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The Importance of Sportsmanship and Your Teammates

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The best friends you make are through sports. There is a certain type of bond and connection you get with your teammates that’s harder to find in people outside of sports. In this scenario, that’s what happened. I had been friends with a girl for about a little over a year and we met through the sport of hockey. Although she had never played hockey and I did, our love of the sport was mutual. We were almost inseparable. We went to every hockey game together that our favorite local team played. We had sleepovers together and she was there when I went through my first heartbreak over a boy. Our love for hockey got so strong to the point where she started to play hockey and I was over the moon excited. I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to play the upcoming season (2023-2024) with one of my best friends as we both registered to play for the same team.

I have been playing hockey for 2 seasons now and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. This year I currently play on two teams. When I registered for the 2023-2024 season, I only registered to play for one team. I never thought I would be playing on two teams in one season until a problem had gotten far past the point of a solution. 

In my first season playing hockey (2022-2023), I had a really hard year. I was the newest player on my team as I was fresh out of learn to play and I was by far the least experienced player on my team. I struggled a lot with my confidence that year and I never really thought I was making any progress that season no matter how hard I worked. My lack of skill really affected my confidence which is why I struggled so much. Over the summer I went to countless stick and puck sessions as well as three weeks of hockey camps and I could see and feel my improvement. Feeling my improvement on the ice during stick and puck sessions during the summer was like coming out of the water for a breath of fresh air. That was the first time I had ever actually felt my hard work paying off. It was so relieving and the feeling was just indescribable. I knew that my season was going to go my way, I just knew it.

There were quite a few times in my first year of hockey where my best friend at the time would come to my games to watch me play. After the games, she would come up to congratulate me and hang out. But, as the season went on, she would keep making remarks on my skill, negative remarks. Referring to me as a “lost puppy”. I never thought it was funny, I took a great offense to it. I was just starting out and I was still learning. Throughout the season, there were other rude remarks made by her about my skill but the one referring to me as a lost puppy was the one that hurt the most.

During my first season of hockey, at almost every practice, one of my coaches would always pull me aside away from my team to work with me 1 on 1 with my skills. I got frustrated a lot of the time because I wanted to be with my teammates and I would feel isolated not being able to practice with them. This coach was very technical and sometimes the drills and tips he would explain to me never really made sense, leading to frustration. I never thought any of the time I spent working with him would pay off, but in the end it did.

At the first practice of the 2023-2024 season, I cried in the locker room after practice. We were separated into boys and girls locker rooms so me and my best friend were separated from the rest of the team. I wasn’t crying because I was sad, I was crying because I was happy. I had skated past the coach who I worked with 1 on 1 at practice with for the majority of the season last year while we were skating two hard laps at practice that night when I heard him say, “Leah’s just come such a long way”. I don’t know what he said before that, I don’t know what he said after that and I don’t want to know what he said after that. But I heard what I heard, and that was enough to make me cry. He doesn’t really give compliments very often, but when he does, he really means it. And that, he really meant. And what he said meant the world to me. When I came back into the locker room, I was in tears, my teammate sitting on the bench across the room from me. After telling her what I heard, she made the remark about me looking like a lost puppy again. Later on, that teammate told me that was supposed to be a compliment. 

Things really started to escalate during the summer when we would go to the rink together. More rude remarks on my skill and how I play. I tried to move past it but it was hard, especially since during the summer was the first time I had really felt all of my hard work paying off. About two weeks before the 2023-2024 season started, things got worse to the point where me and my family were doing everything we could to transfer from my current team to another. Countless emails were sent between me and the head coach of the 14U/19U team with the new potential team to try to get me on their roster for the season. But, unfortunately nothing could be done as I was unable to get a refund from my current team. I was stuck.

