We Can Do Hard Things
Kim McCullough
Founder and Director of Total Female Hockey

I was back on the bench coaching 2 days after giving birth to my 3rd child. No one was making me get back to it that quickly, but no one was going to keep me off that bench either. By this time I’d been coaching junior hockey for 4 years and we were having our best season in team history. We were in the top 3 after the regular season, had the 2nd and 5th leading scorers in the league and the goalie with the 2nd best GAA and save percentage in the league. We had depth, balance and confidence that we could make a run a deep into the playoffs. Five days before I went into labor with child #3, we won our first playoff series in the history of our still young program. As luck would have it, I managed to go into labor before the start of our next series so if everything went smoothly, I’d be back on the bench for game #1. My youngest was born on March 7th and game one was on March 9th. We had one night at home with our newborn before hitting the road the next day to play the 1st game of the best of 5 series.

DISCLAIMER: For those of you who have had a kid, I fully recognize that this is not the normal post birth game plan. I’ve tried very hard not to be normal for most of my life, so I did what felt right for me on this one.

One moment in particular will always stick out for me from game 1 of this series. Once we got to the visiting team’s rink, the players got settled in the room and my husband and I made our way through the sea of parents & fans offering us their congratulations on our newest team member (while undoubtedly thinking, Kim is even crazier than we already thought). I brought my youngest into the room to meet the girls briefly before we all needed to start the pregame routine. The girls headed off to do their warm-up while my assistants and I went over the game plan and any last minute adjustments and messages for the team. When the newborn cried, I fed her. Strangely, it felt completely normal somehow. I was neither stressed about the game nor about the baby. Right before we headed out for the first two periods (they only flooded the ice between the 2nd and 3rd period in our games back then), I fed her one more time, my husband took the baby and our team took to the ice.

The girls were FLYING from the 1st drop of the puck. Who knew that all you had to do is pop out a baby before starting a playoff series to get the team going! Now I’m not going to lie to you and say that I remember much of what happened in the game. I can tell you that despite my high levels of pure exhaustion, I felt like all of us were in a pure flow state. Passes were perfectly timed and weighted. Changes were crisp and perfectly timed. Execution was on point and intensity was through the roof and as a result, we were up by a few after the 1st two periods.

As we headed off the ice and back to the dressing room for the 15 minute flood break, I instantly flipped back over to mom mode. The baby was clearly hungry (i.e. screaming her tiny little lungs out) so it was time to feed her. The players went in their room and I went to the coaches room to do my other job. And quite honestly, the past 5 years of my life had constantly felt like this – hockey, kids, hockey, kids. Sometimes one took priority over the other. There was rarely (never) balance or a feeling of complete control. They just merged into each other constantly. Without the support of my husband and my dad, this would not have been possible. My kids were underfoot at every game, running around every rink in Ontario like they owned the place, and they were crying, laughing, and causing chaos in the background of almost every recruiting call, email and practice plan I made for 5 years straight. It was what it was and it sure wasn’t easy.

Which brings me back to that moment between the 2nd and 3rd period. There I am feeding the 36 hour old baby, and my assistants come into the coaching room to ask what I want them to talk about before the team heads back out on the ice. It was great of them to ask, but either of them could have easily run the show as they both had head coaching experience. I thought about it for a minute and then I said something along the lines of, “Let’s go do it together.” So I walked back into that dressing room with a blanket draped over my shoulder and baby and gave the between periods speech to the team while breastfeeding my newborn. While that was certainly a unique experience for everyone in that room, what really stood out to me about that moment, is that the players all looked right at me, locked into game mode and ready to go back out there and make a statement with a convincing W in game one. Only one player was uncomfortable and she put up her hand and said, “Kim I’m not trying to be rude but I’m just a little uncomfortable so I’m going to look down at the ground instead of at you.” We had a little laugh and kept plowing through the key points before heading back out the door and onto the ice.

I want every player I work with to know that they can do both – they can love their work and love their family…

When I think back on that day – the long drive to the rink, the hectic pregame, the way the girls dominated from start to finish and the joy of bringing the new member of my home team to meet my hockey team – what really stands out to me as someone who has been fully immersed in the world of women’s hockey for 30+ years, is that moment in between periods. Back when I was 15, 16, 17 years old, I couldn’t have imagined having a coach come in the room to give an in-game talk while breastfeeding. I’m not sure I could have remained as focused and poised as my players did in that moment. While I’ll never really know what was going through all their teenage minds when I walked through that door, I do know that somehow I’d made bringing your family with you into the rink (no matter where and when) more normal. I have always seen myself as a role model for players ever since I started playing college hockey back in the late 90s. And I take that role very seriously. I want every player I work with to know that they can do both – they can love their work and love their family and if they want, they too can do the crazy dance of running their own business, coaching a sport and having three kids at home. I want them to know that it IS possible. It may not be common and at times, it isn’t the healthiest to try to burn a candle at three ends for 8 straight months of the year during hockey season. But maybe one day they’ll find themselves in those moments of overwhelming craziness and think, “Kim did it, so I can do it too.”

If you want to learn more about Coach Kim and Total Female Hockey, visit their website here.

Share this post: