Posts Tagged ‘Sports’


This article was originally published in the Bristol Pitbulls programme in our match against the Swindon Wildcats. Bits in Italics are new additions to the post.

A while ago, I posted a picture on Instagram and lifting the lid on my mental health issues. To be honest, I have been wanting to do this write up for a long time, but haven’t – for one reason or another – had the guts to do it. When I initially posted the picture, I did not expect the avalanche of messages, “likes” or subsequent re-tweets – though I find it rather rather ironic that you have to ‘like’ someone’s status about mental illness. I did not post the picture to get likes or re-tweets, but rather to show people that there are those who deal with mental health issues within a competitive, semi-professional sports environment.  This was brought on by some comments I had seen on various social media platforms and club officials calling others “mentally ill.” This article has not been written so that I can go on some ego-trip, but to encourage talk around the issues of mental health in a competitive sports environment.

Where in “normal” society, the stigma around depression and mental illness has dissipated and it is better understood, it is still carries a stigma within sports. I’m not saying that everyone is understanding about depression and would rather people just ‘shake it off’. However, in sports it is often seen as a weakness and players can be seen as ‘damaged goods’ as depression can hinder the career prospects of a professional athlete, or a prospect. In the world of sports, specifically in hockey, chirping is part of the game. If someone publicly states that they suffer from depression, you can expect that opponents will make use of it to try and gain a mental edge.

I have been dealing with depression and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) since November last year, or at least that’s when I sought help, while in honesty, I’ve been probably dealing with these problems for a lot longer. Rather than confront my issues I started to spiral downwards and I had come to the point where I felt that ending it all would be the best option. I was unable to talk about how I felt, because at the time it would’ve felt like admitting defeat. Though I now realise that I should have sought help sooner.

Before then, it was a real struggle at home, at work, at hockey and at the gym. I was having anxiety attacks before I could walk into the office or any other public place and always wanted to be the first one in the changing room so I could get settled. I felt I had to put a face on to be in any situation that required any form of social interaction. In truth, I would’ve rather been curled up in a ball on the floor.

It was – and still is at times – an emotional drain to go to a social situation, but at least I am not at a point where I feel like people (people that I don’t even know), are talking crap about me. I was getting really paranoid about things, even when going to town, I would think that people around were constantly talking about me or judging me. The same would go on at the gym, where normally, I would listen to my own music, but had to start taking my headphones out to make sure some meatheads weren’t talking crap about me.

So why speak out? I feel that there isn’t enough talk about mental health in the world of pro-sports. While there are several noble causes, like #BellLetsTalk, I can’t remember than an active professional player would have spoken out about their issues. There are a number of cases where athletes have come forward post career to talk about it and it is admirable. But to have an active player stepping out and saying “I suffer from depression,” would certainly highlight the issue and to show that it is possible to succeed.

Am I worried about potential backlash from other players? No. During my career, I’ve had opponents/opposing fans say they wish “I’d die”, I’ve been called pretty much everything under the sun, but I try and approach it as part of the game and nothing personal. Besides, the beloved child has many names. My worst enemy on the ice is myself and it is something that I am working on. I set myself high standards and if I don’t meet those standards, I will get angry at myself and start to resent the whole game.

Why keep this from my teammates and coaches? To me this was a personal issue and not a problem the team had to deal with. I didn’t want any kind of special treatment from coaches or conversely (wrongly) that my ice time would be reduced because of this. Additionally, I didn’t want my teammates to act different around me or watch what they had to say. They don’t and it was the group of guys in the room that kept my sanity.

But won’t that be true now, I hear you ask. Well, it might be, but I am in a good place now where it doesn’t affect me in the way that it did in the past. There was a time when I had to block certain social media channels (such as @NIHLNewz on twitter) because the stuff, where intended as a joke, was really getting to me, even though I only received two tweets from said account. It is all well and good to joke and to have a laugh in the team environment and with the fans, but when it comes to the online realm, it is always worth remembering that there is a person behind the joke you are making, and you can never truly know how they might feel about it.

There has been a lot of talk about mental health of late and some media outlets have stigmatised the issue in the aftermath of the GermanWings tragedy. “News” outlets such as the Daily Mail have made a big splash about it, reporting on its front page “Why on earth was he allowed to fly”, implying that any depressed person should not be allowed to operate machinery of any kind. There was also a tweet from a professional Twitter troll Katie Hopkins saying that “all depressed people need is a pair of running shoes and fresh air,” or that all depression is, is like standing in the rain with a Primark paper bag. To this I can only reply that Katie: I work out 5 times a week at the gym, I run 5 times per week and I play hockey at a competitive, semi-professional level and yet I am still struggling with mental health issues.

