<![CDATA[Melissa Walsh - Writer - Essays by Melissa]]>Tue, 20 Feb 2018 19:53:59 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Playing Hockey: Life's Great Escape]]>Sat, 25 Jul 2015 07:00:00 GMThttp://melissawalsh.online/essays-by-melissa/playing-hockey-lifes-great-escape
By Melissa Walsh

During the long road trip back from a lacrosse tournament recently, my 16-year old son and I were chatting about hockey. We were talking about how much we love playing hockey. Before he began playing lacrosse, he had been a hockey guy. He still is — a goalie. All four of my sons have been on skates since age three. I didn’t start lacing ‘em up until much later in life.

Me: “When you guys were little and I hadn’t started playing yet, I wondered if you ever got tired of playing hockey. I also wondered if the pros got sick of being on the ice so much. But now I get it. You don’t get tired of it. I could play hockey every day and be very happy.”

My son: “Really, you could? I think I could play every day, too.”

Me: “You know why I could play every day and love it.”

My son: “Why?”

Me: “Because when I play hockey, I’m completely away from all of the stress and problems of my life. One hundred percent. It is the one activity I do when I absolutely do not think of any of my problems and worries at all. Not on the ice. Not on the bench. Not in the room with my team mates.”

My son: “Yeah. Me, too.”

Me: “That’s what makes playing hockey so important.” 

Then I encouraged my son to keep playing hockey throughout his life. College. Beer leagues. Whatever. 

“As long as playing hockey is in your life, you won’t get old,” I told him. “It’s the fountain of youth.”

My son nodded. 

I continued to drive on thinking about what I had just said about what playing hockey means for me in my life. Isn’t that how the game should feel for kids, too? Completely worry-free. Problem-free. Pure joy and all fun all the time — on the ice, on the bench, in the room.

When parents make the youth hockey game about youth performance and not the pure fun of competing as part of a youth team, they’re introducing problems into the experience of playing hockey that would not develop organically among the kids.

Even at “elite” youth hockey levels, the hockey game should always feel as pure as shinny with friends on a remote pond away from critical adult eyes and commentary. Always. This is to play the game “loose,” to play it creatively and dynamically; it’s playing for the love of the game and a healthy will to win. Glass-banging and critical commentary screamed through the glass taint the game with anxiety and insecurity streamed into the minds of the players. And wise youth hockey onlookers know that good hockey demands confidence among the players.

In youth hockey coaching clinics, we coaches learn about how to let the game teach us. We watch our players play the game the way they know to play it in the moment; accordingly, we note what to teach or emphasize during the next practice. Game time is usually not the right time for overt instruction from coach … and never the right time from parents at the glass; the game is doing the teaching. Players win or they learn.

This is why you will see many good youth coaches watching silently. During practices, these good youth coaches teach like crazy; they instruct, demonstrate, and engage with positive reinforcement continually, not leaning on the stick just watching.

Parents should know what it is for a kid to be in the game, keeping in mind that for the players the game is the great escape into a special experience owned by the players and understanding that the game itself is the best teaching tool. 

So, hockey parents, don’t interfere with that. Don’t crash the players’ game experience with your will of what you desire the game to be for you.

Apart from cheering for all sweet goals and all great saves, keep your mouth shut and hands down during the game. Keep the game pure and worry-free for the players.

©2015 Powerplay Communications

<![CDATA[Beer-League Prospects]]>Fri, 15 May 2015 07:00:00 GMThttp://melissawalsh.online/essays-by-melissa/beer-league-prospects
By Melissa Walsh

Ask your kid, or any hockey kid, why he/she likes, or loves, playing hockey.  

Now first keep in mind that there are kids who just "like" playing hockey; and there are kids who totally "love" playing hockey. There are kids who play hockey as a pastime; then there are kids who are hockey players in the core of their being, who view themselves as hockey players. For these kids, hockey is an organically grown passion, not amusing recreation planted by mom and dad.

I would wager that the responses to this question would be similar among all hockey kids, whether they like or love playing hockey. Chances are -- and this is just my educated guess as a hockey mom, youth coach, and rec (beer-league) player -- that every kid would say something to this effect: "I like/love playing hockey because it's fun."

