I sucked playing hockey this season. It was great!

old timer hockey

I achieved a breakthrough: I played hockey this winter and I was terrible.

I was invited last November to play pick-up hockey. They already had two goalies so it meant I’d be playing out. I said yes mainly because I missed the needling chatter of a dressing room, the sounds of pucks booming into boards, and the frost on the walls of small town arenas.

Actually, I was a pretty good goaltender as a kid; I even played “rep” as we call it in Canada. Although I had skated a lot while coaching hockey as an adult, I really didn’t have any ingrained player skills.

As I drove to Hillsburgh (Ontario) Arena for my first game last fall, I was thinking about turning around: Geez, I’m too old for this. It’s late at night. I’m not very good. These young guys will go around me like I’m a pylon.

But I went. And I was terrible. Most of my passes were intercepted. My shot wobbled in the air like a tossed teddy bear. In one game, I excitedly took a swipe at the puck on my forehand and missed, tried again on my backhand and missed, and then fell face forward, a perfect coup de grace. Everyone howled. I was the clown, a role I’ve never allowed myself to play. It felt great. I was having fun despite being terrible.

I shined on the bench with my broadcaster’s commentary—“Oh my, that was cannonating drive that handcuffed the goaltender!” I got some good laughs.

That I could play hockey terribly and have lots of fun was a Eureka moment.

Throughout my life, I’ve been driven to do everything right. Whether it’s writing, golf, guitar or whatever, I have to do it well. Once I stake a claim on something, I earnestly pour myself into mastering it—reading books, seeking expert guidance, taking lessons, practicing.

You work hard to become good at something. Right?

This drive to be “good” paid off to some degree. I was a music critic in my late 20s. In my 30s, I began writing about golf and working in the industry, which some guys have told me is very cool. I wrote my fourth book The Single Plane Golf Swing: Play Golf the Moe Norman Way—this one co-authored with Todd Gravesthat is getting nice reviews. I’m fortunate to make my avocations into my vocations.

However, there’s a cost to being concerned with doing things right, as opposed to just doing them. When I’m consumed with technique and performance, I get in my own way. I’m like the earnest second baseman that takes extra batting practice, but still only hits .200.

When I’m conscious about what I’m doing, I don’t get into a flow where my natural talents and skills can flourish. The psychologists call this self-interference.  When I’m thinking like this, especially when playing golf, I’m usually tense, mediocre at best and often terrible.

But when I just let things happen and play, I can be pretty good. Occasionally even great. At these times, it’s like my body and brain know what to do, so just let them go and fun. It’s during those times that whatever I’m doing seems easy. This is when I play my best golf.

It makes complete sense: I’ve put in my time, developed skills and practiced. I’ve done my work. It’s almost magical what can happen when I’m not trying to control everything.

The same thing happened as the hockey season progressed. I just went out and focused on having fun. And… I got a little better each game. If I can take that attitude to the golf course this spring, my season will feature plenty of cannonating drives.

Photo: Eric S. Bartelt/Pointer View. 

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a performance coach, an award-winning writer, Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team and Mental Performance Coach at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey. He is co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and a leader in training in the ManKind Project. He gets all excited when he helps people tap into their brilliance.

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