Hockey Star’s Dad Put Him on Train to Success

Hockey star Zdeno Chara

Zdeno Chara is one of the highest paid and best players in the National Hockey League.  He’s a Boston Bruin, a team captain and a force to be reckoned with on the ice.  This article tells a little about the role his dad played in making Chara what he is (Boston Globe, 10/18/10).

The elder Chara, himself a Greco-Roman wrestler of some renown in their native Czechoslovakia, sat his son down when he was 16.  He took out a piece of paper, drew a train on it with an engine and several cars and put a dot in the final car.  The dot was Zdeno Chara; the train was his career in hockey.

The father explained to the son that he could devote himself to conditioning, workouts and practice in a truly professional way.  If he did, he’d progress, moving up car after car until he got to the head of the train.  If he didn’t, he’d get off the train which would leave the station never to return.  Zdeno Chara got the message; although he was only 16, he was skilled enough that it was time to take his sport seriously.

Zdeno recalled taking his father”s words to heart. From the day he saw himself in that last car on the kitchen table, he rode his dad”s advice.

“Each month,”” recalled the defenseman, a wide smile lighting up his face, “he would move me up a car. Month by month, as I got stronger and did the workouts, he would move my dot up to the next car, closer to the engine.””

In short, Chara’s dad offered him a choice – to remain a kid doing all the things that kids do, or become an adult with adult goals and a responsible approach to them.  Chara chose the latter and in doing so, he chose a hard life.

Speaking through interpreter Zbynek Cerny last week, Chara”s father made it clear that the railbed was structured on time management. There was time for sleeping, eating, practicing, training. But little else.

“No time for entertainment,”” said Zdenek. “No time for discotheques, no time for girls. All that takes away energy. You have to know what”s important and what it is you really want. You have to be responsible.””

I don’t get the impression that Chara’s father pushed his son to be a professional.  What he did was to use his greater experience and perspective to simply lay out the options.  “If you follow this course you can be a professional hockey player.  If you don’t want to make hockey your career, go join your friends and have a good time.”  It was the son’s choice, not the father’s.  The older man provided one of the vital things that adults can offer teenagers – the vision to see what’s required of a particular course of action.  More importantly, Chara’s dad understood that, like it or not, the time had come to decide.  Next year might be too late.

It didn’t take long for Chara to take on the responsibility of rigorous training as his own.  It quickly became, not his father instruction, but his own. The allure of going to the public swimming pool with his friends waned and was eclipsed by training to build upper body strength and 300 shots on goal a day.

“And I would tell him, ‘You are not obligated to do any of this, but it”s up to you. You have to be self-motivated.” It was about building responsibility in himself.””

As every father understands, giving his son what Chara’s dad gave him, meant losing his son.  The discipline and guidance all were aimed at and accomplished a single thing – to take the son from the father.  Eventually, Chara moved to Prague and then across the Atlantic Ocean, while his father remained behind.

Chara”s father was emphatic that a visitor from Boston understand that he misses his son, the boy who dreamed big dreams, scaled backyard trees, broke his headlight, so eagerly jumped aboard that train. He said he is happy, but also sad, because his son lives in North America now and is usually back only for brief stays in the summer.

Zdeno Chara still keeps the drawing of the train his father made for him so many years ago.  It’s emblematic of what a father can offer a son and for the NHL star, it’s a continuing connection to his dad thousands of miles away.

Thanks to Jason for the heads-up.

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