Breaking the Ice: Brady Leavold’s Journey from Darkness to Light

Breaking the Ice: Brady Leavold’s Journey from Darkness to Light

by Chris Tompkins | April 4, 2024

On the brink of a promising hockey career, Brady Leavold succumbed to addiction. Feeling like he couldn’t talk openly to anyone within his sport, Brady spent years of his life battling alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental health issues on his own. It wasn’t until he moved to Northern Ontario and walked by a frozen lake one day that he was inspired to lace up his skates again and he hasn’t looked back.

Today, Brady is in recovery and serves up inspiration and hope for athletes — and others — who are dealing with trauma, addiction, and mental health, through his Puck Support Network and podcast, Hockey 2 Hell and Back. Brady is also back on the ice as a coach with Muskoka Hockey.

The pressure of being a young athlete

Brady explains that the hazing he experienced when he first joined the Western Hockey League and had to move away from home as a minor, was significant in his decision to start using drugs and alcohol. Hockey had always been the thing he could turn to when the rest of life was hard, owing to traumatic events in his childhood.

“Because I was in so much pain all the time, the only thing I felt I could do to get myself out of it was play hockey,” Brady explains on the Shaping Our World podcast. “I just loved the way that it made me feel.”

When he moved away from home to play for the Swift Current Broncos, however, his older teammates tormented him daily, and for the first time, he didn’t feel like he was accepted in that world.

“If this is all I know and this is my dream, but this is the reality of what it is, I don’t know if I can do this,” Brady remembers thinking. “If this is the way it is, I don’t know if I even want to be alive anymore.”

A fine line

When Brady started drinking and doing drugs he says that he’s sure it was apparent to everyone that he was struggling and even explains that his coaches would have likely been supportive — if he had spoken to them about it. But at the end of the day, he was always hesitant, citing the fact that at that level, hockey is first and foremost, a business.

“If you’re no good anymore, then they get rid of you,” he says.

He questioned whether his coach would trust him enough, after that sort of conversation, to put him on the ice.

“When we need to win because it’s a results-driven business, it’s a very, very fine line,” Brady explains.

When asked if he thinks things have shifted specifically as it pertains to hockey, he says that he thinks there has been a general shift in mindset when it comes to discussing mental health. However, the messages and stories that pour in as a result of his outreach on both his blog and through Puck Support, indicate that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“Though I think the narrative has changed and people want to do better and we’re talking about mental health, there’s a very big difference between a team talking about [it] and having a mindset, versus actually providing a safe space and allowing those people to feel safe,” he says.

How best to help

Brady agrees that as a society we tend to offer kids help as a means to an end that is typically performance-based — so that they can get back out on the ice, or bring their grades up. What is needed, however, is someone to say, ‘I’m helping you because I see you and I want you to be well.’ A caring adult or an adult with a similar lived experience who can enter into a kids’ story and just see them and know them, is paramount. The work that Brady is doing to come alongside young people on their own journeys, through speaking engagements and his podcast, and through Puck Support, is a testament to that.

“One person can really change the world by just being honest and sharing their story,” Brady says. “And that’s what I’ve seen through the work that I’ve done.”

To hear more about how Brady has translated his experience into helping others, listen to the full episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.

Transcript

[00:00:01.880] – Speaker 1
Well, hey, everyone.

[00:00:13.050] – Speaker 2
This is Chris Tompkins, the host of the Shaping Our World podcast. This podcast is a conversation all about young people, the world they live in, and how we, as coaches, parents, teachers, youth workers, really any caring adults, can support and help them navigate the ever-changing and complicated world that they live in. If you’re listening in from Canada today, you might be a little more interested in this conversation as our national pastime, hockey, plays an undercurrent to our conversation today. Today, we have Brady Leavold on the show. Brady is a retired professional hockey player with 10-plus years experience spanning the WHL, AHL, and ECHL. In 2008, after a career year with the Kelowna Rockets, Brady was signed to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After summer training camp with Tampa, Brady subsequently moved to play with the Norfolk Admirals, where he suffered a life-changing injury that in turn led him down a path of many different directions, many of them dark. Brady has lived on the streets, been behind bars, and survived multiple suicide attempts and overdoses. And it wasn’t until he relocated to Ontario and laced up his skates again for the first time in 10 years in February of 2020 that he began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

[00:01:37.980] – Speaker 2
Brady reconnected with his love for the game and was determined to commit to the long, hard road of recovery. In an effort to document the process, he started a podcast where he was brutally honest about his struggles and what happened next changed Brady’s life. His story was picked up by Sportsnet, and as a result, stories from other people, many of them fellow hockey players, started pouring in. Brady realized he had uncovered something that expanded way beyond his own recovery. And so he started the Puck Support Network, which provides resources and support to everyone, but specifically to hockey players grappling with mental health and addiction. Today, he is committed to a life of service to others through Puck Support, and his podcast, Hockey to Hell and Back, and he continues on ice as a coach with Muskoka Hockey. I think you’re going to be amazed at the honesty and the depth of our conversation and get some really practical insights into how to support young people that are wrestling through mental health, what athletes go through, what happens as kids are learning and dreaming about moving forward in their professional careers as hockey players, and just how our childhood wounds and trauma can influence who we are becoming and what our future looks like.

[00:03:03.060] – Speaker 2
I think you’re going to be inspired with Brady’s journey and what he has to offer. So let’s join into the conversation. It’s great to have you, Brady.

[00:03:18.630] – Speaker 1
Thanks for having me. Looking forward to it.

[00:03:20.520] – Speaker 2
Our podcast is called Shaping Our World, and we’re looking at how as the next generation shapes the world that we’re going to be living in down the road, we’re also looking shaping our own world with information and stories and ideas. And so we can’t wait to hear how you can shape our world today. But before we get into that, what shaped your world when you were growing up, when you were a kid, when you were a teenager? What were the biggest influences in your life?

