I wrote earlier that a sport can have different meanings for different people. But it can take on different meanings for a single individual, too. In Seeking the Center, Agnes, who prides herself on never playing hockey "just for fun", discovers different facets of the game she thought she knew. In some ways her journey parallels my own research.
Hockey in one form or another has been around a long time. Just how long, no one really knows. The rules of the modern game started to solidify during the late nineteenth century as, like baseball, hockey became part of a trend toward standardization that seems to have been inherent in modernization.
Historically, organized sports including (at times) hockey have been promoted as a way to keep young men "out of trouble" when they weren't working - a way to keep them in order and physically fit. It has often been described in decidedly nationalist and capitalist terms.: a quasi-militarist marshaling of masculine energy in the service of the state and the status quo.
The upside is fitness, teamwork, leadership skills. The downside is, among other things, an assimilationist philosophy that subordinates the individual to the collective.
Prior to the standardization of sport, there was, in theory anyhow, more opportunity for all sorts of people to play. And, play could happen anywhere - not just in "approved" spaces of standard size and shape. Teams could expand and contract to fit the number of willing participants, and the only rules regarding the age or gender of the player were set by the players themselves. Even the rules of play could be adapted to different situations.
It isn't so much that standardization is inherently bad. The modern, professional game of hockey is thrilling and the skills that the players develop through their rigorous training and drills are beautiful to behold. It's just that, we sometimes forget that this particular incarnation of the game isn't necessarily the only one, the natural one, or the best one for everyone.
In Seeking the Center, Agnes's relationship with hockey deepens. As the story progresses she can see its downsides more clearly, but she also finds new reasons to love it. She realizes that playing hockey at the highest technical level isn't the only way to take the game seriously. Hockey is big enough to embrace everyone and flexible enough to serve multiple purposes. In the words of her linemate, Rosemary, "it's different every time. Depends on who's here."