“In my 40 years I have learned I don’t like to be labelled. I love working, I love being a mother and a wife. I love movies, I love hanging out and I love laughing. I love to be active and I love my Zumba classes. It just so happens I love ice skating, too. The sound skates make slicing over the ice was one of the coolest things to little me. And, for two years now, I love playing hockey.
Sport is something I find important. From early childhood, to learning how to move, run, and to be coordinated. Sport is something that needs to be in every person’s life in an amount and form that is suitable for one. There is no need to be the best player or the fastest runner, but it’s important to be open minded and to try different sports, to love to try various type of activities, to learn about teamwork, how to give your maximum and to be a good human being.
In Croatia, (AKA King’s Landing in Game of Thrones or the beautiful country in Europe where awesome people live) when we speak of sports, football, handball and water polo are definitely on top. There are just five ice rinks in our whole country and one of them is in my home-town, Sisak. Sisak has a very long tradition of ice hockey. The first game was played in 1930, and the second one in 1931. When one of the first women in this part of the world was a member of a hockey team, she was a goalie. Her name was Višnja Godler and she was a very special lady. She was moving boundaries back then as we are moving them today. Not much has changed over a little less than a century in terms of being a woman in the man’s sport of hockey. At least, this is still the point of view many have in our country. Except, our little ‘fellowship of the puck’ doesn’t hold this view. So, I’ll tell you a short version of a story about how I have become a part of the hockey club Siscia from Sisak.
Two years ago I brought my 10-year-old daughter with average skating skills to try inline hockey and ultimately, when winter came (hopefully not with White Walkers) and our outdoor ice rink opens, to try ice hockey, too. Among a majority of boys, a few girls where there and my daughter practised with them. She got hooked almost immediately. There were also a few moms trying hard not to fall off of the inline skates, gripping the stick so hard I was waiting for it to break. In that moment I thought: It looks hard, but I wanna try. I did and got hooked as well. One important thing I was not aware at the time is that female hockey is not quite the same as men’s hockey. The rules are slightly different. In female hockey direct body contact among opponents is not allowed. This is something that everyone should be aware of because that is the main reason why parents don`t let their daughters play. Me included, in my early, no-hockey life.
Two years later, my daughter and I still train and compete. We played together, as well as against each other. Last season my team won a silver medal and hers won bronze in the Croatian championship. There are no words to describe how proud I am of her and myself. We have time for nothing but school, work and hockey, our staircase always smells funny and someone could easily trip over our equipment. Our house is not getting cleaned often enough, but us spending time together is priceless and our bonding through this sport is something few could understand. She video tapes my skating and tries to correct me. I used to correct her in the beginning, but young minds and bodies learn new skills faster and, of course, now she is correcting me and pointing out what am I doing wrong.
There are many moms who train and compete as members of our senior female team nicknamed Godlerice (in honor of the previously mentioned lady Višnja Godler). Every one of them has a daughter and/or a son in different younger categories in the club. Some have one, some two and some even three kids as active hockey players. For most of them, years of being hockey moms/momsicles outside of the ice rink influenced the growth of a real love for the game. Ultimatelly that has become an impulse to start for themselves. Some of us have been active in different sports from early childhood and some haven’t. It makes no difference–we all love hockey and every single one of us gave it a shot. Today, we make a team as single families glued together in a big hockey one.
We share similar feelings and experiences. That incredible feeling when your child is much better than you and is the one to teach you something. When your child sees and recognizes your effort to learn and become better. When you watch, study and try to copy the movements of your kid who is so much better than you are. When you get a glimpse of proud and amazed astonishment in their eyes because they know they can be and are a role model to you. That gives them a great dose of self-confidence (one of the most important and basic emotions for healty development of a young person). Through hockey, our life roles are switched.
To us, our kids become what we are to them in every other segment of life: someone who teaches you virtues, who you ask for opinions and advice, who ultimately inspire you not to be perfect (hockey player) but to be the best you can as a player, as a teammate, as a person. To feel and live this emotional equality in a relationship (parent-child) which is everything, but equality is one of the most empowering experiences. On the other hand, it is so very endearing when your daughter doesn`t want to hear the word hockey because of her elder brothers (both hockey players) but seeing her mom on the ice she wants to be and becomes a part of it, too. Or when you are paired with your eight-year-old kid and you stick handle and pass among yourselves smiling back at each other. Or when you cheer for your kids at their match only to listen to them cheering for you as you compete for your team the day after. There is no better feeling in the world!
We ladies have different jobs, life stories, medical problems, money issues and everything that is called LIFE, but we all have something in common: we are playing HOCKEY and we are LOVING it. We train hard, we travel far for games, we are trying constantly to find sponsors (still hard to find those). We are not buying shoes, makeup or accessories any more—we are buying hockey equipment instead. But we are laughing all the time, we are bonding with our offspring. We have found and created a new (hockey) family which has our backs on and off the ice. We are there for each other – to help, to comfort, to cheer or just to go out after practise and drink some fine beer (last beeing the best part).
We have it all, except money. But who cares when at 9 PM our kids finish their practise and we ladies start ours. There are quick kisses if we are stealthy, and then you hear the sound of whistle and the sticks hitting the pavement or ice. There are sounds of laughter because our coach turns a blind eye regarding us and our humour. Once the practice starts, all bets are off and we are listening, skating and paying the most attention. One day my daughter skated behind me and in a hush voice asked me if I understood the drill, if not she will help me. How can you top that?
Until the end of this year we will have our new proper ice rink (arena). We have boys and girls of different ages in our club, so one day we moms will be veterans and our daughters will be seniors playing with the new generation of girls, giving them the leadership and motivation they got from us.
All this time, from my very hockey beginnings, my sister couldn`t shut me up talking about it, so recently she came to practise and tried out. I don`t need to tell you that after one training she bought skates, inline skates and complete equipment. Now she and her two daughters train as well. She is two years younger than me but she was always better in sports. So now I need to step up my game.
In Croatia there are roughly 50 female senior hockey players. Our big support in hockey development are girls from the oldest and most successful female club in Croatia KHL Gri from Zagreb. Inspired by our work and story, recently girls and women from Karlovac, another Croatian town with hockey tradition, gathered to launch their female team at IHK Karlovac. Now we occasionally get together to play friendly matches, exchange our experiences, spend time together talking, laughing and drinking fine beer of course. Step by step, together, we are making the Croatian female hockey family bigger and stronger.
At the global level, women’s hockey is one of the fastest growing sports. We hope it only gets bigger and more popular each and every day. Cheaper equipment would be a great thing, too.”
– Vedrana Matak | Siscia Hockey Club | Sisak, Croatia | #WHLPeople