[00:03:45.300] – Speaker 1
I think that’s a really great question and a good place to start. And for me, I see both sides, the good and maybe the not so good on how that shaped me. But certainly everything in my life has been centralized around hockey and the people in hockey and just being part of and having this pursuit, this dream of one day being a pro hockey player. But it was always the people in hockey that were influencing me the most, whether it was me watching them on TV or those that were directly around me. And as I said, a lot of it, most of it was great, but there was also some challenges along the way of moving away from home and being around older guys playing junior hockey and peer pressure and that stuff. So there was different challenges, but it has always come back to hockey for me.

[00:04:40.210] – Speaker 2
Well, I think that’s going to be interesting for a lot of our listeners because I’m sure We get a lot of listeners from the Canada area, and I’m sure a lot of them have kids involved in hockey, so their ears are perking up right now. Okay, what are we going to get into here? So that’s great. So let’s just talk about today. Beyond your professional work, what shapes your world today? Personally, what are you involved in? Do you still play hockey? What do you do for fun? Let us get to know you a bit more.

[00:05:10.230] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I’m a dad, and I like to spend as much time as I can with my kids, and that’s really what brings me joy. I don’t play a ton of hockey anymore. I’m more on the coaching side, and I really, really enjoy doing that. But yeah, just being of service and helping people and I’m paying attention in whatever surrounding that I’m in because there’s people everywhere that need help. I don’t know, I’ve always been this way, but I’ve always been eager to help people, and I really do my best to pay attention to what’s going on around me. Listen, I watch, and if I feel called, which I often do, to step in and perform an act of service. Sometimes it’s something that maybe is a big action, but most often it’s just a small, kind gesture, and I truly believe that that can change somebody’s day and in turn, change their life.

[00:06:09.140] – Speaker 2
That’s pretty inspiring even just to listen to. Talk a little bit about your work, what you do vocationally. How are you shaping the world of young people? Tell us a little bit about how you spend your days.

[00:06:23.040] – Speaker 1
I wear a lot of different hats and really proud to wear them all, but probably We have to do a better job at delegating and building a team around me. But it’s been a slow process through the challenges that I faced. But I’m a keynote speaker, specifically on mental health and substance abuse and trauma, and spend my days traveling around Canada. Primarily, over the last couple of years, it’s been with hockey teams and organizations, but a lot of high schools and corporations will bring me in to share my story. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m a pretty vulnerable guy. That wasn’t always the case. And I found that by being vulnerable, it has brought so many others their voice. They’ve been able to find their voice through just hearing somebody else be vulnerable. So I do a lot of in-person and virtual speaking events, but I’m also a hockey coach, and I’m very fortunate that I get to work with some of the world’s best hockey players, primarily in the summertime in Mascoka, and then the youth surrounding areas of Mascoka and Toronto. And oftentimes me traveling when I speak, it’s usually tied into hockey as well, where I’ll get on the ice and run some skills clinics and then have the hard topic of whatever it may be on any given time when they bring me in, whether it be more related to hockey or mental health, bullying, kindness, all those things.

[00:07:56.790] – Speaker 1
So I also have a clothing line, and I’m also the Executive Director of the Puck Support Network. So that’s a nonprofit that I founded to really help support hockey players who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, not just the players, but the parents as well. And it’s been a slow process, and we’re slowly building, but we have great plans in 2024 to really roll it out and to take some action.

[00:08:25.040] – Speaker 2
We’re going to dive into some of these topics today. Just a couple of brief things before before we go too far. I know you mentioned doing a lot of work in Miskoka, and those are the listeners who are in the Ontario area know I’m associated with Mascoka Woods, and we have a pretty strong partnership and friendship with Mascoka Hockey, which is like a formal hockey program that you’re part of, literally right down the road from us at Mascoka Woods, and kids come and do stuff. So parents, if you’re ever looking for having your kids to be part of any hockey program in the summer, and you have cottages, and you want to go up, you should definitely check out Mascoka Hockey. It’s at miskokahockey. Ca. That’s just a little plug and a side note.

[00:09:09.200] – Speaker 1
Well, yeah, I appreciate that. And we had 40 full-time NHL guys come through our program last summer. Many of them have cottages in Miskoka, but we also run youth programs as well. And we’re really just getting started, just getting our foot in the door. And it’s founded and run by Sam Gagne of the Edmondton Oilers. And he brought me in as the head coach to oversee all the on-ice stuff. It’s been a great privilege and honor for me. It’s an incredible place to spend your summers. Now we’ve added that piece where people don’t have to travel to the city to get elite hockey training. So it’s just been wonderful, I think, for so many reasons. But thanks for the plug.

[00:09:52.910] – Speaker 2
Yeah, I know. And it’s a great program. Sam’s a good friend of Mascoka Woods, and we’ve been in conversation for a long time.

[00:10:00.400] – Speaker 1
The kids love going to Mascoka Woods. Whenever they come to the rink after, I see them the next day, and I ask them. They’re always raving about whatever activity they were doing that day. So it’s been a great partnership, and we certainly cherish that. I know the kids really enjoy their time over there. Although I have never been. I see those water slides in the wall and all that, and I’m stuck in the cold ice rink while they’re on the water slides, but that’s okay.

[00:10:27.910] – Speaker 2
We’ll have to get you over soon enough.

[00:10:30.230] – Speaker 1
It’s an incredible place. It truly is. I drive by and I’m like, How is this even? Just all of a sudden you’re driving and you’re like, What is this? It’s a monstrosity, but it’s so cool.

[00:10:40.070] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s good. There’s a little shock value when you drive down Highway 141 and see it. It’s It opens up there. So we are going to dive a little bit into a mental health, substance abuse, particularly hear it through the lens of your own story. And we’ve got a lot of questions around that to help parents, because those of us who’ve been tracking with this show and those of us who have been around right now know how big a topic mental health is, particularly for young people. And I think sometimes we think, well, kids that are really active and that are playing sports and that are out there, they’re doing all the right things. So maybe they’re not struggling as much. And on the surface, it might be easy to go like, okay, we’re worried about the kids that lock themselves in the basement and are visibly removed from activity and engagement and social stuff. But kids that are highly involved, maybe that’s not as big a deal. But that’s not necessarily true. We know that mental health is on the rise for young people. So many of the indicators that are out there, one person said it this way.