When asked to elaborate about the "fun" aspect, every kid would add something like, "It's fun because I play with my friends." No kid is going to say, "I love hockey because I might get a college scholarship." Or "I love hockey because I want to be an elite player and I want to undertake the grueling path of becoming a top draft pick, giving up most of my social life as a teenager."

There were 160,618 USA Hockey-registered adult players for the 2012-13 season, an increase of about 5,000 from the previous season (stats for 2013-14 not yet released). Hockey Canada cites over 40,000 registered adult recreational hockey players. Just like the kids, adult hockey players play hockey to have fun with friends. It's also an awesome workout. And there's beer-drinking and chatting in the dressing room after, the hallowed place of hockey teams.

Whether an adult plays elite pro hockey or in a beer league, the motivation to continue to play is the same. All play for the love of the game and camaraderie of the club. If an NHLer loses the love for playing the game he loved as a kid, it will be tough for him to do what's required to stay on that elite roster. Even as a fanatical lover of the game, it's strenuous to stay on the roster. If he continues to love playing even after retirement from pro hockey, he'll end up playing where so many of his childhood hockey-playing buddies ended up - in the beer leagues. Or he'll join a regular drop-in with other A players or alumni club.

Parents who think paying for youth hockey is an "investment" toward their kid's college tuition or career stardom would be better off putting the money in the bank to accrue interest.

What a hockey parent buys her kid when submitting that ice payment is a fun, meaningful experience. There are also those priceless lessons in humility, work ethic, playing for team, and honing will-to-win instincts. Each hockey player, whether a kid or adult, must always own his/her hockey experience, not the person signing a check.

Hockey parents support beer-league prospects, which is pretty darn special. It's the gift of hockey memories and the investment in fun and friendships that will last a lifetime.

©2015 Powerplay Communications

<![CDATA[History Channel's 'Sons of Liberty': Void of 'Common Sense']]>Thu, 05 Feb 2015 08:00:00 GMThttp://melissawalsh.online/essays-by-melissa/history-channels-sons-of-liberty-void-of-common-sense
By Melissa Walsh

The History Channel’s 
Sons of Liberty was beyond bad; for a channel whose namesake is “history,” it was irresponsible. The script not only presented ridiculous falsehoods in a ludicrously dummied-down drama of what an unread audience might perceive as history; it omitted key figures and developments that led to America’s prodigious Patriot Movement of the 1770s. 

From the early first-episode scene depicting Samuel Adams pursued by one-dimensional red-coated thugs and running across Boston rooftops like David Starsky, I was disappointed. Artistically the truth would have been a much more compelling story to portray than the soap-opera casting and cheesy, 21st-century dialogue the History Channel gave us in Sons of Liberty. Perhaps the screenwriters interviewed Drunk History contributors as research. 

I continued to watch nonetheless, with an agenda: I wanted to see if the writers bothered to add Common Sense to the script.

They did not.

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, not Sam Adams' strong-arming, was arguably the key cultural force that pulled colonists en masse away from British loyalist tradition and pulled them into vision for a new American nation-state. Common Sense is what dared and convinced them to take up arms against the super power of the world. This is not to say that Sam Adams’ contribution to the American Revolution was not remarkable. It is to explain how Sam Adams and his Sons of Liberty comrades in arms were able to gain the sizable Patriot following and build an army of men and boys that paid for independence from Britain with their lives. 

Were colonists upset over taxation without representation? Yes. But were they more likely to own land in the American colonies than in Britain? Yes. American colonists remained largely loyal to the crown in 1775. And, despite the rebel-rousing of Sam Adams and friends, they may have remained complacent under colonial rule if it weren’t for a devoted, prolific, and enlightened writer -- Thomas Paine. 

As the Sons of Liberty managed the muscle and logistics of American revolution, Paine gave it the authority of Common Sense.