 

Where I do agree with the sentiment that exercise helps with mental health, it is not the only solution. I should know this, I went years without medication or seeking help and spiralled deeper and deeper . I find solace at the gym and weight lifting as well as hockey, but like I described above, when you are in the grips of depression, it is really, REALLY, difficult to actually get going and start moving. The threshold that you need to step over is monumental and if you haven’t experienced it yourself, it is difficult to understand. But to say that depression is something that is a minor nuisance (standing in a rain with a paper bag or your public transport running late) is just ignorant.

The reason why I wanted to lift the lid on this was to show that I am in a good place where I feel comfortable about talking about these issues and to show that even when the world drop-kicks you in the face it is possible to go on.  It is always worth carrying on. If me talking about it will help just one person, then it was definitely worth opening up about.  At the same time, whilst I’ve reached a ‘comfortable’ place mentally, I know I am not out of the woods yet, but every time I talk about this, or write about it, I feel better. So with that, if there is a reader out there that needs help, I’m here with open heart and ears.


The groups for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics ice hockey tournament have been set after the final qualification rounds came to a close. Where the pre-qualification tournaments may not make big headlines in the main hockey media, there was one storyline that I followed quite closely (well through social media and radio). The story being the one of Team GB.

British ice hockey may not be that highly regarded in the grand scheme of things, or the international hockey pecking order, but what surprised me was that Team GB made it to the final Olympic qualification tournament. Currently GB is ranked 21st by the IIHF and went on to play against teams like Latvia, France and Kazakhstan, all of which have experience from the highest tiers of international hockey within the IIHF. In fact, all of the nations in Team GB’s group featured in last year’s World Championships in Helsinki and Stockholm.

I think this is a good juncture to make a confession: I didn’t think that Team GB would make it. However, the achievement of the team should not be disregarded or mocked. Given the infrastructure for the game in the UK, where rinks seem to be closing quicker than they are built (specially in the South), or are in dire need of renovation, Team GB pulled of a minor miracle by making it to the final qualification round.

What the team who went to Latvia have achieved, is a foundation that the powers that be should start building upon. Team GB may not feature in the highest tier of the World Championship stage, nor will we see them in the 2014 winter Olympics. However, what the success of the team shows is that the fan base is there and now it is time to build. What the UK should focus on in an ideal world right now is to invest more into the sport and adapt a junior system that is being used by some of the top countries in the world. I’m a big believer that the future of the game of hockey is in junior development and now if ever, it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.

The process won’t be easy, but done right, I can see that Team GB has a legitimate chance for the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, having been around the game here for a couple of years, I sadly doubt that it will happen due to the way things are ran and the fact that hockey is a sport that hardly receives any funding. Sure there  recently was a funding of £100k, but more is needed. £100,000 will not build a programme that would nurture the game here.

I know this opens up a debate that hockey is a minority sport and that the £100,000 is a good enough investment and why should ice hockey be invested in. Well, even though a minority sport, it was good to hear the game being called on the radio and actually hear fans chanting “Let’s go GB”. The fan support is there and my Twitter stream was filled with tweets from the games. Team GB’s games were picked up by ESPN here in the UK, a great feat for the sport. I’ve thought this for the longest time, but the local leagues (Elite League and Premier League) should be shown on free-view TV. Having them shown and (what I find) often buried on Sky sports 2 is doing the sport no favours here. But as with many other things, money talks. I would be as bold as to hazard a guess that apart from the people who follow ice hockey actually know that the sport is shown on Sky Sports 2, or that the NHL is on Premier Sport.

 

EDIT: This was something that Graham Goodman said on Facebook and I totally agree with him. British players should cast their eyes to European leagues as well and seek contracts outside of the confines of GB. There were a couple of players who did not ply their trade in the British leagues and ultimately the international experience from different leagues (and potentially better leagues) will make the standard of the national team better. Many of the teams GB played against had A LOT of players on the roster that played in countries other than their own.

While Team GB may have lost all of its games in the tournament, it is nothing to be laughed at. Though any self-respecting hockey player will tell you that the losses sting and they suck, but in the grand scheme of things, this team that went so far, have the potential to be regarded as pioneers for the game here. They have laid a foundation on which to build the sport on and the powers that be now need to strike while the iron is hot or the achievement by these guys will have been for nothing.

