I’ve been involved in the game of hockey for 20 years now. Throughout that time I’ve played the roles of diverse player, power skating and skills clinic instructor, coach, athletic development coach, and injury consultant. Within each one of these roles, I’ve worn many hats. I’ve been a forward and defenseman, a leader and a follower, a head instructor and a puck pusher, a boss and an intern/volunteer. I’ve played with, coached, and worked alongside countless players and coaches.

When I reflect back on my path to get to where I am today, there are a few landmark achievements that I’m really proud of. Things like making my Middle School A team in 6th grade and leading the team in assists. Getting called up to the Bantam A team mid-year and leading the team in scoring for the second half of the season. Making Varsity as a Freshman. Taking our HS team to their first Flyers Cup (despite losing in tragic fashion this was still a positive memory). Being named Team MVP my junior year at Delaware. Being named captain my Senior year, winning the Lifetime Achievement Award (which had never been given to a player), and helping to lead the team to the 2nd best finish in school history. And more recently, having opportunities to work with the San Jose Sharks, US Women’s National Team, and publishing my first book Ultimate Hockey Training. While these things may not seem very glamorous for some people, they were all highlights for me.

The truth is, nothing has ever come very easily to me, ever. As you may recall from reading the two interviews I did with Tony Gentilcore and Brian St. Pierre (Ultimate Hockey Training Interview & Ultimate Hockey Training-The Interview), I wasn’t exactly blessed with the “natural athleticism” you hear some people talk about. I think I was more genetically primed for sundae eating contests than I was elite level hockey.

With every achievement I’ve ever had, there was ALWAYS a crowd of people that were ready to tell me why it wasn’t possible. This is kind of interesting actually, especially because I know I’m not unique in this feeling. EVERYONE experiences this. From a psychological perspective, it’s somewhat disheartening to realize that the overwhelming majority of the people around us are more apt to tell us why things aren’t possible than why they are or how they could be. Many of these people don’t have evil intentions, but are simply trying to protect you from the pain of failure, the agony of defeat.

This isn’t all bad, per se. The effect of this negativity depends on your attitude. Sometimes players are motivated by it. I remember Eric Tangradi telling me a couple Summers ago about the head coach of a youth select team that said he would never amount to anything in hockey.

“Sorry kid. Hockey is just not for you.”

“You’ll never make it in this game”

Eric currently plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Turns out the guy was wrong, but Eric interpreted his words (and those of other naysayers) as more of a challenge. In other words, it fueled his fire.

Turns out that players develop over time…

Unfortunately, this interpretation of negativity is the minority. More often than not, people are, either consciously or subconsciously, defeated by it and stop taking the extra steps to make their dreams comes true.

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

This isn’t a story about me. It’s not a story about Tangradi. The reality is that this happens to almost every athlete at one point in their career (and just about everyone throughout their life). More than anything else, the one thing that sticks out in my mind with every achievement I’ve ever had is that there was always at least ONE PERSON that pushed me along. Sometimes it was a family member. Sometimes a friend. Sometimes a teammate. Sometimes a coach. Sometimes a co-worker, colleague, or mentor. In other words, it wasn’t always the same person, nor the same “category” of person. But there was always someone and frankly, I’m not sure I would have accomplished any of the things I have if I didn’t have that person, at that time.

Reflecting back on all my experiences in hockey has taught me a lot about what kind of coach I want to be. The world is filled with people that will put up walls between you and your goals, tell you that you can’t do it, to “be realistic.”

“Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity.” – Will Smith

I don’t want to be another one of those people, not as a coach, not as a co-worker, and not as a person in general. I’d rather be the ONE PERSON that says you can, that pushes you along when you’re thinking of quitting, that catapults you over the walls that others have built in front of you.

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” – Michael Jordan

Even if their goals AREN’T “realistic”. Who cares! Why do we discourage people from aspiring for greatness? What great thing was ever accomplished by someone dreaming realistically? It’s important not to overlook the fact that setting and passionately chasing goals is inherently valuable, regardless of their attainment. This process builds character. It builds heart. It builds resiliency. And in the long run, it will ALWAYS build success.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Whether you’re a player, parent, or coach, think about what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be one member of the discouraging masses, or do you want to be the ONE source of encouragement. Do you want to be the wall or the catapult?

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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