[00:11:55.740] – Speaker 2
I was listening to in a podcast that was saying, all the indicators are flashing red on the dashboard for youth and mental health. We got to start paying attention to this. We got some questions for you to dive into that because that’s your area of expertise and what you talk about. But maybe to give our listeners a bit more context, as much as you’re comfortable, Katie, because I know when you go through childhood trauma and you talk about your own story, there are some sensitivities in that. And as much as you’re comfortable, can you give our listeners just a bit of a picture of your story and how When you ended up focusing on this area of mental health and substance abuse, why are these topics for you that are near and dear to your heart that you want to help other people with?

[00:12:40.120] – Speaker 1
Yeah. And I try to condense it because if I don’t, we’ll be here till 2025. But it’s been a really hard road for me for as long as I can remember. When I was a young boy, I went through some major challenges. I was abused sexually at a family reunion when I was Right in around the same time, my parents got divorced. I primarily was with my dad, I would say 95% of the time. A phenomenal human, retired fireman, hockey coach, hockey scout now, very well respected at BC Firefighter Hall of Fame. Can’t get a better dad, but it was just hard not having my mom around. Obviously, going through the abuse was the hardest thing that I’ve ever been through and it really shaped my future. I didn’t I never felt like I could tell anybody. I was so scared as I got older to hear people being judged and picked on and bullied and all those things that I believe we’ve all seen at different times. I just was very conscious of that and just decided that I’m going to fight this battle on my own. Luckily, I had hockey because hockey was what really saved me.

[00:13:54.960] – Speaker 1
I always say hockey was my first drug, and I know that’s hard to hear, but it was really my first addiction because Because I was in so much pain all the time. The only thing I felt I could do to get myself out of it was play hockey. I don’t just mean go to my games with my team. I mean, if I was home by myself, I’d be out in my carport, or if I was watching Hockey Night in Canada, I’d be stick handling while watching. It was just that little bit of solace, that little bit of reprieve that I could find from the thoughts in my own mind and spend a lot of time doing it. If you do that, if you spend a lot of time focused in one area, you start to develop skills. I just love the way that it made me feel, so I did as much of it as possible. Got to the point where I’m now 16 years old. I had to move away from home to follow my dream in the Western Hockey League, which would be the equivalent to the OHL here in Ontario. That’s really where things really started to fall apart for me.

[00:14:51.330] – Speaker 1
It was in a time where the hazing culture in hockey was pretty rampant. I got essentially tormented on the daily by the older guys on the team and it just felt like I wasn’t being accepted. And that was really the first time that I had faced that in my life, where I felt like an outsider. And I just felt like, Okay, well, if this is If this is all I know and this is my dream, but this is the reality of what it is, I don’t know if I can do this and if this is the way it is. I don’t know if I even want to be alive anymore. And I know that’s hard to hear, but at 16 years old, while I was essentially living out my dream, I started to contemplate my own life for the first time. As the years went on, I really struggled through junior hockey, but I was introduced to alcohol during that time and found it real hard to put down. Because it’s essentially a painkiller, and I was in a lot of emotional pain and struggled a lot. I got to give you the condensed version.

[00:15:53.980] – Speaker 1
If anybody wants to know more about my story, there’s so much out there that you can dive deeper into. But Basically, the bottom line is I felt like I could never tell anybody what was going on with me. It came out in other ways. First in hockey, that was my reprieve, and then, excuse me, with alcohol. The peer pressures were certainly part of my story, and I’ve been on both sides of it. I’m 36 now, and I can say I’ve been on both sides of it. I’m not perfect either. It’s just a cycle that was and still is the way in hockey of veterans being more than the rookies and treating them differently. And I found that to be real hard. Some guys maybe didn’t have an issue with it, but for somebody who was dealing with trauma and pain, and hockey was everything to me. And now all of a sudden, I hated going to the rink. It felt like I didn’t want to be alive anymore. So I struggled through my junior career at different times, left my team for what It would now be recognized as a mental health leave of absence.

[00:17:01.850] – Speaker 1
But in 2004, 2005, there was nothing of this being discussed. And in my mind, the reality is, it would have been looked upon as a weakness. And so eventually, I ended up losing everything. I was able to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to that, but I was introduced to drugs. And I was always that kid that was the athlete who didn’t hang out with people who use drugs. Drugs. I was never going to use drugs. I was so dead set against it. But life happens. And as I got older and put in different situations and peer pressure, I found myself breaking my own boundaries, breaking my own morals. And through that, I never anticipated a life of addiction. I was just living moment to moment, trying to suppress my emotions with anything that could do that. First it was hockey, then it was drinking, then it was drugs. And somewhere along the way, in my first year of pro hockey, I was injured and prescribed OxyCot and the painkiller. And that’s really where things completely fell apart. It didn’t take long for me to lose everything. And including my family, I was a young dad at the time and lost my hockey career, my family, all my friends, everything, and went into that cycle of trying to go to rehab and get out in relapse.

[00:18:31.670] – Speaker 1
And I did that for many years. And finally, I just felt like I was never going to get out of it. I just gave up and stopped trying. And I think it’s important to highlight that through all of it. I had never told anybody about what happened to me when I was a kid, even through all those rehabs, stents and everything. It was always like, well, I know that happened, but we’re just going to shelf that, and that’s never going to be addressed, and I’m going to be okay. Because I did that, I truly believe that was centralized around me staying ill. I ended up finding myself homeless on the downtown East side of Vancouver, which is notorious here in Canada for being the worst street maybe in North America. I know it’s changed now because there’s so many places that are overrun with homelessness and addiction and mental illness. But I just ended up in a place where I never thought imaginable and even found myself arrested and spent some time in jail for some things that stemmed from my addiction and desperation. So it was like 10 plus years of absolute hell. And back in 2020, I moved to Miskoka and put my skates back on for the first time in 10 years on a frozen lake in Utterson.

