“Mr. McKenna,” the specialist doctor said sternly, as he sat there observing my MRI. He shook his head from side to side and looked up at me. “I’m telling you, that you ABSOLUTELY cannot play any form of contact sports with this injured shoulder.”
It was the summer of 2013. I had dislocated my left shoulder twice and torn my rotator cuff multiple times by this point. Both while playing ice hockey.
“I would strongly advise for you get surgery to repair the severe damage I’m seeing here, or else your shoulder and tear will just continue to get worse, and pop out of place,” he continued.
I had heard this advice multiple times, like a broken record. Somehow I couldn’t grasp the significance of this injury.
Although I had already lost most of my passion to play the sport, which was my “first true love” – hockey, and the shoulder had painfully limited me to do so as well; I looked at the doctor and replied back speaking straight from the heart and athletic instinct…
“Well, I’m not a fan of getting surgery. I really don’t want to do that all. And, this is the end of the road for me, my hockey playing days. So, I’d like to just try and play and have this be my final season.”
The doctor was quick to respond as he shrugged, “Well, if that’s what you want to do, you can. You can hope for the best, but you realize it’s going to happen again at some point, right?”
Oh Captain My Capt-…?
I left the specialist’s office that day laughing; not laughing because I thought what the doctor told me was funny and I was some immature punky-jock, but out of pure disbelief. I can remember driving home shaking my head and still laughing in pure denial.
I felt like my luck had quickly faded with this “chip on my shoulder” that I was dealing with, and had been turned upside down like a sand timer. My time was ticking, and ticking fast.
I had this concept embedded in my mind that this was going to be my final “go” at playing competitive hockey, especially as the team’s captain; I felt obligated to play, and to try to help out in anyway I could. I had this envision of “going out” on my own terms and the way I wanted to. But, the reality was I wasn’t helping out the team, or myself at all.
I had a “C” stitched on my Monmouth University jerseys as the team’s leader, but I was far from “the captain” for my final games with the team. I wasn’t the same person, player or leader. I wasn’t and simply couldn’t play the same way I normally would have, either.
Going into the corner to battle for a loose puck or receiving a pass as a winger on the boards immediately became an obstacle and a, “Here we go again,” mentality. All it was going to take was one hit really; one hit and that was it – I would end up back in the ER, in atrocious pain and what’s a miserable experience.
I felt bad for the new or younger guys on the team. They were looking to me to “make a play” or for answers in a time when we needed them during a game. For the first time in years I didn’t have it in me to answer, play or lead. I was quiet in the locker room and not mentally motivated, nor inspired to play anymore.
How could I be? I couldn’t be the same player or the player I wanted to be, especially not knowing if this was going to be my last game or shift, I had lost hockey friends, and on top of that we just didn’t have the team to win games.
I can certainly apologize to my teammates for not being the same leader or player, and shouldn’t have played to begin with. But, I also didn’t feel a ton of support either, which is a shitty feeling that didn’t make matters any better.
Something I would get asked constantly from a lot of people, “Mick, why don’t you just get the surgery so you can play next year?”
I appreciated the guys or anyone else asking me out of support to play, but the reality was – Why in the world would I get serious shoulder surgery and go through painful and months worth of recovery (On top of still being a full time student) just to be play D-2 club hockey? What would I honestly get out of that?
I played in about half the games of the first semester and by mid December I found myself back in the ER for the second time in exactly a year, December 16th. I went into the ER already knowing more on how to handle the dislocation process than the nurses or doctors did. It was as if I had foreseen the future, or was repeating history all over again.
That was it. I was DONE, shot. The shoulder injury and other past unfortunate occurrences had taken a huge mental toll on myself, and while there’s more to tell from that experience…
I got my priorities straight.
More to life than playing sports
Too often I see athletes (and parents pressuring their kids) to over chase, “The dream.”
By “Dream” I mean trying to play a sport, like hockey, and pursuing to go places, higher competitive levels of play. While I fully support everyone to “do what you love and follow your dreams,” and believe that “hockey is a life style;” there comes a point in time where reality (needs to) kicks in, and there’s more to life than playing a sport.
What do I mean by that?
You can only play a sport for so long before it comes to that point where you age out of a Youth, High School, Collegiate or Junior Hockey levels etc; where there’s no more opportunity to play.
I played junior hockey for two years, while taking courses at a community college, but decided to enroll at Monmouth and “skip” out on my final year of eligibility to playJjuniors – I’m glad I did…
I’ve seen it A LOT, especially among hockey players, where kids put off getting an education, don’t put in enough effort towards their degree, or towards a career in favor of playing sport; and then once they’re done playing it becomes, “Well, now what?”
