Small Area Practice

Our hockey player has had some upheaval in her little hockey universe. USA Hockey, the governing body for youth hockey in the United States, has mandated that all under 8 hockey programs move to a cross-ice format for games.

Last year, my daughter played full-ice hockey, just like the pros in the NHL. Through a bunch of research much too complicated for an 8-year-old to understand, USA Hockey has determined that a smaller ice area at a young age makes for better players as they get older.

Small area practices and games force the kids to move quickly, keep their heads up and improve their stick-handling, footwork and passing skills. As they get older and move to full ice, they are better hockey players because they have the fundamentals down.

None of this matters to my daughter. All she can see is that last year she got to play full-ice hockey, and this year she has to play "baby hockey." While I sympathize with the sentiment, it's my job to help her understand the benefits of this style of play for the next six months until she moves up to the next level when she'll go back to playing full ice.

As I've been pondering how to best help her approach the season, I realized that a lot of times, God gives us some small area practice before sticking us in the big game. Often, God will give us opportunities to learn and practice skills in small ways. He knows that we'll need those skills down the road for the bigger plans He has for us.

We often make plans and then get upset when those plans are thwarted. But our plans are never as good as God's plans. We can't even conceive of the things that God can plan for us. Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails."

Just like USA Hockey, God looks at the big picture. This year is going to be tough for my little hockey player and all her 8-year-old friends because they simply aren't old enough to grasp the big picture. Ten years from now, they may look back at this year and realize that it made them better hockey players, but right now it simply seems like a whole season full of unfairness.

The same is true for us. Too often, we can't see the big picture. We don't understand why we're being put to the test in the areas of patience, perseverance and faithfulness. God can see down the road. He's preparing us to do big things for Him, but many times He allows us to have some small area practice first. We may not enjoy that practice because we're busy looking at the big game and wondering when we're going to get in it. We may not appreciate the lessons we're mastering because they don't seem important.

But down the road, we're going to appreciate what we've learned. When we get a chance to participate in the big game of God's plan, we'll look back on those moments of small area practice and realize God was getting us ready. He was improving our fundamentals so we would be effective for Him in the long run.

Helping our kids understand this idea is important, too. So many times during those pre-teen and teen years, it can seem like all we're doing is marking time, waiting to be old enough to drive, old enough to date or old enough to leave home. Talking with your kids about how life is sometimes like a sport -- we have to practice before we get into the game -- can help alleviate some of those feelings of frustration. Knowing that those times are simply practice for something bigger gives our kids a sense of purpose and perspective that will see them through the waiting.

So, the next time you're faced with a moment where God is asking you to take what appears to be a step backward, remember that He may just be offering you some small area practice before asking you to take center ice in His plan.