The season had officially begun and things just kept getting worse between me and my teammate. I did my best on the ice to make it look like nothing was wrong and no one noticed, that was the point. I didn’t want our team chemistry to be ruined. Things got so worse to the point where it was affecting my mental health. I felt so alone and helpless because I knew there was nothing I could do without damaging the team chemistry and our overall bond. The problem only continued to get worse to the point where I just couldn’t handle it anymore. At this point, it wasn’t just rude comments about my skill anymore, it went to more extremes. I was now being targeted in our team group chat in many ways and that teammate had now started to bully me online by posting videos about me.

I have never skipped practice on purpose, never. Except for one week when the rink was the last place I wanted to be. I couldn’t be there, I just couldn’t. So, I skipped practice. At that point, my family contacted the registrar at my current team to once again try to get a refund. My parents explained to them what exactly had been going on in hopes we would be able to get a refund, even a partial refund. I just wanted to leave. Instead, the registrar decided to have me, my family, my coach, and the registrar herself, meet before practice the next day to discuss the situation. During the meeting, it felt hard to talk about what happened, especially in front of my coach. I just didn’t want anything to be ruined for the team. And in that moment, I thought everything was. The hockey director explained to me in that meeting that girls are allowed to dual roster as long as one team is co-ed and the other is all girls. That idea sounded appealing to me and my family. I was ready for a fresh start since I didn’t know what would happen going forward with my current team. Before that meeting, I was told by my parents who had heard from the registrar that I wasn’t the only player on the team who had reported problems with this player which made me feel less alone in the slightest bit. Later that night, the decision was made to dual roster.

I was really scared to come back to the rink with my team. I didn’t want anyone to think of me any differently. I was really scared that my teammates wouldn’t like me anymore. But, my coach was on my side. He fought so relentlessly hard to get me to stay with the team and I am so forever grateful that he did and that I decided to stay. Having him fight for me to stay made me feel like I was an important aspect to the team, not just another player. Before that meeting with my family, coach, and registrar, our team captain reached out to me telling me that he had heard through rumors that I would be leaving the team and he didn’t think it was a good idea. Him and my coach urging me to stay really helped me to stay. Knowing later on that my coaches and teammates all had my back was extremely comforting. To my teammates who checked up on me, I want to say thank you because that truly meant so much to me during those hard times. And, to my assistant coach who always checked up on me during practices and in the locker room, thank you, you have no idea how much that meant to me. 

Photos taken by Reagan Jordan

Going forward, my teammate ended up getting kicked off of our team and I felt things starting to go more smoothly and I was now the only girl on my team. Having a great bond with my teammates has always been extremely important to me but, after what I went through, I found a greater significance in the importance of the aspect of having a bond with my teammates. My teammates had my back the entire time. As teammates, that’s what you’re supposed to do, you’re supposed to have each other’s backs. As teammates, you’re supposed to build each other up and encourage each other. As teammates, we’re supposed to cheer each other on. As teammates, we’re supposed to have fun. As teammates, you’re supposed to help and support each other. As teammates you’re supposed to make memories and build lifelong friendships. As teammates, you’re supposed to be there for each other no matter what. After what I went through, my teammates showed me what a team is supposed to look and feel like, especially with our leadership group. 

The pain I experienced during the months I was being bullied is a feeling I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, not even my worst enemy. I felt all of my emotions on extreme levels that were so painful and made me feel exhausted. I know how bad it was because I was there, and I don’t want any other player to ever feel that way either because that pain was one of the worst pains I’ve ever experienced. Talking about what happened during those months still feels hard and I only prefer to talk about it with certain people. But, I know I’m not the only one who has experienced what I experienced. I want to share my story with others to show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That everything will be okay in the end. That those who are going through what I went through aren’t alone or being ignored and that your teammates and coaches care about you.

To the players being bullied, speak up, say something. You are not alone and you are not being ignored although it may feel that way. You will hurt and you will heal. You will hurt a lot and you will be okay again. Your teammates are supposed to build you up, not break you down. Don’t let them get the satisfaction of breaking you down. Be a force of nature and fight for what’s right.

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