By Theron Glenny
As most people are looking for the first signs of spring with eager anticipation, I am not. I may be the only one, but the thought of my back yard ice rink melting saddens me as it has been a treasure to us here in the Glenny house this winter. Here are three lessons I’ve learned this winter from having my backyard ice rink.
The Importance of a Gathering Place
In his book Becoming a Person of Influence, leadership guru John Maxwell said that when he and his wife were raising their kids, they wanted their house to be the place where their kid’s friends wanted to be. They wanted their home to be a gathering place to build relationships. So, they equipped their house with ping pong tables and other fun stuff for kids. It gave them the opportunity to be involved in the lives and friendships of their kids.
My ice rink, or the back pond as I affectionately refer to it, has been a gathering place for friends, my kid’s friends, my kids friends parents, the hockey players I coach, and of course my own family. I remember one night my wife Mizpah and I were getting ready for bed and when my head hit the pillow, I heard the distinct sound of a puck ding of one of the posts out back. I smiled. I knew who was out there…two of my junior high hockey players, getting in a late evening skate. Like a five-year old on Christmas morning, I jumped out of bed, put my gear on and out I went. We wore out the ice that night. While we worked on shooting and the fundamentals, what I most remember was our conversation. My simple ‘pond’ served as a gathering place for two teens to talk with their coach about the deeper things in life. As a coach, these experiences matter more than wins and losses. They shape the lives and destinies of the next generation.
What We Should Have When We Play Sports - Childlike Joy
I recently read a book titled Home Ice by the late Jack Falla, a fellow backyard ice rink maker. Falla, a Sports Illustrated writer, shared about when he was sent to Edmonton, Alberta during Wayne Gretsky’s famous point streak in 1984. He had heard stories about the great Gretsky when Wayne was only 11 years old. He also learned about Wayne’s father, Walter Gretzky’s, who when Wayne was young, constructed a backyard ice rink. Walter Gretsky affectionately referred to his rink as Wally Arena.
It was there on that sheet of ice where Wayne's love of hockey was embedded into his heart. Wayne would skate in the mornings before school and was quick to hop in his hockey gear after school to get back out there. Wayne would sometimes eat dinner in his skates so he could quickly hit the ice before bedtime. Walter didn’t push Wayne like so many parents do in youth sports today. Wayne wasn’t pushed to love hockey, it just happened…mainly because his Dad provided the space for that love to be cultivated. It was that childlike joy that Wayne had for hockey that Falla observed years later in him at Edmonton when Wayne was tearing up the NHL.
I can’t help but see that same childlike joy in my kids. In the sub-freezing mornings, my kids rush downstairs eager for me to skate with them. I gladly would grab my gear and get them bundled up as we headed out into the cold morning air. The cold was not an obstacle to our time together. There is warmth that we share in this gathering spot, on this frozen ‘pond’…my backyard ice rink. The warmth is in our hearts and not contained by the ice or the cold air. Our time is unstructured and simply fun.
What I want to point out to you is that there is something very significant about unstructured play that produces a childlike joy and love for a sport. For me, it was spending hours on my parent’s basketball court alone shooting, dribbling, and reenacting being down by one with ten seconds on the clock. It was during those hours, not structured practices, where my hands became one with the leather ball, where I first dared to shoot a jump shot, and where good habits bloomed. No coaching was needed on that slab of concrete. Just me and a ball.
A Platform to Connect with My Kids
Some parents say they have trouble connecting with their kids. For me, I’ve found that connecting to your kids has to be intentional. It starts with blocking off time…clearing your schedule and turning your phone off so that you can be focused on them.
As a young father I have really appreciated the new experiences to bond with my kids on this backyard ice rink. My son likes to play 1-on-1 and when he scores, he likes to drop the gloves and pretends to scrap with me. We end up on the ice wrestling around and laughing. For my daughter, she loves to push me around the ice to practice her skating. When she asks me to daddy-daughter skate, I cannot resist her big brown eyes under that pink hockey helmet. These times to connect are intentional and have been a blessing to me.
Sports can teach a lot of great life lessons - teamwork, grit, integrity, passion. For me sports are a platform for impacting the next generation. Our job as coaches and parents is to raise up the next generation of moms and dads, wives and husbands. That job is more important than learning a game or even excelling at a game. So, whether you have an ice rink like me, a driveway basketball court, or an open field to play ball, use your space as a gathering place for your family and friends to connect and get back that childlike joy of the game.
Enjoy the pictures below.