Don’t Judge a Boy By His Smell

I remember being a 15-year old girl. I was awkward and shy (yes, shy) and I had no idea what to do around 15-year old boys. They were strange, strange creatures. Not much has changed.

Last year when I took this job as a hockey trainer, I was not certain it would work out. I was worried that it would conflict with my son’s schedule of course, but mostly I was worried about how the heck I was going to handle 19 15-year old boys. I still remember my first game with them when they skated by and all I could think was “jeez, these guys smell.”

I still felt awkward because I had no idea how I was going to talk to them or figure out if they were lying to me about being hurt. And I’m sure they just looked at me like some uncool hockey mom invading their bench space.

Fast-forward to today. Five months of attending games and Saturday was our last one.

I spent the entire day trying not to cry. It didn’t work very well and I had to keep sneaking into the bathroom to make myself look appropriately professional. No one wants a mushy trainer with mascara running down her face.

I was holding it together pretty well. I thought. I had a little speech in my head all prepared for when I had to leave them at the restaurant. I’d go around to the tables and say:

You are all amazing, really, I am so proud to have gotten to work with you and I hope that you all continue to pursue your dreams with passion. It continues to amaze me that you can battle so hard on the ice and still have all the pressures of growing into young men to deal with. You’re doing a great job.

But that’s not really how it went. It went more like this: I got up to go. The manager stood up to say thank you to mem the boys started to clap and say thank you. And then I cried. I’m not really a pretty crier. I’m more of the red-rimmed eyes and snot-faced type so I just accepted their hugs and booked out of there without saying what I wanted to say.

I sit here today, amazed at the fears I had at the start of the season. I was so wrong. These were awesome kids.

For one thing, they can handle so much more than I could at their age. It’s not like they told me anything deep and revealing, but when you talk to parents and coaches and gather that information, you get a bigger picture of each kid. Plus, I got the chance to stand back, see them struggle and battle on the ice, on the bench and in the dressing room.

Because sports like hockey don’t create character in kids, it reveals character.

And I saw some excellent demonstrations of character.

Oh sure, there was some typical teenaged-boy behaviour, but that’s what bothers me: as a society we judge that behaviour as somehow being WRONG. Sure if they are breaking the law or doing something dangerous, that’s wrong. But acting like teenage boys? Normal. And, I have to admit, entertaining.

One parent commented that I treat the boys like adults. Absolutely. They have more pressures on them than many adults I know. They behave like adults, they get treated like adults. They put ketchup on my shoe, I punch them in the throat. Well, not really, but I think they believed I would.

I do also believe that my team in particular was just awesome. I worked on other teams over the season to cover other trainers and I remember one instance where I actually had to grab a kid by the jersey and yell at him to sit down. There may have been broken sticks and temper tantrums on my team once in a while, but nothing disrespectful. MY boys were awesome.

Because at the end of the day, that’s who they were, my boys. I was often as excited to go to their game as I was to go to my own son’s games. And while I wanted them to win every game, just as I want my son to win every game, I’m mostly concerned with how they are doing/feeling/coping. Are they ok? Are they hurt? Can I fix it?

And they did a pretty good job, whether they knew it or not, of making me feel like I was a necessary part of the team.

Maybe you’re reading this and rolling your eyes, maybe you think I’m being a silly mom, but the revelation that these kids are awesome was a big one for me. I can see the future, I can see my son’s future, and I can smile, because it’s not scary any more. I’m not raising a strange, strange creature… I’m raising a son. And because of these boys, because I got to know a little bit about them as people, I understand my own son even better.

(And that’s enough for now… I haven’t even gotten to the parts about loving the team dynamic, even when it’s not working…. and learning to love hockey again… AND, learning how to be an effective hockey parent… )

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  1. Got me one of those 15 year old boys and I agree….they are smelly but awesome! Mine happens to play soccer but has been with the same core group of boys for a few years now. It has been so much fun to see them grow (and grow….and grow….most are nearly 6 feet now and that is without skates on!) both physically and emotionally. They still crack me up when it is my turn to carpool….in fact, I LOVE driving them ’cause they often forget I am behind the wheel (just who do they THINK is driving??) and I get a glimpse into their not-so-little-anymore boy world. Those hockey guys were lucky to have you as their trainer, Heather and it sounds like the feeling was mutual….

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