Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Perfectionism Meets Hockey

Mad Natter plays hockey. He's getting alarmingly good, and equally alarmingly, he likes playing goalie. This is a great outlet for him, and allows him free run of a weekend activity designed to keep him moving and get some of his excess energy out. The double-plus bonus here is that a hockey rink is self-contained. The boards mean he can't take off on a whim, which means that I can sit with the other parents and watch him play, knowing he's as safe as he's going to get out there. Thankfully.

The problem comes in when Mad Natter's abilities and his desires don't match up.

Mad Natter has a pretty large case of perfectionism. He wants to be able to do all the things he wants to do - without having to work for it, and when his body doesn't respond the way he wants it to, all hell has a tendency of breaking loose. This happens with many kids, I'm sure, but the problem we encounter is that when Mad Natter can't get the puck around the cone, or someone scores on him in goal, I have a front row seat to his self-flagellation. While I watch, I can see his face turn angry, I can see him muttering at himself, and it isn't more than a moment or two before he starts hitting himself in the head with his stick. Recently, one of the coaches noted that when he doesn't perform perfectly in pair-drills, he often collapses to the ice in angry and frustrated tears, insisting that the other children hate him.

Everything is all or nothing with Mad Natter. This year, we have a wonderful trainer, and she gets Mad Natter. She doesn't understand how much I love her for this, or how rare this is, but she gets him. She's able to pop in, reframe the situation, and suddenly all is well again. Without our wonderful trainer, this year would have been a disaster. But TC (Trainer C) is able to reframe these things for him - so when "shirts and skins" style scrimmage games turn out with Mad Natter on the losing team, she's able to reframe that into the team playing against itself, and so everyone wins. Everyone gets better, so everyone wins. The pair-drills, when he isn't as fast as he thinks he is? TC is able to remind him that he's practicing, he's improving, he's getting better - but so are the other kids. He's not bad, they're just a little better.

The perfectionism is hard for him to manage, and I know this because it's hard for me to manage in myself. But, he's learning. And having to fail, having something not come easily, having to really work to improve means he has to learn not only how to work for things he wants, but also how to manage persistence even in the face of failure. And that's a skill that's not easy to teach.