Below is a recent picture of my first foray into the world of ice hockey as a player.
Growing up in the land of sunshine, beaches and big patches of green grass, my formative years involved a lot of water sports, running around chasing an assortment of different shaped footballs and hitting smaller balls with different shaped lumps of timber or stringed things. So now, at the age of 42, I can give you a good run for your money with any of those types of sports. I’ll take a game or two off you, score a couple of goals, land a try, hit a six, kick a point, sink a long 3 or drop into a nice curling right hander. Hitting a small solid rubber thingy with a long flat stick whilst sliding on ice on two thin blades is ANOTHER THING ENTIRELY!
The process of me diving into this “other thing entirely” has been a most interesting leap.
It all began with some encouragement. “C’mon Knox. Join us for some ice hockey. It’s not that hard. You’ll love it!” and it continued with some more encouragement. “C’mon Knox. You’re an athlete. You’ll be a natural! You’ll love it!” Then it dropped a notch and continued with challenges. “C’mon Knox. If Smith can get out there, so can you!”, before devolving in to common school-boy taunts. “C’mon Knox. You’re being a pussy! If you think you’re a man, get out there and play!”
I rode the taunts and challenges and found myself watching a bit more hockey on TV. Following the puck was the first challenge. Where the hell was that bloody thing? Then, as I began to see the puck, I began to see the positions and began to ask questions about the rules, the plays, the coaching and the refereeing. I was beginning to understand how the game worked, from a spectator level. At that point I began to consider having a go at it.
While my formative years in Australia saw my sporting focus elsewhere, I had been roller-skating (during junior high at Skateland on a Friday night) and on the ice on a handfull of occasions. Not really enough to answer in the affirmative when my taunting colleagues asked if I could skate, but just enough to know that if I did get out there, I would not be completely useless.
So I borrowed all the required equipment (which is considerable), joined my now-relentlessly-taunting colleagues and headed off to “IceLand” to play in my first game of Ice Hockey. And then the reduction began. My first question was, “How do I get dressed?” My next question was, “How do I stop?”. Then it was, “How do I turn?”. The one I worked out for myself pretty quickly was, “How do I get up?”. I had a lot of practice at that! While I was correct in presuming I would not be completely useless, I was not completely (or even partially) useFUL either. By the time I was heading in the direction of the puck, the puck was already heading back in the direction it had originally come from, with three of my taunting colleagues dangling or dribbling or whatever they call it with I’ve-done-this-since-I-was-three aplomb. On the few occasions that my random orbit was interrupted by the trajectory of the puck, some very interesting scenarios transpired.
Scenario 1: My still-taunting-colleague slammed me like the noob I was, relieved me of the puck with shaming simplicity and sped off like Mr Ovetchkin to perform an even more heroic ice hockey manouvre.
Scenario 2: My still-taunting-colleague slowed his/her motion, counted to three to see if my interaction with the puck was going to result in anything magical… and then slammed me like the noob I was (because there was no magic!)
Scenario 3: My still-taunting colleague slowed his/her motion, counted to ten to see if I could summon some magic, hoping that I might (by some stroke of random happenstance) do something useful with the puck.
This continued for a good hour, by which time I had thoroughly experienced the game from the player level.
The theory had been put into practice and I had been completely reduced to the point where I understood, better than ever, how much more I had to learn. I was bruised, wet, sweaty, sore and smelled awful… and loved every minute of it!
As I continued to reflect on the whole first hockey (not “Ice” hockey! There is “Hockey” and there is “Field Hockey”. There is NOT “Ice Hockey” and “Hockey”!) experience, it occurred to me that my move into my first principal role is going to be strikingly similar.
There will be elements of being a principal that I will presume I will be useful at. There will be moments when I will not know what to do. There will be moments when I will need someone to pick me up. There will be staff members just waiting for a chance to jump in, while others will give me a starting chance. And there will be some who will just sit back and watch.
With some form of humility I will contend that I will be stepping out onto the ice that is being a principal with a lot more training and experience than onto the ice of a hockey game. I will also contend that my understanding of the “rules” and the “plays” of an elementary school is somewhat more sophistocated than those of hockey, where dropping the gloves is the equivalent to having a difficult conversation!
But consistent throughout both experiences is the space in which all of this happens.
The space where I am standing in different shoes, looking back at the comfort zone I have left behind, being stretched in ways in which both my body and my mind have not been stretched before, learning things about who I am and what I can accomplish.
And in all that I do, that is where I want to be standing.