Follow the author on twitter: @amateur_hockey

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Device: Nike+ FuelBand

Price: £129

Retailer: Apple stores and amazon.co.uk

 

ImageThis high-end fitness gadget has been a topic of many-a-debate. Is it actually a useful training aid, or just an expensive time vampire? That’s the question we have been trying to find an answer for.

The Nike+ FuelBand has a feel of a really high end gadget from the way that it is packaged and how the actual product is designed. It oozes panache and is likely to appeal to the techy crowd rather than the hard-core body builder (more about that later).

What’s in the box:

In the box, you’ll get your Nike+ FuelBand, a USB connector cable, an extension piece to Imageensure best fit and a tool to insert/take out the existing  piece. What is also supposed to come in the box is a USB dock, which would make the FuelBand stand up nicely when it’s hooked up to your laptop, but alas, there was not one included in our box.

You get an instruction booklet to get you started, though it isn’t really rocket science to get the bracelet up and running.

 

Getting started:

First off, you need to download the app to your Mac or PC from Nike (address is in the booklet), connect your FuelBand via the USB cable after you’ve installed everything and customise the device for yourself and create your Nike+ account. This shouldn’t take you forever to do.

You then need to let the FuelBand fully charge, which takes up-to an hour via the USB lead. There is also an app available for your smartphone if you want to track your progress on the phone as well, but it isn’t a necessity to get going.

I actually found that the phone app took longer to set up than the one on the computer and at times felt a bit frustrating.

 

After all this you are ready to go and start hitting your goals, which you can set for yourself, or go with the pre-determined goals that suit your activities. Ther

So does it actually work?

Well, apart from looking shnazzy, the Nike FuelBand gives you an idea of the steps and calories burned. The reason I say “an idea”, is because I don’t think the readings are entirely accurate, but do give you a good idea. The device measures your body’s move through an intricate set of features built into the band.

 

However, what we discovered is that it is easy to “cheat” the FuelBand. We discovered that if you wave your arm around whilst standing stationary, the FuelBand actually measures the swings of your arm as your steps and “burned” calories. Though having said that, I don’t think anyone would just sit there and wave their arm to reach their daily goal that is in the thousands of Nike Fuel.

 

The other way where the Nike FuelBand has a shortfall is in the gym. It doesn’t measure all of the activities you do i.e. squats or leg press. Additionally, it is harder to accumulate the fuel points, when you are doing exercises that involve free weights. Additionally, the FuelBand has a hard time picking up movement from push ups or sit ups, mainly down to the fact that your arms (wrists) are mainly static.

 

When it comes to cardio vascular exercise, the Nike+ FuelBand comes to its own.

 

ImageWhat compliments your daily fitness goals are pretty cool videos when you hit achievements, which make the FuelBand a fun experience to use. 

 

On the ice

ImageHaving used the FuelBand in trainings and games, it does pick up the moves and does give you a good idea of how many calories you burn during a game. As with running or plyometric exercises, the FuelBand picks up the motions and tracks your progress.

 

It is relatively un-intrusive in the glove and doesn’t interfere with stick handling or add anything that would hinder your performance. However, be sure that you don’t spend your shift staring at your wrist tracking how far you are off your goal.

 

The FuelBand has added an extra edge in terms of performance. As the FuelBand gives you more fuel points the faster you move, so both on and off the ice, it has improved the way in which I push myself, be it on the ice or when my feet are pounding the road.

 

What the FuelBand has helped out with, is definitely in the motivation. The daily goals do become a bit of an obsession and make you do more, which is great. Though there are some shortcomings, the FuelBand does add a new level to your fitness regimen and makes challenging yourself more fun and a bit of a game at the same time.

  

Conclusion:

The Nike+ FuelBand is a decent fitness aid, however it does have some shortcomings. It is in its element when you are doing cardiovascular exercise, like running, cross trainers or hockey, but if your main form of exercise is body building or weight training, it might seem like a waste of money.

Once you get accustomed to wearing it, you are more obsessed about hitting your goals, which means that you are looking at doing more exercise to reach your targets, which I’ve noticed as being a great help.

The graphics and charts that the FuelBand provides either on the phone or the computer, do give you a good idea of when you are most active and helps you to identify times of the day when you could be doing a little bit more.

If you are a goal oriented person and wants an additional challenge to your fitness regimen, I’d recommend the Nike+ FuelBand. However, if your fitness routines revolve around free weights, I’d say that your money would be spent better elsewhere.

