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Lessons from Building a Hockey Rink

I built an outdoor hockey rink. Yes, you can repeat that. I have repeated it many a time and I still cannot mentally fathom the idea of its existence. I mean I even skate on it, so I know it is real.

However, it was an absolutely surreal experience. Every moment, from the idea, to the build, to the completion, to the future demolition, it was and is, all surreal, a sort of out of body experience. I do not take credit for developing the idea because we all know this practice has been around long before my arrival into this world. I, also, cannot compare my experience to anyone else’s. It is most definitely a unique experience to every person’s individual circumstance.

Of course, the reason to build the rink comes down to having fun and getting exercise, but building the outdoor rink provided so much more than that. Deep down, well below its superficial roots, the outdoor rink taught me so much more about myself (and life in general), and despite learning some of these lessons earlier in life, the outdoor rink became a reminder of those things, those little things, the important things, that sometimes I (we) forget. So, let me (us) not forget any longer.


Here are the life lessons an outdoor rink taught me:

1) Your Friend Said What?

We all have a crazy friend. If a person says they do not have one, then they are the crazy friend. This friend tends to have different opinions and will say things that seem to come out of left field (upcoming spring, I am looking at you). We love these friends anyway. However, sometimes what they say may actually work! If there is anything that I have learned in 20 years of coaching and 35 years of life is that I do not know everything. It is vital to listen to multiple opinions and take every thought into account before making a choice. Listening to crazy friend’s opinions might just be what a person needs in the moment.

A great friend of mine suggested building the rink back before the holidays. I thought he was crazy. He is a friend that sometimes suggests things that become far more work than it is worth. He suggested this knowing that I was preparing to sell my house and that the busiest time of year was about to begin (high school hockey season). I dismissed it initially. However, after thinking about his reasoning, I said why not. A few hundred dollars, many hours of labor, and constant headaches, I have to say that building the rink was well worth it. He was on to something. Listen to that crazy friend, they might be right!


2) I Got 99 Problems, and the Outdoor Rink is All of Them.

Any person that builds an outdoor rink for the first time gets tricked into the thought that it is some grandiose, perfect, and idealistic conception. It is not! Building an outdoor rink provides more challenges than meets the eye. You must create a plan. You must level the ground. You must buy the materials. You must build the structure. You must line the rink. You must flood it. You also must prepare for broken bracing, unlevel ground, rips in the lining, holes, cracks, snow, bad weather, warm weather. There are so many challenges, and sometimes, not the feeling of much time to accomplish it.

I cannot lie, that even after I bought the materials, built the structure, lined the rink, and began to flood, that I almost quit. There were so many variables that I did not account for that overwhelmed me to the point that the happiness from the project did not outweigh the stress. I actually began to scrap the project. With impending warm weather during January and a clearly uneven surface that I improperly measured, I purposely punctured the liner to slowly leak the water that was remaining. I dumped it all and pulled up the liner. I left it there for 2 weeks. It became an eye sore as I parked my car in the driveway every day.

One night I was sitting on my couch, I decided to give it one more shot. I committed to moving the dirt I had laid down to raise the structure, flex-taping the holes, and flooding the rink once again. The weather cooperated, and it worked. It was not perfect, and it created a ton more challenges, but it existed. The initial difficulty of poor planning and mistakes almost crumbled me, but I reeled in my resiliency and battled back.

The rink, like the game of hockey, and heck, even like life, was filled with mistakes. However, I decided I had to do just a little more right than I did wrong in order to win. And I won.


3) Foundations Before Details.

When I finally decided to build the rink, I began to create a design of how large it would be and what it would look like. I had the images of boards, and lights across the rink. I wanted contraptions to stickhandle through and the perfect nets for it. In my mind, I needed everything to look perfect. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! I had seen so many photo examples that I wanted to emulate and beat (blame the competitive and perfectionist nature in me). I became so worried about the details that I forgot about one major thing. I needed a slab of ice before the rest was possible! This is so typical of many people that we have dreams of outcomes before we realize that we need the fundamentals to get there. I realized that the foundation, the basics, the making of the ice and ensuring its level, was way more important than everything else. Once we build the foundation, the fundamentals of the idea, the details can bring it al together to finish it. This concept goes far beyond a rink, and as a coach, I use it. However, we can take a concept for granted and lose it for a moment. The rink brought it back after my moment of loss.


4) Rain Can Be an Asset.

After all the efforts of getting the rink built, I finally had a slab of ice. A snowstorm later causes some slushy problems, and the surface was not level. It was bumpy and virtually unskatable in most areas. There was a new storm on the horizon that was bringing warmer temperatures and heavy rain. I was extremely concerned about how this would affect the ice surface. This new circumstance got me to believe that the surface could be ruined even more.

The rain came, dumped a ton of water on it. The temperatures dropped and the surface smoothed right out. What was unskatable became nearly perfect. Water seeks its own level. It melted what was high and leveled itself out. It was nature’s Zamboni.

We tend to fear bad circumstances. However, sometimes we need a challenge to push us, and by surviving and overcoming the bad circumstance, we can begin to enjoy the beautiful aftermath that we did not originally think existed. What we perceive as bad, may be eventually be the best thing for us. So, dance in the rain, or build in a rink in it!


5) The Process is More Important than the Outcome.

Community groups for rink builders often describe the DIY outdoor rink as a passion project. It is a project that occupies time and gives us a purpose (either temporary or long-term). The outdoor rink is more than just the use it was built for. It had a greater purpose. The process from beginning to end, and the repeat of the process for many in subsequent years is more important. The small details, the problem solving, the moments, and everything that goes into the labor of love is far more meaningful than the outcome.

We often say do things because we love it. However, we do not have to love everything about what we say we love. We all can love hockey, but we can hate the sprints, off-season training, long drives, early mornings, late nights. There will always be the moments of what we love that we do not like (or even hate). We continue anyway! What we love gives us purpose as it provides the ups and downs. Enjoy the process of the passion that is sought. The Journey is greater than the destination.


6) Do What Scares You.

I was scared to build an outdoor hockey rink. This is straight up honesty. I was petrified. I thought more about what could go wrong than what could go right. I did not want to mess up my yard before an impending house sale. I did not want to waste money on a project that did not give me enough benefit. I did not know if the weather would cooperate. I ultimately did not want to commit to anything that I could not predict the outcome. I did everything to talk myself out of the project, rather than into it.

It is human nature to avoid what we fear. People stick to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. This is built into our psychology. Failure can cause emotional pain (until we become numb to it). Like many people, I did not want to invest in a side project that I may get little out of. I did not know what I was doing. Even after consulting groups, people I know, and reading articles I was still unsure about taking the project on. I feared the failure of it.

I ventured on. I told myself I had nothing to lose. Like I have discussed in previous lessons, I succeeded in the process. I took on a project of which I had no experience and I completed it. I implore all people reading to take on any fear holding them back. It is empowering to make that effort. It challenges us to be better, to evolve, to improve, and to overcome. Have faith in oneself that it will all work out!


7) Fingers and Books

Success is fleeting. It is a brief moment of existence, not the prolonged experience that many have wished for. The number of successful moments in a person’s life are minimal. Of course, this is subjective to one’s own personal feelings. Let’s think about it and count the number of shining moments where we amazed ourselves and felt accomplished. The number of great successes that we all have can likely be counted on one, maybe two, hands. That sounds disappointing, especially given the hours it takes to get to those moments. There are so many hours that go into these long-term goals. If we can count our successes on one hand, the hours it takes to get there would be represented by the words in a book.

The outdoor rink is a small microcosm of life’s ultimate goals. The moment of completion was minute compared to the time it took to get there. But that is the reality of goal setting and that is a lesson that we should never forget. In an era of instant gratification, it is a necessary reminder that anything worth pursuing will take far longer to attain than the moments of joy that it brings. Pursue anyway!


8) Memories Last a Lifetime.

At the end of a long day, we cannot help but reminisce about the events that transpired. This goes further as we age. We look back on our lives and remember all that once was. We use these memories to teach us and to bring us joy. We have our present and we have our memories. Memories cannot be taken away. Long after the moments are gone, the memories of it all will stay with us for a lifetime.

The outdoor rink will melt and be disassembled. It may come back next year, or it may never be built again. Either way, the long-lasting memories will stick with me (us) for the remainder of my life: the plan, the process, the failures, the problems, the successes, the laughs, and most importantly, the people that were there along the journey. That is what life is all about. Treasure the memories, hold them tight, and let them forever be a part of you.


It has been almost three months since I began the outdoor rink journey. It was one small part of me during this time, but its impact was far greater. I am still in awe about the process and the outcome. Even more so, I am in wonderment of what I learned during this experience. It is far more impactful than the hours of skating. We know not, what we do not experience. Get out there. Build that rink. Enjoy all the moments.

I want to thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article on about my journey. Stay tuned for future articles! If you wish to send feedback, please do so by e-mail

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Enjoy the Journey of this crazy thing we call life! Have a great day!

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