On Hockey & Competition

On Hockey & Competition

I joined the women's hockey league in Salmon this winter for the reason I start a lot of new things - because I wanted to hang out with my friends. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about my first winter in a town of 3,000. I was worried I'd hermit up, stop exercising or have nothing to do (note: none of these things happened) and joining a team felt like a good way to get out of the house at least once a week.

I collected shoulder pads, skates, and shin guards throughout the fall. A friend loaned me a stick and a jersey. My first time on the ice, I could barely skate in a circle and I definitely couldn't stop.

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Now, in late March, I can skate in a circle. I'm still pretty effin' bad at playing hockey. But I had forgotten the joy in a learning curve of doing something you are really terrible at and how big the little wins feel.

"I AM SKATING BACKWARDS!" I'd shout at my friends as they whizzed by.

"I AM LEARNING TO SKATE ON MY OUTSIDE EDGE," I'd say - then crash.

"I CAUGHT A PASS TODAY AND DIDN'T LOSE IT," I'd boast as they rolled their eyes.

It helps that the rink in Salmon is one of the prettiest places in town. Under the Beaverheads and up on the bar, morning hockey was my favorite reminder of what a beautiful place this is. Under the lights, night hockey was my reminder of how much fun it is to play under the stars, even in winter.

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The thing that most surprised me about hockey, however, was how much I loved the competition. As a kid, I didn't have (or didn't take the time to build) much hand-eye coordination. I was a competitive gymnast, then moved into biking, rafting and skiing. In school, I dreaded PE and tried to keep the basketball away from me as much as possible. I was never on a team, in the classic sense of the term.

And it all connects in because in all these conversations we have about women in the workplace and in our communities, I've always been uncomfortable with this idea that we always lift each other up no matter what, just because we are women. The "there is a special place in hell for women that don't help other women," quote has always rubbed me the wrong way. And I've never been able to put my finger on why because, sure, I agree. Women cut women down because they think there is only room for one at the top, which isn't true. And if you aren't extending help to a woman you should probably check your unconscious biases and make sure you're not acting in that way because of a scarcity mentality. I actively work to create opportunities for other women in the freelance writing world and in guiding. I believe in this whole shine theory thing, that another woman's success doesn't blot out my own but instead makes my own wins brighter.

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But all the women help other women always narrative also feels like a continuation of the expectations on women to be nice and soft and always kind. I think we should lift up the people around us who deserve that advantage, who have worked hard, who we truly believe in because of their creations and their values, not just their genitals.

Competing and winning feels good. Not winning is how we learn how to rework what we are doing and try again. Women already have such a hard time putting up boundaries around our time and our energy as it is - and it's a double standard. Men are just expected to do good work or to skate hard. They compete. They win. It doesn't feel fair. And I understand that it isn't fair and that's why women have to work harder to lift each other up. But I also resent it sometimes. I want that work to be men's work too and I want to be off the hook and just not like some women, and not be obligated to help them because of it.

Everyone was kind to me in the locker room, always. And out on the rink, there were women that were helpful and women that ignored me and women that called me out when I was doing something stupid. When we scrimmaged, we competed. Women cussed at each other and stole the puck and got aggressive. I had to practice not saying, "I'm sorry" at every tumble.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that hockey this winter reminded me that competition is okay, even beneficial.  You can steal the puck from someone and still be friends with them in the locker room later. You also don't have to be friends with everyone in the locker room if you don't want to. Competing with each other, bringing our best work to the table and our best plays to the rink is how we break glass (and ice) ceilings.

I still haven't mastered skating on my outside edge and I can't wait to come back to the rink next winter, to learn it all over again.

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