Big Apple Bonding

NYC Squirt Team Manages To Stay Connected In These Times Of Social Distancing

Over the course of his career in the financial services industry, Brendan Goldstein has worked with some of the  top firms on Wall Street. His success is measured by how well his clients do with their investments. 


As the head coach of the Central Parks Hawks 10 & Under team, he measures success in a much less tangible way. For him, it’s about meaningful experiences that will stick with this group of 9- and 10-year olds long after they slip off the skates.


Despite all that he has accomplished in the world of Wall Street, Goldstein considers his year with the Hawks as one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.


“This year was one of the most special experiences because of the amount of development we saw with the team. It was really a rich, rich experience,” said Goldstein, who coaches his 6-year-old son’s 6U team in addition to the Hawks’ squad.


And still, something was not right with how the season ended. There was something missing, some unfinished business that left a sour taste in his mouth.


Just days before the Hawks were slated to hit the road for a season-ending tournament in Delaware, the word came down that everything was put on hold due to the coronavirus.


“The train sort of fell off the track,” Goldstein said of the Hawks’ hockey season and life in general, particularly in New York City where he and his players live and skate out of the Lasker Rinks in iconic Central Park.


Within a matter hours, the Hawks’ season was over and people began to take refuge away from the epicenter of the biggest health crisis to hit the country since the 1917 Spanish flu. Goldstein and his family headed to their house on Long Island, while many others retreated to other parts of the country. Roughly a third of the players and their families remained.


Feeling like he was left with unfinished business, Goldstein wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the season or the players he had grown so attached to. Several days into the forced isolation, he came up with a way to keep the Hawks’ season going by staging off-ice training sessions using Zoom conferencing.


“Our season got cut short and I just felt like this was such a dynamic group of people, the players, the parents, the siblings, I just felt like it was my responsibility to continue a good thing,” Goldstein said.


Each session starts around 7:30 in the morning with players having a chance to talk to their teammates about their school work, what they are doing to pass the time and how they’re feeling as they try to get through these crazy times. Then at 8 o’clock Goldstein calls things to order with a short warm-up that includes three minutes of walking, marching, jogging and running in place.


The next five minutes features some dynamic stretching followed by a sequence of exercises like jumping jacks, squats and pushups. Then it’s on to lunges, more stretching and a series of core exercises.


“I basically take them through a HITT workout,” Goldstein said. “The concept is they’re still only 9 or 10 years old so you’ve got to teach them to move, teach them how to connect their muscles. You’ve got to get them excited about it, which is a challenge sometimes given their age. But if you add something familiar like a hockey stick they kind of get it.”


It didn’t take long for the dryland sessions to catch on. The first session included almost every member of the team. A week later, every player had logged in, along with some of their siblings. By the second week it had morphed to include many of their parents, and within a month Goldstein was receiving queries asking if families could invite players from other teams to join in.


The most important part of the workout comes at the end as Goldstein calls all the players to take a knee and one by one they say something positive about the workout, their teammates or life in general. Then he bestows a virtual honor on the person he deems was the hardest worker on that day in the form of an old ball cap the Hawks shared after each game during the season.


“The kids like it, the parents like it,” Goldstein said. “I have a saying, it’s like we never really grow up, we just get older. So you see parents getting the hat and they’re pretty excited about it, too.”


Being together, even in a digital setting means a lot to this tightknit group of players and parents who saw a magical season get cut short. In a time of sheltering in place, the Hawks have shown that social distancing doesn’t have to leave them feeling isolated. 


“There are plenty of people in the same boat, searching for meaning and purpose in these crazy times, looking for ways to stay active and connected as they wait for this all to blow over,” Goldstein said.


“I received an email from one parent who said this is something his son looks forward to every single morning and without it he would just be going through the motions and wouldn’t feel very connected to the team.


“Obviously kids need physical activity to stay active and keep their sanity, and so do parents and adults. What this team needs and the way they’re benefiting from this is that while the hockey season ended, the team experience goes on forever.”

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