[00:19:50.390] – Speaker 1
And it just came over me that, number one, I was going to need to ask for help and I was going to need to address my childhood trauma. But it was also very present inside of me that my story was going to have the capacity to help people, at least one person. That was my goal and decided that I was going to start a podcast after being three weeks into my recovery. The rest is history. They started to share my story, and it got picked up by some news outlets. And through my work, I found that there were many hockey players, young hockey players, who had lost their life to overdose or suicide. And it gave me great purpose, but also a sense of gratitude for my own life and just really feel lucky to be alive and feel called to share my story and to be part of the solution. And that’s where the idea of Puck Support came in, because I started to hear of all the stories of the ones we had lost and the messages that I get on a daily basis through my social media of people struggling, and primarily hockey players, because that’s my niche, but it’s growing far surpassed that.

[00:20:56.060] – Speaker 1
And for me, it was never about hockey. It was just about using hockey as the vehicle to to break down the barriers to have conversations around mental health, around substance abuse. I really felt like if we could get the hockey community rallied around it, then we could get more people to pay attention and more lives could be saved. It’s really about getting out there now for me and educating the youth on our choices and the fact that life is hard. The stats are now, I believe one in three or one in four people in Canada is going to battle a mental illness, and it’s about the same for substance abuse. We all don’t have to look very far in our circles and our families, in our friends to see that we know people who fall in this category, and we can all do better to support them so that they feel confident enough to come forward and ask for help. It took me 30 years. But the moment that I did it, it felt like the world just was lifted off my shoulder. It didn’t mean that I was cured and that my life became roses and rainbows and all that.

[00:22:00.910] – Speaker 1
But at the end of the day, I know today that I’m not alone and that there’s many people in this world who can relate to me, and they have the same lived experience as I have. I found a lot of value in that. So that’s a very condensed aversion. But that’s the long and the short of it is I felt like nobody could understand me, nobody could help me. And boy, was I wrong?

[00:22:24.960] – Speaker 2
Well, thank you so much for sharing with that. When you go through life experiencing being trauma like this on any level and you’ve carried it for so long, I know there is so much healing in being able to face it and talk about it. But it’s another thing to continue to talk about it over and over again in a public setting. We hold that, you sharing that story today with a little privilege. And thanks for being open and honest in sharing that. Because I know there’s a lot of people listening that have probably never talked about childhood trauma on varying degrees and have never gone through it. And so when you hear other people talk about it, it gives courage for others to keep moving forward in this story. And there’s so much to unpack from your story. And we’re going to try to do that a little bit to help parents navigate, even if their kids are not in hockey, just what it means to carry some of this stuff. And we often look at the behavioral things, like you talked about struggling with mental illness and substance abuse. And We do have to often go back to, how do we get kids to talk about what they’re going through?

[00:23:35.720] – Speaker 2
Because the world is changing a little bit, but there’s still a lot of people suffering in silence. And so you’ve committed your life a lot to helping people have these conversations. So we’re going to unpack that a little bit. And so I know you credit the game in the community as being a tremendous support now, particularly during your recovery. But you also felt, as you said, you You shouldn’t be really honest with your struggles and mental health and addiction as a young player. And there’s many reasons for that, but I’m sure partially for a fear of what it means to your place in the team and what goes around being part of a team like that. I was reading in a 2022 study from researchers at the University of British Columbia who studied the culture of silence among pro-hockey players and determined that no matter what personal issues they were going through, many kept their struggles to themselves despite the resources available because they were afraid it would get back to the team or even out to the media. Did you feel that? Talk to us about what were some of the pressures to keep quiet?

[00:24:42.650] – Speaker 1
Yeah. I remember one time I was 17, I was playing in Swift Current, and there was without a doubt in anybody’s mind that I was struggling. I had coaches give me an opportunity, but again, I never felt like I could because As much as you’re on a team in hockey, the competitive nature inside one team’s dressing room is something that you can’t understand until you’ve lived it. And you’re fighting for ice time, you’re fighting for power play, you want to be on the penalty kill. If you get injured or you miss a day because you’re sick, somebody’s filling in. If they fill in and they do well, they might take your place, and now you’re bumped down. On top of that, I was 17, I was still a minor, and they brought in a sports psychologist. At the time, I was suicidal. I was hanging on for dear life, but I was so concerned about, well, I’m a minor, so if I tell this guy what’s really going on with me, he’s going to tell the coach, he’s going to tell my dad, I’m probably going to be out of the lineup. My hockey career is over.

[00:25:51.040] – Speaker 1
At the time, that was all that I cared about. It was like, I can’t let anybody know because then the scouts will find out, the NHL will find out. And I mean, inevitably, that’s what happened anyways. Looking back at it now, I’m like, Well, why if I was 17 and I would have started to get the help that I’m getting now over the last four years and been able to work through this? Also, the support that I’ve received since sharing my story, though it’s a different time, I would still like to believe that people would have been there to support me. But at the time, it just felt like that was not a possibility. And Yeah. I just think for any young mind, hockey player or not, boy, girl, whatever, it’s a real hard world to navigate. And just trying to be accepted by your peers is overwhelming at the best of times. And I just know that I made a lot of choices for myself that ended up really affecting my life based on wanting to fit in, wanting to be part of, and never having the expectation or the idea that it was going to end the way that it did.

[00:27:08.220] – Speaker 1
I like to talk about alcohol a lot because it’s legal, because it’s so ingrained into our culture. But at the end of the day, it’s poison, and it has such an effect on young minds and the things that take place. But I don’t know where I’m going with that. I always like to throw that in there because I’m really trying to break the narrative around alcohol for young people. I remember graduating high school and parents are buying underage kids alcohol. It’s this celebration, and this is how we celebrate. There was never an inclination of like, Hey, this maybe isn’t right, and this is actually poison that we’re drinking and all the things. A lot of my friends who I graduated with and played hockey with also have or had problems similar to mine. But where it started was It was fun. It was a party. There were people around. Nobody ever imagines their life turning out the way that mine did. It’s never the end goal. In fact, it was impossible for me. I felt invincible. But I was so… I think where I’m going with this is I was in so much pain on a daily basis that I was just looking for instant gratification to whatever I could find next to make me feel better now without any understanding of consequences et cetera.

[00:28:31.500] – Speaker 1
But yeah, for many years, 30 plus years, I would say, I felt nobody will love or accept the real Brady Leavold. That’s the most beautiful thing about where I’m at today is I have a long ways to go, but I am who I’ve always yearned to be, even as a young boy. I’ve always been generous and helpful. Those things typically are looked upon as not cool, for lack of better term, through school, to be the kind person, to be all the things. I’m really trying to change that narrative where kindness is cool. Treat each other I found real quick that a lot of the people that I didn’t hang out with, let’s say, and I’ve heard lots of stories like this from people, you didn’t talk to them through high school, but 20 years later, they can really impact your life. Maybe they’re the boss somewhere and you’re going in to get a job and didn’t think about how you treated them 20 years ago, right?

[00:29:33.640] – Speaker 2
Yeah, I appreciate you sharing all that. And I think when I was listening, you talked about this desire to fit in, this pressure to keep your place, all these things as deeply as you were struggling in the pain that you’re in, were just barriers for you to actually get the help that you needed at the time. And I do think adding to that, I think we have this, I don’t know if it’s North American or just this human desire at all ages, even at our age, to be perceived as strong. Our culture really, we have to have it all together. And even when we don’t, we’ve got to work hard to get to the other side of that. And there’s this appearance of being put together and strong and capable. And I think we look at mental health and trauma and all that stuff as this weakness in us that we don’t really want to talk about because you want your coaches and you want your teammates and you want your friends to think, Yeah, Brad, he’s got it together. He’s strong. And if we do struggle, we often sugarcoat it a little bit and go partially the way there and never- Absolutely.

[00:30:48.350] – Speaker 2
And never go deep. And that’s why I think it’s interesting when you talk about using alcohol as a way to medicate and to navigate your pain, when you’re a teenager getting drunk and drinking, that is a sign of that perception of having it together and doing even though it’s not, right? It’s the opposite. It’s like, oh, look at him. He loves to party. That’s the guy we want to be with when it is so opposite, it’s actually a sign of struggle and weakness, and weakness not being a bad thing in just we don’t have the ability to see beyond the things that are so short term and helping us navigate life that are actually long term, not good for us at the end of the day and actually have a dramatic impact on our well-being. And so I do think that’s part of that, too. And as we talk about hockey, specifically, because that’s the world you’ve been in, and this is parallel to the culture, and I want to draw back to here. Do you think the conversation around mental health and substance abuse has changed inside of hockey? And I’m even thinking about trauma, because we know sexual abuse through the hockey community, which is true in a lot of communities, not just hockey.

[00:32:04.990] – Speaker 2
But because of where hockey is in our community and our culture in Canada, it has hit the news a bit more, right? With people courageously coming forward to talk about some of the trauma they’ve experienced through their upbringing, and particularly in that hockey world. And so it is in the news now. But do you think that it’s easier for kids to talk about now because some of the stigma has moved that?

[00:32:30.640] – Speaker 1
You know what? I think definitely there’s been great strides that have been taken, but I see a lot of stuff catered towards the mindset, right? It’s all about the mindset and getting ready for performing. It always comes back to performing. When you get to junior hockey, it becomes a business. It’s a numbers game. You’re treated like a piece of meat, right? If you’re no good anymore, then they get rid of you. And that was a real hard thing for me to go through. And I think a lot of us that have been through it, where you give your blood, sweat, and tears for an organization, and you feel like you’re a family. And it’s a business, right? I think it’s come a long ways. To your point about the messages that I’ve gotten. I usually get messages that go like this. It’ll be like, Hey, Katie, I really want to thank you for the work you’re doing. You don’t know me. I’ve never told anybody this before, but… And And then it will be any number of things. And these are a lot of hockey players. So though I think the narrative is changed and people want to do better and we’re talking about mental health, there’s a very big difference between a team talking about and having a mindset versus actually providing a safe space and allowing those people to feel safe.

[00:33:55.870] – Speaker 1
I don’t think we’re there quite yet. Interesting. Because in the back of our minds, it’s always, if I go into my coach’s office and I tell him that I’m anxious or I got problems back home with my family or whatever it is, then is he going to trust me to put me on the Nice. When we need to win because it’s a results-driven business, it’s a very, very fine line. I do believe that enough is being… We’re talking about it, it’s a buzzword. But when you pull back the curtains and you really dig in, and I ask a lot of young athletes, Do you feel comfortable going to talk to your coach? Do you have somebody to talk to? I would say the overwhelming response is no. I’m not sure what the answer is for that, but what I can say is that having somebody like me who is just brutally honest and vulnerable, again, I don’t have the answers. There’s a lot of other people that have the same story or experience that I have that have a lot of value. I just don’t think enough value is being placed on people with lived experience.

[00:35:01.670] – Speaker 1
And that goes for our game. That goes everywhere because we always want to turn to doctors or psychologists. And don’t get me wrong, they have a part to play as well. But I always thought, and I’ve seen a lot of therapists and doctors and over the years, so many, I can’t even believe it when I think about it. But how many of them actually have been where I’ve been? So it’s like, do you relate with me? Can you relate with me? You might have read something in a textbook. But for someone like me, where I found healing and where I was able to get vulnerable was through hearing stories and talking to people who had been where I’d been. I just wish more of a premium would be placed on people with lived experience. I’ve been turned away by people, not so much anymore, but a couple of years ago by Hockey Hemsworth. It’s like, Well, you don’t have any letters beside your name, so you’re not going to talk to our players. And it’s like, What? I get it, but I also don’t get it. We need to, whether it’s hockey or or anywhere.

[00:36:00.730] – Speaker 1
We need to put a premium on lived experience and the people who want to share their experience to help others. Because time and time again, I’ve seen it where vulnerability is strength. One person can really change the world by just being honest and sharing their story. And that’s what I’ve seen through the work that I’ve done. But yeah, I think we’re in a much better place than we were 2004, 2005, when I was breaking into junior hockey because, hey, at least we’re talking about it, right? We weren’t talking about it before. So the fact that it’s even on the table is a great start. But the understanding of the realm is something that I don’t believe any one person fully understands. I just wish people would be more open, especially the people that are making the big decisions from the government organizations to the leaders of league, whatever it is, school boards, principals, the thing. We need to allow real stories in. This is where change happens when people can see something, feel something, and know the truth about something. This is what can happen. This is where people are at. This is where you can go for help.

[00:37:12.240] – Speaker 1
All those things. We need to hear the real lived experience. That, for me, is paramount at the top of the mountain here, or maybe at the bottom of the mountain when we start to climb it is get people with lived experience who are willing to share their story because there’s so much power on that, and we need to place a way higher value on that.

[00:37:32.520] – Speaker 2
I just want to go into that because as you were talking, it struck me. It was really interesting when you were saying, when you’re wrestling through this in a culture like hockey, or like you said, any other environment or world, it’s easy for the person going through it to be perceived as or the help’s coming so that you can just get back out on the ice and be a better hockey player, right? Rather than, I’m helping you because I see you and I want you to be well. At the end of the day, there was this connection there. That’s what I was hearing you say, and it stuck to me to go that I wonder how many kids that’s the perception of whoever’s entering in to help. You’re really struggling in school and you’re ready to drop out. And you start to talk about your issues, mental health. And it’s, let’s get you help so that you can get better grades. So so that you can be a better hockey player, so that you can… Back to that performing thing, because so much of our culture is built around what we do, and that can get separated subtly from who we are, just in being human and being well and healthy and how we are.

[00:38:49.410] – Speaker 2
And I think that that’s an interesting view into that that I had never really thought of and heard before because you talked about it, just like, yeah, you get help. But a lot of coaches are like, yeah, I need you to get help so that you can actually be better on the power play than you are right now, right? And I don’t think it’s malicious or we just have jobs to do and we have things that we want for other people. And so many of them are good intentions, but it can be separated from this desire. And I think one of the things you talked about is shared experience and being people who are able to enter into someone else’s story who’s been there before. And I think a lot of that is, like I was saying, is actually helping people being seen for who they are and not just the stuff that they can accomplish and do. Exactly. And I think that’s true of a parent entering into a kid’s story or journey or a caring adult, that it isn’t just about getting them to be better at whatever it is they’re navigating or part of in their world, but just actually being seen and being known.

[00:39:55.390] – Speaker 2
Because I think that’s part of the advantage of a shared story, like you said, is different than a counselor or a therapist, you can actually say, I’ve been where you’ve been. I know what that’s like. I see you for those struggles that you’re going through. And I think sometimes as we navigate mental health, it’s less about getting fixed and more about just being known and being seen in the midst of that. Can you speak to that a little bit? You feel that that’s true? How has that been for your story?

[00:40:25.230] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I think it’s 100 % true. Just being seen, being heard, and It can be a huge difference maker. I want to go back to something that I was thinking. I’m sorry, now we can go with that. You talk about lived experience. We talk about parents, right? I wish parents would be more inclined to be honest with their kids about their own lived experience. Through their time in high school. Did you drink? Did you try drugs? Were you in peer pressure situations? I just feel like parents are so scared to give the kids the truth when really that is what they need to hear. There’s this old myth, if you will, that if we talk about things, we’re going to create more of it. If we talk about suicide, we’re going to create more suicide. If we talk about drugs too much, we’re actually going to make people want to go do drugs. I’m telling you, maybe that is true in some cases. We can’t be everything for everybody. But I would say way overwhelmingly more, it is way better to talk about these hard things than to suppress them and wait for crisis to come before we’re going to address any of this stuff.

[00:41:37.270] – Speaker 1
Because that’s what I deal with a lot with family members who have lost a son or daughter, a spouse, a brother, a sister, is It’s always like, I wish we would have done more. I wish we would have. And now they’re left with a hole in their heart in crisis. I just wish parents would be more inclined to share their own lived experience and to have these hard conversations with their kids. Another thing that I want I want to say, which is something I wanted to bring up a few minutes back, was crying. My whole entire life that I can remember, if something happens, whether you get physically hurt as a kid or emotionally hurt. It’s like, You’re okay. You’re okay. Stop crying. It’s okay. You don’t need to cry. And it’s this auto response that is like, If you cry, wipe those tears away. Shut it down. Stand up tall. Suck it up. And that’s the society we live in. But something that I’ve been thinking about a lot is we have these systems. We have systems in our body, many of them, but we have them for a reason. There’s a reason why we cry.

[00:42:46.530] – Speaker 1
There’s a reason why our bodies need to let those feelings and emotions out. But we have all, generally speaking, all been trained to shut that off. Shut that off. So that’s something that I’m really leaning into these days, I cry a lot. I cry more tears of joy than sadness. I can’t even watch a… If you put on extreme makeover Home Edition, I’ll ball my eyes out, for example. And that’s okay. I’m really leaning into that. And I’ll try Trying to learn how to move through that and allow myself to feel emotions and to cry. But because, and I can only speak for me, my whole life, I’ve been trained to shut that off. It’s been extremely hard to to allow myself to feel these emotions. So that’s something that I just wanted to bring up because I want to start talking more about that.

