‘Conversations’: 8 Interesting People Revive a Lost Art
We sit down with hockey coaches, college students, farmers and the mayors of two cities to see what they had to say.
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In a time when texting, emailing and tweeting has become the norm, a conversation between two individuals may seem like a lost art. Yet nothing beats a face-to-face talk between individuals who have something in common, or in some cases, nothing in common but a willingness to listen with open ears — and an open mind.
For the Conversations feature, we asked Pittsburghers who hail from different walks of life, but who work in similar fields, to engage in a dialogue.
Among them is the mayor of a major city in the midst of a renaissance and the mayor of a struggling former steel mill town. There’s a former NHL player coaching professional hockey and a physical education teacher dealing with parents as he tries to grow his peewee hockey players in body and mind.
The intimate discussions take different dips and turns, but like any important conversation, it’s never boring.
Conversations were edited for length and clarity.
Hockey coaches know the score
photos by Martha rial
Mike Schall and former Pittsburgh Penguins player Mark Recchi spent two years together coaching peewee minor and major players for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, a AAA amateur hockey organization. Hall-of-famer Recchi, now assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Schall, a physical education teacher in the Bethel Park School District, both know the pressures and expectations faced by players — on the professional and amateur level.
— Jessica Sinichak
Mark: Some of the biggest differences, obviously, are you’re dealing with the family. We’re dealing with players and probably more agents, but you’re not dealing with families necessarily. In minor leagues, you’re dealing with families.
PM: Can the parents be intense?
Mark: To put it mildly.
Mike: Very intense.
Mark: Sometimes that can be good. Sometimes it can be not so good.
Mike: Absolutely. I think looking at it, at the minor hockey level, we’re trying to get the kids to that [professional] level. Maybe to get to their dreams, step by step. That’s how we go with it. Being able to work with Mark for two years was a pretty cool experience with the knowledge you brought to the game — to show us, the kids. By the time they’re 12, 13 years old, it doesn’t sink in what they’re going through.
Mark: It’s challenging when you’re at our [professional] level. Now it’s more of the mental part. You’re developing guys. (To Schall) You’re trying to develop kids mentally and physically. You’re trying to help them along. You’re trying to get them better, you know. Whereas at this level, they’ve pretty much got that skill set. They’re as good as they’re going to get. Yeah, you always have to work on things, but it’s more of a mental aspect now than it is with minor hockey. You’re developing both aspects, which is very important, especially at those ages.
Mike: There’s so much going on in their lives between school, hockey, sports — everything. So they have all the elements.
Mark: Then you start getting puberty in there. That factors in. The hormones are going everywhere. There’s a lot going on for you.
Mike: As they see it, they’re trying to work through it. Sooner or later they figure out their path and their process.
Mark: Were you with Caden that year when he kept growing? Remember he just kept growing?
Mike: His dad’s a minor leaguer.
Mark: A bantam minor leaguer. So we had this young gun, and he’s like 6’4 or 6’5 now. But he would grow like 2 inches — and you could just see it. He was like clumsy — clumsy! And then he’d get his legs under him again and he’d grow another two inches and then he’d get clumsy again. I remember after one game, I said to his mom, I said, “Did he grow again? Because he is clumsy as crap right now.” She’s like, yes, yes, he did.
Mike: He’s all the way up to 6’4 now. He’s a monster. (Laughs)
Mark: I think the expectations and the pressure of being an NHL player is, this is your job. This is what you do, and you’re expected to be at a certain level. With minor hockey, I think a lot of the pressure comes externally from parents and things like that. Like, why isn’t he getting looked at individually? Why isn’t he getting this? Especially when they start getting to be 14, 15, 16, 17 years old. I think a lot of the damage gets done by parents, personally, because that’s the pressure they face. The parents are putting the pressure on them to get them to the next level. If they just let kids do what they wanted, they wouldn’t have that pressure and I think the results would be better.
Mike: I think a lot of the pressure, too, is driven by social media. Everything you see on social media is “proud to announce a commitment here. Proud to announce a commitment there.” I mean, the internet has changed, and it’s changed the kids a lot. Because at the end of the day, with minor hockey, what should be the pressure? It should be fun. You don’t get these times back, but a lot of people see what’s going on Twitter, or what’s going on Facebook and they start looking into those things, like, “Oh, I’ve got to get to here.” It’s a process. Enjoy it. Because you really don’t get it back again.
Mark: You are never going to get it back again.
The conversation continues ...
Excerpts which were not published in the print issue
PM: Do you see yourself as a mentor to the hockey players you coach?
Mike: I think you’re a role model. You’re always trying to carry yourself the right way, do the right things. I try to set an example. There’s a fine line. You know with little kids, if you’re all the way down with the 7, 8, 9 year olds, you’re like a big kid on stage — just having a blast and teaching them. But you can still set examples for those kids. You want them to have multiple role models as they work their way up through [the ranks].
Mark: There’s a fine line between accountability and kind of being their friend and being somebody they’re trying to learn from. I think it’s great. It’s a lot of fun at those ages.
Mike: Oh, absolutely.
Mark: I’d coach those ages again. I’m not sure I’d coach 14 or 15 year olds again, but I’d love to coach the little kids again.
Mike: Their biggest problem is what to have for a snack. It’s awesome. One kid falls and the four behind him are falling over.
Mark: They’re out there having fun.
Mike: They’re not talking about anything else. They’re out there smiling.
Mark: And waving at their parents in the stand.
Mike: A little guy was standing there the other day, looks up, waves at grandma, gives her a big thumbs up. You’re can’t get that back. It’s tremendous.