Now, you’re in your 20’s with little education completed, or none at all. “Playing a sport” competitively realistically isn’t an option anymore, or making that Semi Professional team is slim to none and financially speaking not worth it; because “playing a sport” doesn’t get you from point A to point B when it comes to finding a career; it doesn’t land you that internship or job; and it certainly isn’t a “stand out” on your resume.
Not being able to play hockey anymore was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.
After I could no longer play my respective sport I focused and was more involved with school, plus my major. New doors and opportunities opened that I never even imagined would have before I stopped playing.
While I must say hockey taught me a lot about life and groomed who I was as a person, which I am more than grateful for; taking advantage of the new free time I had to go after other aspirations was the icing on the cake.
— Kyle McKenna (@KMcKenna_tLT5) July 30, 2014
I had recently heard an editor from a magazine speak and what stood out the most was when she said, “You need priorities…I loved lacrosse. Absolutely LOVED playing lacrosse, and I had played for years. It was the toughest thing to do to stop playing…but it was worth it, it was worth it. Because playing lacrosse wasn’t going to get me anywhere…”
BOOM. When I heard that fireworks went off in my head. I wanted to give her a standing ovation right then and there and scream out “Thank you!” Playing a sport isn’t going to get you a job, bring in income, and quite frankly can hold you back from accomplishments/skills you never even knew you had that will put you in a good position for your future.
Playing a sport, in college, is time consuming during both the week and on weekends. While it probably left her with amazing friendships, memories, more pictures and awards to add to her wall, like hockey did for me; she would have never gotten her editorial position and be happy (post college) if she had continued to play lacrosse in college, more than likely.
What was continuing playing a sport at that point in life going to get her, or myself, honestly?
Get an education; any type of education. You don’t need a degree from an Ivy League Institution. Just get that “piece of paper.” And, get involved in school. Discover new passions. Pursue new dreams, and things you never had the time to experience, because of playing a sport.
Now, keep in my mind this piece is my perspective and shared experiences – everyone’s different – if you think you can do both to your fullest potential, I still respect your decision.
But, if you’re on the fence about continuing to play, suffered from an injury, and can relate even the littlest bit to my point – take in everything I had to say. Don’t be like me and drag it out. Stop, stop playing.
You’re not “quitting,” either. Don’t let anyone poison your mind with that term – You’re simply doing what’s best for you, and not falling into a whole I like to call “purgatory,” a standstill.
I was once guilty of this at a time with a chip on my shoulder. So are plenty of other athletes and their parents with their kids…
There’s more to life than just playing sports.
A previous post and testimony of mine about the journey towards quitting chewing tobacco was recently shared by a company and an organization’s social media accounts.
After seven years of “dipping” I came across “Jakes Mint Chew”. Jakes is a tobacco free “chew” that finally helped me take major strides towards quitting the addiction.
A quitter’s journey with help of Jake’s Mint Chew… http://t.co/hBZDmbDNCg
— KillTheCan.org (@killthecanorg) June 4, 2015
I was lucky enough to have been contacted by Jakes Mint Chew, and Killthecan.org who support and help tobacco users quit, that they have shared my testimony over their social media platforms. I’m very appreciative that both Jakes and Killthecan.org were able to share, enjoy, and acknowledge my testimony.
Also, I encourage all tobacco users to read over my post, or share it others whom it may benefit. I believe users can genuinely relate and the advice I give is valuable.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks will play each other in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Being that I’m from New Jersey, and had never been to a “Bolts” game before, I found it pretty cool and ironic that I actually got to see these teams face-off against each other in Tampa, Florida back in March.
I can remember thinking with a long time friend of mine, as we luckily managed to get tickets for a sold out game that night, “We had to go to this game, and that we could also potentially be witnessing a Cup Final preview.”
Earlier today was the NHL’s Media Day for the two organizations, where the Lighting and Blackhawks’ players and coaches were all interviewed. What I found very intriguing was what Tampa’s captain Steven Stamkos had to say about their head coach, Jon Cooper.
Please go to the 18-minute mark in the video below; Stamkos proceeded to explain Cooper’s coaching style and the type of relationship he’s established with his players; and why that’s a big reason they’ve been so successful. And, how Cooper is, “A student of the game…”
— Kyle McKenna (@KMcKenna_tLT5) June 2, 2015
What Stamkos had to say about his coach during that interview reminded me exactly of an old friend and coach, Derek Percy. He was the kind of guy and coach who didn’t come into a hockey locker room screaming and demanding for respect, but gained respect by how he strategically challenged his players and picked his “student’s” brains.
Like Cooper, I strongly feel like that’s why coach Derek was so respected by his players, especially myself, and a newer “younger” generation of hockey players.
Like Cooper and Stamkos, Derek and I too were a coach and captain tandem, who were “students of the game,” with a mutual uncanny respect for one another.
Here’s my piece and perspective from a few months ago, about Derek and I titled “Student Of The Game.”
How does one become “motivated” to achieve and pursue goals?
