. Winning would be awesome! But I know that at the end of the game one team will be very happy and the other very sad. Win or lose, I hope we do our best.” I was so proud.
Two hours later, the Portland Junior Winterhawks won the 14U Tier II National Championship.
How awesome! And, quite an accomplishment for a small market hockey community. Interestingly, Portland won the same title two years ago and those kids are now on the 16-Under Tier II Midget Team that also won a National Championship last week. Portland is the only city in America at any level that won two national championships this year.
A few lessons I have learned from my son’s hockey experiences which I believe translate to our own (personal and professional) lives:
•We all want to give others the opportunities to do his/her best and to support them. There is a time and place for appropriate feedback, but the most important thing is to encourage people to maximize their potential.
•Every team has its share of “star” players. They often want their moment to shine. But hockey is a team sport and those individual players are even more successful when they play as a team.
•Hockey is a fast moving game and "bad plays" get made. Quick decisions have to be made and they are not always right. You cannot dwell on them. You have to keep skating and be ready for your next shift.
•You don’t always “win.” Being a “good loser” is as important as being a “good winner.”
•Hockey teams need fans. And fans help build community.
As I kvell over my son’s team’s victory (trust me, I am happy to kvell about my daughter’s accomplishments, as well), I thought about it more in relation to Passover. The tournament was a joyous and victorious experience! One that was celebrated with others (including strangers). And most of all, I am confident my son will retell the story year after year.
Shabbat shalom and may you enjoy the remainder of the Passover holiday.