My mother’s quest to understand boys recently prompted me to re-read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn while traveling with my family over spring break. I’m so glad I did. As a mother of four “rapscallions,” the experience of re-reading the adventures of Mark Twain’s “rapscallion” Huck Finn was an epiphany.
Huck’s narration reinforced for me how critical it is for those of us mentoring boys to nurture patiently and boldly a boy’s “rapscallion” instincts into the sense of noble purpose he’ll require for his rite of passage into manhood. Twain provided several mentors for Huck, from the widow who sought to “sivilize” him to Aunt Sally who nearly lost her sane mind caring for him and Tom as they executed their “elegant” plan to rescue Jim. And just as Huck’s pap was the antithesis of a father’s love and respect for a son, Jim became the man- hero Huck and Tom needed.
My first reading of this great classic was as a high school student. I must not have gotten much out of the story back then, because I didn’t remember much about it. But now having re-read this story as a mother of sons, recognizing more clearly my calling to raise boys as the most important mission of my life, Twain’s prose echoes in my mind each time I feel that urge to scream at the top of my lungs, “Boys, what are you doing?!!!! What were you thinking?!!!!”
Three of my four sons are about the age of Huck and Tom, early adolescence. And because we live very close to the middle school, I often find myself hosting half a dozen or more adolescent boys in my home after school. Arriving home from my day at the office, I step over the mound of large shoes kicked off near the doorway, holding my breath for the stink of course, and head straight to the kitchen to bake scores of pizza rolls and stir a fresh pitcher of kool-aid.
Sure, adolescent boys don’t smell great, they track in mud, they’re loud, they eat a lot, and they’ve destroyed many things in my home, “by accident” of course, but I’m so glad to know where they are and what they’re up to. And it’s been fascinating to observe them up close. Soon they’ll have driver’s licenses and be lost into the world. Yet though I fully appreciate how precious these American sons are, their squirreliness leads me to feeling from time to time quite “looney,” just as Huck described Aunt Sally after the spoon prank. (I identified strongly with the character of Aunt Sally.) Instead of aiming to “sivilize” them, as Huck accused the widow of aiming to do, I send them outside into the suburban wilderness of manicured lawns and blacktop or insist that they work off the testosterone spikes with the free-weight set in the basement (a worthwhile investment for any family with adolescent boys).
Increasingly, I grow a deeper fondness and empathy for boys this age. I enjoy their child’s curiosity coupled with their rather mature conclusions about the events and people around them. I smile noticing how their total height has yet to fall into proportion with their long, lanky limbs and large feet, like six-month old floppy-eared pups awkwardly scurrying about on oversized paws. Re-reading Huck Finn enhanced my appreciation for adolescent boys, as Huck’s narration of his journey invited me into the heart and mind of an adolescent boy. I learned that an adolescent boy’s rationale and motivation are more dependent on what he senses in the present and less on what he visualizes for the future, though ironically so much of what the boy discovers in the now shapes the man he will become.
We (mentors of boys) must learn to live in the moment with them as they, in the here and now, discover who they are and will become. I’m convinced that adolescent boys do not discover their identity and purpose by pondering it, but rather experiencing it. They actively pursue discovery of their identity and purpose through hands-on exploration and action-packed challenges.
In The Wonder of Boys, educator and therapist Michael Gurian concluded that American parents and mentors are failing boys by not supporting them properly during adolescence, a period of life he dubs “the hero’s journey.” According to Gurian: "Our culture has robbed boys of the hero’s journey in myriad ways. Some among us have feared its warrior extremes and thus tried to teach boys to deny their need to perform and compete. Some among us, seeking to utterly destroy the male sense of role, have taught boys to avoid protecting and providing, to avoid that piece of their heroism. Some among us, too busy to help boys become the hero each needs to be, have neglected our elder responsibility. Most of us, feeling unheroic ourselves, have avoided looking into a boy’s eyes and seeing his desire to be a hero."