 

 

Pros

  • Well designed and fashionable gadget
  • Good set of features
  • Complimented well with online and mobile features
  • Great motivator tool
  • Water resistant
  • Great for cardio vascular exercise
  • Great for goal oriented people
  • Helps identify times of day when you can do more
  • Pushes you to do more

 

Cons

  • Device can be cheated
  • Does not work too well on weight and power training exercises
  • Doesn’t pick up moves from push-ups
  • Box came with no stand for dock.
  • Calorie and step counts might not be that accurate

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As I sat down for Christmas dinner a few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with some of the elder relatives. My injury history is storied and I was asked the question of “Why do you still play?”

 

I wish that question was easy to answer. However, during this conversation I had a chat about the elder relatives’ career in another contact sport, which I think is even more brutal and demanding than hockey (physically). Where we have been fortunate to both have had great experiences in sports, but one thing that transpired that the reason we play was relatively common.

 

For guys there are many reasons why they play hockey. It can be that they enjoy the game and want to spend some time in a team environment and hangout with guys, exercise and getting fitter, or winning (or a combination of all of the above). What drives me to play hockey is hunger to win. If I didn’t feel hungry to win, I doubt that I would put in the effort and I would seek out something else.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to play on teams that have won a couple of championships in different leagues and countries, but I still have that same hunger for some more. There simply quite isn’t another feeling that comes close to achieving your goal and winning. (Well there are a few, but this isn’t that type of blog people)

 

Winning is a moment that is shared by players, whether it is the culmination of a weeks work in training to get the win in your next match, or the ultimate pay-off at season’s end. If it is a championship you celebrate, the trophy is a nice thing to have as a reminder of that unbelievable feeling at the end, when all of the sweat and hours you’ve spent away from home have finally paid off. I actually feel quite sad for making this reference, but winning is one of the best highs you can experience.

 

Where it has been a few years since I’ve won a championship or something big, I want to win something before my time is done within the sport (Not for a while yet, but nothing is a guarantee in hockey). The something big might not be the Stanley Cup as that ship has sailed a long long time ago, but I am hungry to win. Every game, every shift. Like I said, if I didn’t want to win, why would I turn up. If I didn’t want to win, I’d stay at home and knit.

 

But what big do I want to win. As for me, in my own little microcosm, it would be unbelievable to win the NIHL title, even Div 2 south would be a big thing for me in the microcosm of hockey. I want to be able to have that feeling again.

 

Winning takes a lot of work and you have to stay hungry for it. In Finnish there is a saying of “Nalka kasvaa syodessa” (Loosely translates into: The hunger grows as you eat) and I think it’s a pretty apt description of what I feel now. After winning 3 games straight, I feel the hunger for more wins growing.

 

That is why we play; In an effort to satisfy the hunger for at least a little bit. 

 

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The air cool and cold. Should be used to it this time of year. Saturdays on the road, couple of hours in the car, prepping your mind to what lays ahead. The 60 minutes, broken into fragments of 45 seconds of explosiveness where everything you have in your body, your legs, is revved up to compete with five others who share a sheet of ice with you, fighting along with you are a group of guys that have come together for the same cause, a cause that has been drilled into our psyche for years upon years.

 

Saturdays, on the road, couple of hours in a car. There might not be fragments of 45 seconds where you explode on the ice against five other players, but with a group of guys, who have grown to be a second family. We get put through our paces in a section of drills that have been designed to improve a teams’ game.

 

Regardless of the scenario, the mentality is the same. We turn up and we leave the world as we know it, on a day-to-day basis, behind. Once we walk into the cool and cold embrace of an ice rink, we know what we are there to do, be it a game or training. It is an escape, an exhilarating ride that pushes your body to its limit.

 

What I love most about the whole hockey life style, which is something that I have grown to appreciate as I’ve become older, is the moment when you first step on to a fresh sheet of ice. It’s in that moment that you truly understand what a great game you are able to be part of, and the special group of people you share that ice with. There’s nothing quite that compares to it. Well I can think of a few things, but this is not that kind of blog.

 

The reason I started to ponder all this was after I spoke to a colleague of mine was whether I could live a life without the game. Where I eventually have to face up to the fact that this body wont hold out forever, I honestly could not see myself living a different life and I hope that I can pass the lifestyle on to the next generation of Virtanen’s when the time is right.

 

60 minutes. Funny, how we sometimes take days to prepare for 60 minutes. The preparation for those 45 second fragments, the concentration required for each shift, each different from the last. The bounces, the missed opportunities, the successes all come together for an entity that creates a wholly unique experience to the fan and the player.

 

Hockey, for the player or the fan, does not end once the final buzzer goes. Fans analyse the game, discuss the chances and the win or loss of their team, while the players gather round for the post game briefing from the coach which depends on the outcome and the way the 60 minutes unfolded.

