Icing Anxiety

In the continuing saga of anxiety versus hockey, 5 feet still separates my daughter Abby from the freedom that exists beyond the fire-breathing dragon that towers in the doorway between the arena hallway, and the mystic frozen battleground.

No amount of talking, reasoning, advice, our own lived anxiety examples, whether from loved ones, strangers, coaches, or peers, has been able to slay the beast we thought had long ran squealing with it’s tail between it’s legs from the forest of fear-fallen fantasies.

It seems Abby’s anxiety dragon had not been slayed, and instead has lived dormant the past year since what we thought was her last remaining anxious battle.

November 5th was a significant day. It was her teams practice and from watching Abby progress at Power Skating and the cities Stick & Puck program, I thought if we could get her on that ice by stick or by trick, we’d be that much closer to her playing games, leaving this round of anxiety behind her.

After about 40 minutes of discussion and encouragement from everyone and their grandmother, it was quite apparent that 5 feet still might as well be the length of a CFL football field. So, we turned around and shuffled back down the hall with the smug Anxiety Dragon smirking at the sight of victory behind us.

Abby got changed out of her gear that was dry, but dank with fear rather than drenched with that childhood winter aroma of hockey sweat. As we made our way home, we were continuing the conversation we were having from the arena sidelines when suddenly, Abby asked if we could rent the ice and have our own game.

Although I heard her and was excited about the suggestion Abby had made, I am not sure I truly took in her words. Not being able to help your kids through something so serious is extremely deflating on one hand, and a rush of spiraling inner thoughts desperately thinking of strategies to help your children get past their fears on the other.

I wen to bed emotionally discouraged but made sure to tell Abby how proud of her I was as I said goodnight. She wasn’t giving up and at least got dressed even though on this day, it had gotten to the point of her anxiety even preventing her from wanting to put on her gear and stand for what I am sure feels like eternity; glaring in horror at an ice surface that for some reason, is far more intimidating when her teammates march before her.

That was the last time she attended a practice or a game with her team.

I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. The thoughts in my head had become a series of sudden death overtimes in search of answers to Abby’s anxiety.

Then suddenly, as I lay staring at the shadows on the ceiling created by the street light below, I re-heard Abby ask me about renting the ice. I had never done it before but just after midnight, I found myself lying in bed filling out the rental application on my phone.

This was crazy? This was extreme? Was I nuts?

After about an hour of struggling with cramping thumbs, I went downstairs to print the documents, added my signature, scanned the pages with my phone, and I sent the application off to the city.

I then proceeded to put together an event page on social media, looking for anyone interested in an hour of ice time to help Abby overcome her fears. I envisioned renting Lawfield where she plays, having referees, a score keeper, coaches. I imagined lot’s of fans with horns and cowbells to simulate a game as best we could, to give her a feel of what it’s like to play a game and to help her realize at it’s most basic, hockey is simply about making new friends, chasing a little frozen piece of rubber around, and getting some good exercise in the process.

Abby understands icing, off-sides and where to sit on the bench depending on which end your goalie is at. She knows that she’s a winger, where to stand at face-offs, and we’ve talked about very general positioning in the offensive, defensive, and neutral zones. We have also discussed that I can talk to her about the rules, show her drawings on my coaches white board, and practice it live at Stick & Puck, but until she is at a real practice and game, putting herself in the situation and learning from experience is the only way it’s all going to click and come together.

I also get that at the Pee-wee level, the kids are flying around and have some pretty amazing stick control, but we’ve noted other new players like herself and that we should never feel intimated to start anything later in life. I remember being a teenager trying to complete my swimming levels and the classes being full of young kids. Like Abby and my older daughter Emma, I too lived with fear and took my time finding my comfort zone with things like hockey and swimming and so many other things well into adulthood – and today.

By days end, the ice was booked, and the wheels were in motion to take another shot at helping Abby overcome her fears.

‘Kicking Anxiety in the Teeth and the Good ‘ol Hockey Game.’ That was the name I thought of at 2am that night I created the event page.

Abby was excited when I told her the news and every day from that point on, she asked who was coming. Originally she didn’t want her team to come as that seems to be the source of her fears – not letting her peers down, but as the day neared she overcame those obstacles and it was basically a free for all as to who I could invite.

Event Poster

I made posters, mock tickets, and shared the event across social media. I booked the ice a week and a half out recognizing the season was progressing fast and Abby was missing out on so much.

That Saturday, I also went to the arena to watch her teams game, and handed out the flyers before and afterward to coaches and parents alike. The feedback from my discussions was very positive and from there, the conversation grew.

In tandem with my planning, my sister had also immediately started a hockey gear drive to make sure having equipment wasn’t a barrier to taking part in such an event. We had so many offers from people willing to donate their gear to us, we didn’t even make it to all the pickups before the day of the event.

Support from family, friends, and the community considering the short notice, kept the adrenaline going as we rushed to put an event for some 50 people on in under two weeks.

I learned a lot about minor hockey in Hamilton over this brief time period. I heard about a new league in it’s early stages for players with special needs that I am told is based on the Cambridge Blades model. I also had conversations from coaches and families from the Ancaster and Hamilton girls hockey leagues, including offers to practice with those teams to see if that may ease Abby’s stress.

Event Ticket

I talked to Abby about this as it wasn’t the first time this suggestion had been made including over the summer when a colleague first heard I had signed Abby up at Lawfield. She has assured me that it isn’t about being intimidated playing with the boys which is what I thought because she’s usually quite a character around the guys.