Written in 1775 and reviewed by Dr. Benjamin Rush, David Rittenhouse, and Samuel Adams, Paine’s 48-page pamphlet Common Sense was released in January of 1776 and sold 120,000 copies in three months in the American colonies alone. Paine published the pamphlet anonymously, taking no royalty payments. Initially, many believed that Common Sense had been written by Benjamin Franklin (Paine’s friend and mentor) or John Adams. Soon it became common knowledge that Paine had written the explosive, seditious pamphlet.

“If any man is entitled to be called the Father of American Independence,” wrote Sidney Hook in the Introduction to a Signet Classic collection of Paine’s writings," it is Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense stated the case for freedom from England’s rule with a logic and a passion that roused the public opinion of the colonies to a white heat.”

What Paine understood:

New Media 

As a writer, Paine knew the potential power of the modern medium of his day to make his message go viral, if you will -- the printing press. He was a journalist in Philadelphia well-positioned to spread his message. Common Sense remains the highest selling and circulating title in American history.

“Could the straggling thoughts of individuals be collected, they would frequently form materials for wise and able men to improve into useful matter.” 

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense

“The People”

The 18th century was a period of rapidly expanding literacy among common classes. While writers continued to address the traditionally literate aristocracy and gentry, Paine addressed all of society. The democratic appeal to an all-inclusive readership, to the people, was radical and fresh, and later adopted by Thomas Jefferson as “all men” in the Declaration of Independence. Paine wrote in clear language a common message to all classes of society of the American colonies. He galvanized them into a single American identity and loyalty.

“For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have the right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others forever, and tho' himself might deserve some decent degree of honours of his cotemporaries, yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them.” 

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense


Paine appreciated the colonists’ nostalgic and cultural ties to the British monarchy. In Common Sense, he convinced colonists that they were indeed merely colonists in the view of Britain, minor subjects ruled by an Imperialist power, and not citizens of England. He fastened a new allegiance to a vision of an American nation-state, with Europe as its parentland, not Britain.

“One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise, she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion.” 

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense


Paine was a driven student of philosophy, long before landing in Philadelphia in late 1774. To present a grand and global vision of American legacy, Paine submitted arguments borne from his study of leading-edge philosophical ideas of his time, such as Kant’s notion of reason as central to morality and Voltaire’s advocacy of separation of church and state.

“Posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now.... The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense


During the Revolutionary War, 1776 to 1783, Paine released a series of pamphlets known as The American Crisis, using the pseudonym “Common Sense.” As Common Sense convinced colonists to resist British rule and fight for independence, The American Crisis kept their faith in the American cause for independence as they suffered the horrors of war.

“Give me liberty, or give me death.” 

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Would the American colonies have become the United States of America without Thomas Paine’s writings? No matter the response to that question, Paine and his Common Sense should never be omitted from the telling of the story of America’s Sons of Liberty.

©2015 Powerplay Communications

<![CDATA[Feminine & Masculine Powers & the Ideal Hockey Player]]>Thu, 09 Oct 2014 07:00:00 GMThttp://melissawalsh.online/essays-by-melissa/feminine-masculine-powers-the-ideal-hockey-playerThen my girls taught me something important about the technique of teaching hockey and about the full range of characteristics of great hockey players. They showed me that any outstanding, mature hockey player, regardless of gender, plays with strong feminine characteristics, in addition to strong masculine characteristics. 
By Melissa Walsh

I approached coaching girls as I approached any role and responsibility. My life and career have not allowed me much space and opportunity to be “girlie,” as I’ve been raising four sons as a single mom. And much of my professional life has been as the only woman in the meeting room or on the shop floor.

Unless out on a date, I have resented being treated like a “lady.” My day-to-day survival forced a feminist approach and demanded that I trade in my pumps for steel-toed boots and skirts for work pants and to forego ladies luncheons for quick bites between meetings and vehicle fit-ups. Responsible for the material needs of my family of five, I needed to do the work of a man and get paid like a man. “I’m not interested in anyone treating me like a lady at work,” I’d tell work colleagues who apologized for cussing in front of a “lady." 