Does one get inspired, or motivated to accomplish things in life and work?
Does motivation drive you to succeed in a sport, professional setting, or school?
I recently came across a piece labeled “Inspiration vs. Motivation” from Paid to Exist; while the author’s argument and points were logical – I found a different insight from the piece as I could easily relate, but also detach from the motto, “Inspiration vs. Motivation.”
I recently gave a speech on the topic, and here’s what I had to say:
“Motivation.” I used to often think about this term all the time. I used to often myself being torn between what the word actually meant, and how someone could find motivation to succeed.
I believe that inspiration and motivation do not work against each other. I believe that the two actually work hand-in-hand, and can complement each other. I believe that motivation – comes from inspiration – and is a cause and effect.
I’m sure many companies’ higher ups, teachers, or coaches often ask, “What does it take to get someone motivated these days?”
My Perspective and Answer
I suppose I speak on behalf of my generation and the ones that will follow that “Inspiration” is the answer.
Inspire us and we will be motivated. Inspire us and motivation will no longer even be a question; it will merely become an afterthought and a daily routine for what ever we may seek. Inspire us – and new doors will open that we could not even imagine.
Personally, I was never one to be productive when given some sort of “Ultimatum” to have me be motivated. In fact, that style often pushed me away from ever being motivated at all to be constructive and effective.
Now, if you find a way to inspire me…that’s a whole another story. Once I find inspiration – I can be “pushed” and I’ll find motivation. I’ll find motivation to be creative and find a comfort zone that’s going to drive me to succeed, or even chase dreams.
Once someone or myself is inspired I believe that an “Ultimatum” easily changes into an attainable goal. A goal that I want to capture, and I’ll have a “fire burning in my stomach” that’s going to be hard to put out.
It’s night and day when you inspire someone like me first before trying to motivate them. It’s like dealing two different people, employees, or players per say.
A good sport analogy I like to use is – How often do we see professional athletes not “live up to expectations” on certain teams they may start out with or are currently playing for? But, then once they get traded or moved to another organization they blossom to their full potential and become an all star…overnight.
People are then left saying, “Wait that’s the same guy who played for us?” I believe somewhere along the way, in that transformation, that player was inspired, inspired and then motivated to succeed.
Another example a coach once told me involves one of the greatest hockey players of all time, Jaromir Jagr. The Czech Republic native has always notoriously worn number 68 on the ice; yes, it’s not your everyday number in hockey…
Jagr wears 68 in honor of his father who had passed away in ’68 during war over in Europe. So, every time he set foot in the locker room before a game or practice he sees that number to remind him that’s his inspiration to succeed, for his father. And, motivate him to be the very best he can be, which it clearly has.
In5pire us, and we will be motivated.
“Gentleman, listen up – it’s the little things we need to take care of out there if we’re going to be a successful team and win some hockey games…”
This was something I heard over and over again for years while playing under and spending time with my old coach, the late Derek Percy. He especially always preached to me one on one to, “Take care of the little things.”
So, many people ask me, “What exactly is your blog, the little thing-five?” While it may appear the site’s title reads that way, but it’s actually, “The Little Things.” Coach Derek always stressed to not only take care of the little things on and off the ice, but to appreciate them as well.
While laying in bed one night last year I was simply staring at this tribute jersey of mine seen below – and it hit me. I’m going name it “The Little Things,” but have the “5” represents the “s” in honor of coach Derek. Five was his notorious number, so I found inspiration – honored him and his motto by naming my blog “The Little Thing5.”
It was “The little things” – like whether it was on the ice and about winning an offensive zone face off as a centerman, or circumstances going on in my everyday life. Coach Derek inspired many of his players, and had a tremendous impact on my life.
Looking back on it he did something to be what I find to be quite rare these days – he believed. He believed in others, like me. He saw something in a young 14 year old Kyle “Mickey” McKenna one day I presume at the rink, and simply put his faith and belief in me. His belief in me as not only one of his players, but also a leader.
He was that inspirational to me and had the term embedded in my head that I could still hear his voice saying expression over and over again even though he has passed. I had a vision one day…a vision that I was going to write, and write about the little things in sports and life that I admire and want to share.
One thing lead to another and I began writing and working on books; a memoir and then a fictional piece, which will take time to complete.
Here are excerpts from the memoir:
Excerpts from the Fictional piece:
I have released my second tee shirt design for my personal brand, “The Little Thing5.” This is a “t-shirt jersey” style that is charcoal colored, and is now available for $12 until Wednesday May 6th.
I will be having promotions for this campaign, which will be updated/advertised via Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. For example, today I am having a “Free Shirt Friday” promo, so be sure to check out those social media platforms for more details.
Thank you, enjoy your weekend, and appreciate the little things…
Purchase t-shirt jersey here: http://teespring.com/the-little-things