Hockey for me has always been my sport of choice, something liberating happens to your mind when you’re playing.
Hockey consumes all of your concentration. Skating on the ice generates an increase in speed that forces the frequency at which you normally analyze your environment to change. You’re continuously sending signals to your body to attempt the movements you want to make, while at the same time you’re re-deciding and auto-correcting those movements based on the action in the game. All the increased brain activity squeezes out your negative thoughts.
I fell in love with hockey when I was a boy for that specific feeling. Spending all those hours on the ice was my relief from day to day life.
I was assuming with my first visits to HEROS (Hockey Education Reaching Out Society) that the benefit of the program was the feeling I had as a boy playing hockey. The kids would get a momentary mental health escape from some tough circumstances. Fortunately for the HEROS kids, Norman Flynn has devised something better than hockey.
For those who are unfamiliar with HEROS it’s a not for profit organization that provides free hockey programs for kids who live in adverse situations. These kids defined as “at risk” because of their families socioeconomic situations – living below the national low income cut-off, and facing outside influences like drugs, gangs and violence on a daily basis. In Vancouver, these kids all come from the Downtown Eastside.
HEROS is nearly equal parts boys and girls and is full of diversity. Friendly banter is welcome since everyone is so comfortable with each other. Tying up their skates in the locker room, I was told I wasn’t cool because I’m not an NHLer anymore, which they thought was really funny. I politely smiled then tied a big knot with his laces that I knew he wouldn’t be able to get out. I’ve got so many dressing room pranks up my sleeve that I was surprised to be included in the friendly banter.
On-ice sessions start off with individual time to skate around and play with the puck. Everyone then groups up to yell out the HEROS behaviors. Simple and very effective words :
Listening, Respect, Discipline, Have Fun
The enthusiastic yellers include the kids in the program, the recent graduates, the long ago graduates, the volunteers, the coaches, Norm and myself. With 5 or 6 coaches on the ice and 10 on the bench a game begins. The kids are just as enthralled with chatting on the bench with their coaches as the scoreboard. There are so many smiles that you’d doubt anyone is considered an at-risk youth.
The HEROS program is a socially healthy environment for kids to exercise and play together. With the financial support of TELUS it has grown to an international charity that serves the highest risk neighborhoods. Norm told me in the locker room that the kids grow-up but never leave. They’re leaders for the next generation of HEROS and have found a purpose to reach their potential. Before everyone leaves the ice, we all yell together…
Who are the HEROS? We Are!!!!