After many years of raising boys and two years of coaching a hockey team of boys (and one girl), I was asked last season to serve as the head coach of a 10U “girls’” hockey team. I accepted and understood the mission simply as a coach teaching hockey skills and concepts and nurturing a love for the game. I viewed gender as irrelevant in youth hockey. And all I knew about being a girl was that I was one a long time ago.

Coaching girls was amazing. My players brought out the best of my girl power and they put the “pink” in hockey for me. Being a girl is powerful, and playing hockey is empowering; so the two combined form a formidable force. Yet still, when referees or coaches of boys teams we faced would refer to my players as “ladies,” I’d correct them. “They’re hockey players," I'd say, "not ladies.”

I learned that the ideal hockey player is both feminine and masculine. Here’s how:

My girls and their parents taught me early on practical techniques for managing a group of girls, that they require music in the room to be ready by the time the zamboni goes on and that they thrive on team cheers, songs, and shared dance moves. This was fun. It was the stuff of pink power culture, and it galvanized this group of strangers into sorority. So though I embraced the pink of our hockey team culture, I only knew to coach one way. I still approached teaching them skills and Xs and Os as I would to any young player, boy or girl.

Then my girls taught me something important about the technique of teaching hockey and about the full range of characteristics of great hockey players. They showed me that any outstanding, mature hockey player, regardless of gender, plays with strong feminine characteristics, in addition to strong masculine characteristics. 

Reflecting back, I knew that little boys generally were less receptive to learning concepts from the white board. Their tendency was to jump into dynamic play, reacting in the moment with raw puck pursuit instincts and forgetting position and basic concepts to find teammates in open ice. 

Little girls, I noticed, generally absorbed fully what was presented on the white board and could execute drills and concepts exactly the way I taught them, even to a fault. My challenge on the game bench then was to encourage dynamic play and confidence in reading and reacting. By and large, the little girls could see the big picture and the whole ice. They wanted not only to learn play concepts, but also to understand why certain concepts should be employed and specifically for which situations. They wanted to have an assigned lane and to stay in it, despite what I encouraged for read-and-react forechecking. Most of the girls were prone to stay in position and look for a teammate in another lane to pass the puck to rather than jumping into the play and attacking.

I observed that passing is naturally a big part of the “girls’” hockey game, even when they are little and just starting out. As they mature as hockey players, they add the dynamic play to their repertoire. For most little boys just starting out, I could see, it’s the reverse; they instinctively attack the play without looking for teammates. As they mature, they evolve team play and passing concepts to manage the rapid and hard-hitting chaos on the ice.

I also realized that a few of the boy players I had coached during previous seasons presented stronger “feminine” hockey player traits at a young age, meaning they were naturally strategic team players and less dynamic in carrying the puck. And I could see that a couple of my girl players presented stronger “masculine” traits, meaning they were in-the-moment, instinctive and aggressive puck carriers.

I concluded that the ideal hockey player, those participating in the highest levels of hockey, regardless of gender, are feminine and masculine in how they play the game. They are strategic, big-picture players, like girls, and they are dynamic, instinctive players, like boys.

Does this make sense? For those of you who have coached both boys and girls, please comment. What have you noticed about gender and young players?

© 2014 Powerplay Communications

<![CDATA[Memoir: How We Rise]]>Thu, 05 Jun 2014 07:00:00 GMThttp://melissawalsh.online/essays-by-melissa/memoir-how-we-rise
'No one’s list is exactly like anyone else’s,' says Barbara Brown Tayler in Learning to Walk in the Dark. 'It fits the way a shadow fits, because darkness is sticky. It attracts meaning like a magnet, picking up everything in its vicinity that is not fully lit.'
By Melissa Walsh

“Writers are the custodians of memory,” says William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well, a guide for writing nonfiction. Memoir is recorded memory that is only yours to share. If not recorded, the memory dies with you; memoir is legacy. 

Your Time Machine

Think back to a period of your life that was significant in adding wisdom into your thinking, forming a song in your soul, and leaving a cry in your heart. Recall the moments that tested, revealed, and impacted your character and altered the way you perceive yourself and others and their circumstances. 

With memoir, you hit rewind on your life and go back in time; then you hit “stop” and present to an audience, ”Look here. Let me show you what happened and how it impacted me.” 