 

The Saturday night lights finally go out, the players drive home, reliving those segments of 45 seconds and the overall 60 minutes. After all those moments, all you can do is count the minutes, hours, days to the next time you will be stepping onto the fresh sheet of ice and for the Saturday night lights to come on once more. 

 

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So the second straight day of NHL lockout negotiations has drawn to a close. Though the parties didn’t meet for as long as the previous times, there is an air of cautious optimism about the latest set of negotiations between the two parties.

 

The league and the players’ association is not making any statements about what is being said in the meetings, but the information that has leaked out to the insiders has been somewhat positive. Perhaps the most positive comment was made by Doug MacLean on twitter when he said that “The Board of Governors were sent a memo last night from Bettman saying if no traction today, talks could break down.” The fact that the two parties are meeting again tomorrow gives one hope that there is, at least, some traction from the negotiations over the past few days.

 

Additionally, as mentioned in the post before, the NHLPA did put forward an offer on the “Make Whole” aspect of the negotiations and apparently the NHL has responded to the offer, but there are no details as to what the response was.

 

Where in reality there probably is a million and one things that the parties need to resolve, but at least the meetings are taking place on a daily basis. One only has to wonder why it has taken this long to get to this stage of negotiating.

 

 

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Following the post I made about IIHF pulling the plug on the live YouTube broadcasts, I’ve had a couple of interesting tweets about it, one of which was sent by Steve Morrell (https://twitter.com/#!/rafanapa). Steve’s tweet got me thinking about why watching games live as they happen is so important.

 

Right off the bat I must admit that the best way to enjoy a sports event is to watch it where it happens. Obviously with the hockey world champs it is impossible for me to watch it in Helsinki (read the previous posts and you’ll see why). As the games are not broadcast on UK TV, or on any other channel that I receive, the Internet has become such an important medium for me to follow sports from back home. But why is watching it live so important? For me it is all about the passion, the heat of the moment and knowing that I am watching the action as it happens, each stride, hit, pass and shot at a time. I have tried watching recorded or deferred NHL games and I just cannot get into those broadcasts as I know that the game has taken place already.

 

For example, throughout the year, I have not watched a single deferred NHL broadcast from Premier Sports, even if I don’t know the score of the game. It might be a personal thing, but I just can’t get into the feeling of the game, knowing that it has been played already. It’s the same with any sport I follow, be it F1, cross country skiing, ski jumping etc. If the event has been and gone and there is a repeat broadcast I will not watch it. In the past when the NHL was with ESPN America, I watched a couple of the “As Live” broadcasts and it was like I was watching a TV soap. The  TV was on but I wasn’t really watching it.

 

Hockey, to me, is about passion, feelings, love, knowledge and sharing the event with likeminded fans. To me following hockey live is about shouting at the top of my lungs either in Finnish or English, literally living and breathing every moment as if I was at the arena watching the game with my own two eyes. For the live broadcasts of games I tend to live with the commentators of the game and get immersed into how they view the game and how they live the game, like Antti Makinen from the Finnish NelonenPro when he called the game between New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7RwBk6ZgrU

 

Another thing that has become to play a huge part in the way we watch sports is social media. We are increasingly commenting on the games we are watching through Twitter and engaging with like-minded people. We comment on the games on blogs, Facebook groups, we follow our favourite teams and associated fan groups to get more updates and information from the events.

 

The only concern I have for sports fans and social media is that we will turn into a horde of people who go to a game and sit there staring at our phones, updating our various social networks, rather than focus on the events them selves.

 

I guess the best experience of watching a live game on TV I can remember was from last years’ World Championship finals. Me and three other Finns trekked from our homes in the South-East to London to watch the final at the Pipeline Bar. It was the atmosphere at the bar and the anticipation of watching the event live in a bar, which felt like you were watching it on home soil.

 

The other fond memories that I have of watching live games is with my friend Christian while we both lived in Southampton. It was like a regular Saturday thing to have a bunch of guys at his place to have a few beers to watch the games live from NASN (now ESPN America). We never got together to watch the “As Live Broadcasts”. There simply wasn’t the same kind of feel, or anticipation for the games to start and to wait for the events to unfold, knowing that the games had been played.

 

There is a lot more that goes into watching a live broadcast of a game, but it would be difficult to explain, and to every person the experience is different. I guess I’m trying to explain what watching live games, whether on scene or on TV means to me and why repeats, 30 minute delays or re-runs don’t appeal to me.