So what would Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) think about how we’re raising American boys today? I suspect he’d be disappointed that beer commercials have become the premier medium for conveying a manning-up message, that drinking alcohol is prescribed for manliness. I also suspect Twain would be appalled at the pervasiveness of ADD diagnoses, labeling typical “rapscallion” qualities as disorders and then drugging the Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer out of our boys.
A great truth that Mark Twain so brilliantly presents in Huck Finn is that adolescent boys are, at their core, seekers. We ought not so readily label them dysfunctional, criminal, at-risk, or hyperactive misfits. Every adolescent boy is a sapling of a man-tree living in the moment of discovering what kind of tree he was designed to be, each wanting to grow up tall and straight and each wondering what kind of fruit he was created to bear. Adolescent boys take risks to discover their courage, wrestle with one another to discover their strength, tease one another to discover their propensity for wit and humility, and roam the neighborhood to discover independence. We, their mentors, must be there for them to enable them to discover their virtues freely and responsibly on the hero’s journey. We must be present, discretely holding our breath while stepping over their shoes. We must live in the questions of discovery with them, actively listening, respectfully advising, and unconditionally loving them as they experience the joys and struggles and endure the consequences of the hero’s journey.
Mark Twain said, “There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life that he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.” Well said. Let’s embrace the rapscallion that is at the core of a boy and support it, not tame it, into becoming a man on a good mission.
“A boy remains a boy until a man is required,” warned Daniel Boone’s mother. Indeed, let’s remain close to our adolescent sons as they meet requirements for manhood. As we patiently and boldly nurture them with a concoction of equal parts love and respect, let’s remember to listen up, laugh it up, and lighten up.
By Melissa Walsh
Look around the rink and conduct a little study. Exhibit A: the rookie hockey mom. Exhibit B: the veteran hockey mom. How are they different?
I expect you won’t detect differences in how rookie and veteran hockey moms dress, walk, sit, check their smartphones, or hold their coffee mugs. Rather, you’ll spot the delta between rookie and veteran by what comes out of the mouths of hockey moms.
From the time a mom enters her rookie season of youth hockey parenting through the finale of watching teens playing midget or junior hockey, the voice of the hockey mom evolves. I’ve discovered that as a mom’s hockey knowledge grows, so do her screams become cheers, her expressions of worry become expressions of hope, her rants become prayers, and her angst becomes faith in the power behind this great game.
So what are the differences between the voice of the rookie hockey mom and the voice of the veteran hockey mom? Below are some differences I’ve noticed.
First of all, the rookie hockey mom is confused by the ref signals (unless she plays hockey). She can’t distinguish the tripping call from the slashing call, nor the crosscheck call from the interference call. And she thinks that every time a kid crashes or falls, a ref’s arm should go up.
Conversely, veteran hockey moms become pretty good officiating analysts of this fast game. They can also see the systems forming, the guy who’s open, how the lines are gelling, and the goal that is about to happen. For instance, if you want to know exactly what went wrong on the backcheck, ask the veteran goalie mom. She’ll break it down for you. Rookie hockey moms don’t have this vision (unless they play hockey).
Here are some comparisons of what a rookie hockey mom might say with what a veteran hockey mom might say in similar situations. As her kid begins moving the puck out of his team’s zone, the rookie mom screams, “SKAAAAAAATE!!!!!!” The veteran hockey mom, quietly mutters, “Okay now, set it up.”
When her kid’s team is hit with more penalties than the opposing team, the rookie hockey mom comments, “These refs suck.” The veteran hockey mom says, “That’s okay, the hockey gods are fair. It’ll even out in the long run.”
When there’s bodychecking, the rookie hockey mom cringes and says, “Ooh, I hate this checking.” Yet the veteran hockey mom acknowledges clean hits with, “Nice hit.” She might even raise her voice from the bleachers to advise, “Hit somebody!”