Skates were sharpened. I had myself a new helmet so I could share my old, now tighter head protector with another skater. My sister had even bought the basics as she had always wanted to play hockey but when she was younger, the girls played ringette. She was ecstatic to play and to support her youngest niece.

My wife Tara, and our friend Catherine who both can’t skate all that well and actually don’t even enjoy skating, both had planned to take the ice as well in support of Abby. My step-daughter Hayleigh even decided last minute that she wanted to play and gave it a go herself.

The night before, I finished making up some rules, printed off the signup sheet, and prepared lines the best I could do on the score sheet I made up for the event. I also designed a quick logo to put on some pucks that Tara suggested we make up to sell as souvenirs to help recoup our costs.

We started the Sunday off early with Abby having power skating at 8am and when we returned home, we spent the day preparing 20 pucks, making signs for the registration desk and to hold up in the stands as fans cheered Abby on. I brought Abby’s bulldogs horn and cowbell, and the car was packed with 6 people, the hockey gear we were wearing, giving away, and event supplies.

Icing Anxiety Game Sheet

I was extremely nervous. We all were I am sure including Catherine and Tara looking pale as ghosts at the thought of trying ice hockey. Abby kept any anxiety she was carrying inside and had fun helping with the preparations game day.

We arrived just before 4pm, started to setup the reception desk, figured out the room designations, went over the registration sheet and the score sheet, before going to our respective dressing rooms to prepare for the battle between the Anxiety Dragons and the home team, the Anxiety Warriors.

We had two coaches, multiple score keepers, 1 referee, many people helping at the front desk, around 25-30 fans, 2 goalies, and 17 players. Much in part thanks to the Hamilton Hawks girls who called me a couple of hours before the event to see how many skaters I needed. I think coach Deveau brought half the team. I had originally hoped for 3 full lines but I am both glad that was not the case and noted as much with thoughts of holding another such event already crossing my mind before event day had even arrived.

Screen shot of rule book. Click on image to read full document.

From music pumping in the dressing room, pre-game skate followed by taking shots on the goalie to warm them up, lining up at centre ice for handshakes, to going to the opposing teams bench to fist bump the coaches, every effort was made to simulate a game as much as we could. We could have used practice jersey’s or some pinny’s, but fluorescent pink and green stick tape had to do.

I didn’t notice Abby on the ice right away but didn’t think much of it, until I finally seen her skating around, smiling, and carrying on like the vibrant, silly, and entertaining girl she is.

Abby had made the lineup to a degree, asking that I be on the other team because she wanted to play against me. I was surprised by this turn of events but I was up for the challenge.

The game couldn’t have gone more perfectly. The more experienced players put on a good show for us, but everyone recognized what this day was about and it showed from the plays made, the goals scored, and the smiles donned.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a blast on so many levels from seeing my family and friends on the ice, behind the bench, and in the stands cheering Abby on, and playing the game that was such a big part of most of my early years on the very grounds where I fell in love with the game. Whatever comes of Abby vs. hockey, I will cherish these moments we have spent together in the stands and on the ice at rinks around our city, and all of the people we have met along the way.

We also couldn’t have asked for a better referee in my nephew Nick who jumped in to help without hesitation. He made it fun while being a ref when he felt it helped with learning the game, and also pulled others aside from time to time to show them a thing or too.

It didn’t take Abby long to score her first goal which she quickly threw in my face after telling her it took me three years of playing hockey before I got my first goal. I couldn’t have been more proud and my heart melted seeing her having so much fun and so full of confidence.

With about 15 minutes to go on the score clock, we paused to get a few group shots of all the players, the fans, and the on ice/bench volunteers. From there, the thought was to resume the game but the girls who joined us from various hockey associations suggested we do a shootout.

I had players line up at centre ice, where two lines continuously took shots on the goalies at either end before we met one final time at centre ice for thank you’s and hints at joining us next time.

Thanks to so many generous donations, we broke even which floored me given the short planning period. I am very grateful for all those that donated time, monetarily, and with advice and messages of support along the way.

Abby had a practice and a game the week following the event, but still hasn’t ventured to either since that November 5th attempt. I know we’ll get there. I understand that her anxiety is a powerful thing. She even wanted to try Scouts a few days after her hockey game but ducked outside as I started to leave. Then, her sister, step-sister, and the rest of the Scouts came outside and asked her to come in and join her and well, she had a blast.

I didn’t realize until after that Sunday game, that Abby almost didn’t join us at her own event. That’s how powerful anxiety can be. Surrounded by family and friends and with everyone there to support her, fear almost got in the way of something I know she will remember forever. It turns out, an adult who can’t skate asking if Abby could help her, turned fear into giving back and the rest was well, history.

I know she’ll practice and play games with her team. I know she is ready and I believe she knows she is too. It’s just a matter of taking those 5 steps, getting on that ice, and realizing it will be okay and it always will be.

A lot of people reached out to me over the course of planning this event, sharing stories of their own anxiety, and/or that of their children. There were many people there on Sunday who have or did suffer from significant anxiety. Thank you for putting your own fears aside for a great cause.

We now call this event Icing Anxiety. Stay tuned for period 2 in the new year. You can keep a look out for future events at our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/icinganxiety or the Social Education website at www.socialeducation.ca

As for the score of the game. Anxiety Warriors 5, the Anxiety Dragons 3.

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