[00:43:36.550] – Speaker 2
Well, then I think that connects back to what I was saying earlier about this perception of having to be strong, right? And in our world, crying is a sign of weakness. It’s like that you’re not doing well, and somehow that isn’t always okay. And I think you and I could probably go into a whole other podcast interview about Helping young people, particularly young boys, be emotional and tap into their emotions. I’m not sure I’m really good at it right now, to be honest as well. But I’m, man, if we can actually tap into that and then moving from our own selves to allowing the kids in our world, the young people, to have space where they can be really, truly honest about what they feel and let those emotions come out if they’re angry or frustrated or sad. I know to me when I think about it, I’m like, sad just sounds like this undesirable emotion, right? And that you should avoid it at all costs. And there is something, I think, therapeutic about being honest about when you are sad and being okay with that. And maybe even sitting in that a little bit.

[00:44:56.840] – Speaker 2
And so, yeah, I do think it does connect back to, and I think probably particularly in that hockey world, when you’re in a dressing room, you got to be strong. That’s part of finding your place on the team. That’s part of being ahead and getting the place that you want. As far as the team. It’s like the strong move forward, right? And the people that have it all together and have figured it out, they’re the ones that are going to move farther, faster. And I don’t know if that’s always true, and at what cost, right? At the end of the day.

[00:45:28.230] – Speaker 1
I mean, I’m only 5’10. In hockey, that’s pretty small, especially when I was playing. But I fought a lot. I fought a lot of guys that were… I even fought a guy that was 6’9 one night, right? And to the point, it’s like people thought I was this tough guy, But then they had no idea that I was going back to my billet house at night and crying myself to sleep. And it’s just two totally different ends of the spectrum where it’s like I’m this warrior on the ice and I’m fighting recklessly, but going home and crying myself to sleep and contemplating not even wanting to be alive anymore and not feeling like I had a space to share that. I really believe that to have that is game-changing. I have that today. But again, it takes time when you’ve been essentially trained to do the opposite of something. It’s hard to break that. Yeah, I just really try to share honestly now today. So that somebody, if just one person hears this and is like, You know what? I feel confident enough today to tell somebody about what happened or what I’m going through, then I truly believe everything that I’ve gone through was worth it.

[00:46:50.070] – Speaker 1
I wouldn’t want to go back through it again because I know I wouldn’t survive it, but there’s a reason for it. I will never stop sharing my story and educating myself on these topics so that I can just continually help people. And I just wish everybody had this mentality where we don’t need to save the world, but you don’t need to leave your house. But if you leave your house today and you’re listening to this, I just want you to pay attention where you are. I guarantee you an opportunity will present itself where you can help somebody. It could even just be opening the door for somebody smiling and saying, Have a nice day. That’s how small of a of a moment it can be, or there could be somebody really in need. But how many people just put their heads down or turn the other way or just drive by or whatever, I can’t do that. If someone’s broken down on the highway or someone’s walking on the highway or there’s a homeless person, I’m pulling over every time. I’m not saying everybody has to do that. But if we just lived in a place where we were more willing to help somebody without any expectation of getting anything in I truly believe this world would be a way better place.

[00:48:02.790] – Speaker 2
Yeah. Well, I think you’re bang on with that. We talked about a bunch of things, and I maybe want to just wrap up focusing with this because you’ve had so many really positive of encouraging nuggets for us, including just even that last one. I think there’s people probably listening going, Yeah, if I left my house today, how am I focused on other people and helping them? So let me ask you this question, okay? So let’s assume that we’ve got adults listening. And let’s say that… Because I was intrigued by your story where you’re like, when you were 17, I can’t remember what you were saying, but you’re like, you were struggling. People would have known it, right? The alcohol abuse, the other stuff. It wasn’t like it was this massive secret. So there was some red flags going on. And there are probably adults around the… You’re like, Man, is Brady okay? So let’s go to the idea of there’s parents listening to that that are going, I wonder if there’s some warning signs that I’m seeing that are out there. And my child, the kid that I care about, the kid on my team, the kid in my classroom, whatever that looks like, they might need to talk.

[00:49:16.500] – Speaker 2
I think there’s probably something they need to talk about. What can we do as caring adults to help kids move to that next step of getting help? Because you’ve been there, what would What have made it easier for you to be able to talk sooner, to get the help you needed earlier?

[00:49:37.060] – Speaker 1
The number one thing that I say to parents, especially, is you know your kid. If you recognize or you think something may be off or something might be going on and you feel it, lean into that. Don’t just ask a question, and then they’re going to tell you they’re fine. Be like, Okay. But if you know, dig in, and I’ll go back to the lived experience. And again, I don’t have all the answers. But what I’ve seen time and time again is getting other people to come out of their shell starts by somebody leading the way. So if you’ve gone through, you can share your own experience, and that can often break down walls as a barrier for entry for conversations, because now they don’t feel like they’re sitting there being judged nudged because you’ve now put yourself in a place where it’s like you’re on the same field, same level playing field. And for me, that is just, again, paramount, is sharing that lived experience, trying to level with the person, but just really making them feel safe. And that’s what vulnerability does. That’s what I’ve seen. People, like I said, message me on the daily.

[00:50:54.830] – Speaker 1
I’ve been inundated with thousands of messages over the last couple of years that Exactly that. You don’t know me, but thank you for what you’re doing. I’ve heard your story, and me too, I’m going through this. So number one, pay attention. If you think something’s off, you’re probably right, and you’re better off airing on this side of caution. And my advice to get through to somebody is try to level with them. Share your own experience, share your own struggles. And parents, just be honest with your kids. That’s really the best policy everywhere we go in life. Honesty is the best policy, and that’s no different when it comes to your kids. But yeah, if you can level with somebody and you can make them feel safe and not judged and all those things, then that’s where you’re going to start to see vulnerability. And then that’s where you’re going to start to see healing. I always say, too, vulnerability is where healing begins.

