In thinking of any athlete who makes a living at his or her craft, I get blown away at the self sacrifice and level of commitment one must exhibit on a daily basis. Not only moving forward into a lifestyle that forces you to be so singularly focused at times, but I constantly recall in my mind the sacrifices which have to be made along the way to achieve success. Whether that comes in the form of sacrificing your time with family and friends, what you can put into your body as far as nutrition and supplements, or the simple things like geography and where you lay your head at night. These choices are not made by the athlete, yet by his circumstances and where the powers that be may lead them.
I remember vividly my mother crying in the driveway of a then strangers house when she dropped me off in Sarnia Ontario at the tender age of 17. When I think about one of the many reasons why we as athletes struggle to assimilate into the “real world”, I believe a big piece of it has to do with missing out on that maturation process in our teenage years.
I had many friends from high school whom I became close with in Sarnia. I always loved the idea of having different groups of friends and learning from all types of people, from all walks of life. Even though I tried to assimilate into a normal crowd and normal life, the reality was that when most were at a house party on a Saturday night, I was missing school and boarding a bus to ride 6 hours (one way) to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to play in a hockey game. At the time, I did not think twice about making that sacrifice and it did not bug me in the slightest. I had a vision and an intention to be successful and make the NHL. Nobody was going to stand in my way at that point. I was not going to let the thought of missing out on laughs and a good time deter me.
What I do realize now is that I missed out on those crucial years of self assessment into what makes me tick and brings me joy away from the game. I was caught up. I was hooked on the sport. The emotional release was too intoxicating to be bothered by doing research into myself by pursuing other interests. That kind of focus and drive served me in realizing my dream, yet it was most definitely a detriment to me when it came to my transition and fully understanding who I am. A person whom I respect very much put it bluntly. I may very well still have parts of me that have yet to mature and may still be 17 years old still, even though I am into my 30s now.
That was a tough sentence to hear but it resonates with me. A solution to this problem for me was getting into spirituality and going within to discover what brings me joy away from the rink. Music is a big one for me. I love to write and journal. I enjoyed keeping a light atmosphere around the rink, as well as taking a vested interest in my teammates lives and really digging into how they were doing. I enjoyed researching what restaurants were new and exciting in the city and offering guys a release, (if they so chose to take it) in the way of concerts and live music shows that may be upcoming or playing that evening. Some took it. The majority didn’t. But I would always encourage my teammates and other athletes to not be held down by the stigma and archaic thought process which surrounds us when we are in a season. The idea that because a team is paying you a salary to play a sport you can’t enjoy a nice dinner and some live music the night before a game needs to be let go.
Get out and enjoy your city, go to concerts, attend dinners and events, make those connections in your city which are in turn going to serve you when you may find yourself feeling alone in your transition.
Written by Daniel Carcillo