Did this period demand courage, faith, and perseverance? Were you knocked down? Tripped up? Did you fall into a well? Leap off a cliff? Did you dive head-first into a stormy sea? Or were you blind-sided and pushed overboard?

Did you rise? 

With memoir, you can show (not tell) readers where you once were and how you rose. You’ll present who you were and are.

Your Story

This is uniquely your story; only you can tell it. And until you do, your story remains unknown to many and misunderstood by the rest. 

“Your biggest stories will often have less to do with their subject than with their significance,” Zinsser teaches in the chapter “Writing Family History and Memoir.”

Though book retailers like Amazon.com group biography and memoir together in a single category, publishers consider these separate genres. Autobiography chronologically presents the author’s life from birth to present. Memoir delves into a particular aspect or event of the author’s life, usually a challenging or tragic period that the author had to overcome and grow from emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. Yet memoir is not about the situation, challenge, or tragedy itself, rather about how events and people related to that situation, challenge, or tragedy impacted the author.

Your Cleanse

Writing memoir requires discipline and devotion. It may be unpleasant. The self-examination required in writing memoir detoxifies the soul the way a cleanse regimen of healthy foods detoxifies the body. The author of a memoir requires a higher dosage of long walks and sitting quietly. There might be increased therapy and one-on-one chat sessions with old trusted friends. For believers, prayer time ramps up while undertaking memoir writing.

“Think small,” is Zinsser’s advice in beginning your memoir. “Tackle your life in manageable chunks.”

So to begin your memoir, you reflect. You jot down a few notes and draft an outline that may evolve into your table of contents. You dust off your old journals. You read. You weep. You laugh. You sigh. You take a deep breath and decide where to begin in presenting your experience and how it shaped your character and refined your soul.

Your Light

Writing memoir demands revisiting the pain, anxiety, and despair of a difficult period or series of events in the author’s life. Paradoxically, as the author processes and writes about these memories, he or she also recalls and reveals nearly forgotten joys and pleasant discoveries of the human spirit. The author revisits the dark times of life with the flashlight of hindsight, noticing perhaps for the first time hidden treasures of sparkle that can only be seen by shining light onto dark.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious,” wrote Carl Jung (in “The Philosophical Tree,” Alchemical Studies).

What do people associate with darkness of life? For some it is loss. For others doubt. It may be fear or loneliness. It might be surviving abuse. What becomes their light? And how do they find it? Memoir brings readers stories that invite them into life's questions and the search for answers. Memoir also entertains, because true life is wilder than fiction.

“No one’s list is exactly like anyone else’s," says Barbara Brown Tayler in Learning to Walk in the Dark. “It fits the way a shadow fits, because darkness is sticky. It attracts meaning like a magnet, picking up everything in its vicinity that is not fully lit.” 

And this is what outstanding memoir achieves. Consider distinguished memoirs like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsTobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Each author revisits, collects, and reveals his or her greatest loves and heartaches, hopes and disappointments, joys and sorrows. Each offers readers insight and perspective into misunderstood community and compassion for little-known lives.

“When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead,” says Taylor, “it led me to a bridge with people on the other side. Every one of them knew sorrow.” Memoir is a person achieving significant understanding and connecting it to readers wanting to complete their understanding.

Living a full human life includes experiencing a dark period of the soul. For those who demonstrate wisdom beyond their years, that darkness came in their youth. For others, the soul is severely tested in the dark at middle age or later. The darkness descends and overwhelms in different ways. It may be while mourning a death, surviving abuse, or being forced with a decision at a crossroads of intersecting unknowns. Each person’s dark place is theirs to own. The only way to move from it is to move through it. In that journey of moving through it, the soul seeks sources of light and stumbles upon objects reflecting light. Discovered light illuminates the soul’s perspective, generating warmth of compassion, energy of insight, and momentum of will.

For the writer’s soul, the best way to make sense of the darkness of night is to present its impact in the daylight of writing memoir, which done well becomes a ray of hope and a recorded legacy of how we rise.

© Powerplay Communications