[00:51:51.520] – Speaker 2
That’s good. That’s really good. So I maybe just have another quick question because I know this idea we talked about being strong and moving forward. And we’ve talked a lot on this podcast about the tension between pushing kids to Excel and wanting the best for them and then putting too much pressure on them that creates this environment of I can’t fail, right? And I’m sure in the hockey world, that’s a big deal. I know a lot of friends and people who put their kids in minor hockey, right? And they have really good intentions, but there becomes this subtle pressure of you’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be good. You’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to get to the next level. What would you say to a parent who’s got their kid in minor league hockey, and we can transcribe it to anything, about how do they help them be the best they can be without creating too much pressure on them to Excel?

[00:52:46.560] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I think it’s a great question, and one I’m not sure I have all the answers to. But I think from a hockey perspective, I see a lot of it, especially now that I’m coaching. A lot of times parents are trying to live their dreams through their kids, whether it be hockey or their academics. They want their kids to be better than them or to achieve because it’s on some level. I think it feeds parents ego or not all, but some. I would just say, just use hockey as an example. It’s got to be fun. You’re there to support. My dad was pretty good. I actually wish my dad would have pushed me a little bit more. My dad just was like, You don’t want to go? You’re not going? If there was a day where I’m like, I don’t want to go to the rink or whatever when I was a kid, he’s like, Okay, well, I’m going because I’m the coach. See you later. And then I’d cry. He’d do a lap, come back and get me. But It’s a very fine line between being too pushy but also being too passive, because at some level you’re there to be the coach, be the parent, to guide them and lead them.

[00:53:58.650] – Speaker 1
Kids don’t know what’s best for them, even though they believe they do know. But I think it always comes back to make it enjoyable, make it fun, try to be a part of their journey, whatever that looks like, however you can, instead of just barking orders from the sideline. And I don’t mean you have to coach, but just be heavily involved, heavily involved in the conversations. Try to know what’s going on with your kids. Try to get them to open up. Yeah, I don’t know. That’s a really good question, one that I’m going to ponder for the little while to see if I can come up with a better answer. But yeah, it’s hard, right?

[00:54:34.810] – Speaker 2
I think that’s a good example. But that’s where we find our place in these tensions, right? What’s too much, what’s not enough, right? And being involved It’s hard because you want the best for your kid. Because you even said sometimes parents live their own childhood out and live vicariously through kids. But sometimes you just do legitimately want the best for your kids. But that can subtly become experienced pressure. I’ve heard my own daughter say that where it’s like, well, you always want me to get good grades. It’s experienced as this weight, right? Trying to please your parents and do what they want. You’re like, that’s true, but I don’t want it to be an overwhelming pressure for you. And so that’s one of the things we navigate as parents or people that work with kids is what’s too much, what’s not enough? And I do think it is a bit of a push and pull, right? I don’t think there is a concrete answer of if you do these three things exactly this way, you will hover that line perfectly. I think there’s a bit of a trial and error.

[00:55:40.920] – Speaker 1
Yeah, and some kids need more, some kids need less. Everyone’s a little bit different, but it all comes back to as a parent, generally speaking, you know your kid best. And if you feel you don’t know them best, then I suggest you get to know them a little bit better. You spend a lot of time with them. I do believe in our era, I don’t know how old you are, but I’m in 87 birth year. I do believe the way of parenting has changed. Some good, maybe not so good. But I do believe that the parent-child relationship, generally speaking, is in a much better place today where years ago it was just like, I don’t know. Kids didn’t… There wasn’t really that, from what I see, that communication and that openness and talking about life and talking about… It was just all from my experience, superficial stuff. I always felt like I was going to disappoint my dad if he knew what was going on with me or whatever. Come to find out, that’s not the case. He would have been right there. But I don’t know. I think a lot of kids worry about letting their parents down, especially if they’re in hockey or dance or they play an instrument.

[00:56:53.010] – Speaker 1
That comes at a cost, right? And kids know that oftentimes parents are like, Do you know how much money I’m spending on this and that? That doesn’t help, right? That just adds more pressure. And then they’re just going to try to do whatever they can to please you. And at the end of the day, as a parent, it shouldn’t be about us. It should be about the kids. Just think of what’s best for your kids and put yourself in their situation. If you’re a parent right now, put yourself in your kid’s situation. How would you want to be treated? How would you want this situation to be handled? I really believe that all of us have way more answers inside of us than we even realize And I think we’re just so distracted more now than ever with cell phones and social media and everything. But if you’re able to just sit back, at least for me, sit back, take inventory, maybe do a little meditation, some breathing. Maybe it’s not for everybody. But for me, I found a lot of the answers that I’m looking for on the hard questions, they’re in me. I don’t need to read about it on Google.

[00:57:50.570] – Speaker 1
I just need to trust my intuition. And that’s something that I’m trying to lean more into. But I think there’s so much more to that than anybody realizes is. So just my two cents on it.

[00:58:03.820] – Speaker 2
Well, we’ve come to the end of the conversation. I did want to say thank you, Katie, for sharing what you did today and for having the courage in the conversation today to be open and vulnerable. You’re practicing what you’re preaching. And I am inspired and really encouraged from the work that you do through Puck Support in your podcast and other things. And I think it’s a pretty inspiring story when you’ve navigated a lot of pain and challenge in your life and are turning that into using it for good and helping other people who are walking through the same, similar, but different things that you are. And yeah, it’s a pretty inspiring and worthwhile life endeavor. So thanks for doing what you do. And everyone can find your info that we’ve shared in the bio and can find you and what you’re doing. And all the best to you as you continue to make a difference in the lives of young people and young athletes. So thanks for the conversation today.

[00:59:04.600] – Speaker 1
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Thanks for the work you guys are doing. I look forward to hitting the water slides here in a few months at Ms. Coker Woods.

[00:59:12.470] – Speaker 2
That’s our goal for the summer, to get you down that water slide.

[00:59:14.940] – Speaker 1
Awesome. Looking forward to it.

[00:59:16.140] – Speaker 2
Thanks, Brady. You bet.

[00:59:17.040] – Speaker 1
Thank you.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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