Watching NHL hockey, the rookie hockey mom says, “I don’t get the fighting.” The veteran hockey mom says, “There’s a code.” After a tough loss, the rookie hockey mom says, “I feel sorry for the goalie.” The veteran hockey mom thinks, “I respect the goalie.”
Watching HNIC, the rookie hockey mom says, “Don Cherry is nuts.” The veteran hockey mom says, “Don Cherry is prophetic. Nice suit.”
Toward the end of the season, the rookie hockey mom says, “I’m so sick of being at the rink.” The veteran hockey mom says, “Let’s tailgate.”
Planning the family spring break trip, the rookie hockey mom thinks, “Finally, we’re going to have a week with no hockey.” The veteran hockey mom suggests to the family, “Hey, on our way to Orlando, why don’t we stop off in Nashville to catch a Preds game?”
Certainly, what a hockey mom knows and says radically evolves during that wild and bumpy journey that is youth hockey.
So, you hockey parents out there, please share what you’ve noticed (tweet @powerplaywriter). What has evolved for you in the way you think and speak about youth hockey?
By Melissa Walsh
For many hockey parents, the pre-ice routine begins with racing home from work to quickly gather the equipment and kids, only to hop right back in the car to head off to the rink. Following the ice-time, it’s racing home again to quickly get the kids in bed. Though you know good nutrition is valuable to youth hockey players, you can’t seem to fit it into the schedule. You may feel that feeding them like the champs they’re striving to become is impossible.
However, with a little planning and teaching, you can foster excellent nutritional habits in your players, which they will continue the rest of their lives.
According to sports nutrition experts Mitzi Dulan and Dr. Chris Mohr of www.fuellikeachampion.com, proper youth hockey nutrition is quite simple. Just remember three fundamental rules: fuel, hydrate, and recover.
FUEL -- Teach your youth players that food is fuel for the body and that winning performance depends on ingesting optimal fuel. But unlike the fancy synthetic fuel required for a race car, a healthy body depends on simple, natural fuel — fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Stock up on healthy kid-friendly foods, such as berries, grapes, raw carrots, bananas, yogurt, PB&J, oatmeal raison cookies, trail mix, etc. Be vigilant about your kids not skipping breakfast and ensure that they eat healthy carbs one to three hours before hitting the ice. Also, teach them that poor fuel — fried and sugary foods — can deter the body’s performance.
HYDRATE -- Explain to your players that optimal performance also depends on a reliable cooling system. Like engine applications, an athlete’s body temperature is regulated with water. It is critical that youth hockey players understand that when they feel thirsty, they are already dehydrated. Therefore, they must learn to schedule fluid intake regularly throughout the day, rather than waiting until they’re thirsty to grab something to drink. Youth athletes should drink fluids a few hours before an event (16 oz), during an event (sips after every shift), and following an event (24 oz). Get them in the habit of carrying something to drink with them all day. If they don’t want to drink water, juice or Gatorade are fine. Exercise caution with energy drinks, ensuring the ingredients do not include caffeine or sugar.
RECOVER -- Muscles are strained during athletic activity. Not fueling and re-hydrating the body within two hours following athletic activity will impair muscle recovery. Because youth hockey players’ muscles are growing as well as recovering from the strain of playing hockey, it is especially important to ensure that they are nourished with carbs and fluids within two hours after getting off the ice. Ideally, they should eat a healthy snack and intake fluids within a half hour.
While getting proper nutrition is as critical as any other aspect of youth hockey training, keep in mind that youth hockey players are not elite pros who require a sophisticated pre-game carb-loading routine and complicated protein/vitamin-supplement regimen. The key is to teach them the three fundamental rules of fuel, hydrate and recover, then making good foods and fluids available.
Because hockey players are superstitious, you may soon have in your household a kid who won’t play a hockey game without first having his peanut butter and banana on whole wheat washed down with an orange Gatorade. If this is the case, you’ve made a great impact as nutritional coach.
Practical Tips for the Time-Deprived Hockey Parent