Five More Minutes

By Dan Bauer

It begins very early in your life; that never ending desire for five more minutes. Finding more time is a quest we continue throughout our entire life. As a toddler we desperately seek to delay bed time and in turn extend play time. When your mother’s voice cut through the perfect bliss of an after dinner neighborhood game stretching into the darkness, we desperately needed five more minutes. Our insatiable appetite to extend our play time is an innate part of our core.

It is that early play that provides the fun that leads to fall in love with the game. For those fortunate enough to find that elusive passion we couldn’t get out to practice early enough and stayed as late as they would let us. Later on when the scoreboard was on, those games where we ran out of time or that final contest that ended a dream and a chapter of your athletic career, we pleaded for more time. As athletes we reluctantly learn to live by the game clock that provides us no room for negotiation. 

When we bargained for more time as kids it was often after a full day of play. Unlike the current model of structured practice that can at times be methodical and boring for kids, play was exactly what we wanted it to be, because there was no one there to tell us what to do.  It is the unstructured experience that is so difficult to find today. It is the proverbial field of dreams where the seeds of passion and love for the game are planted and allowed to grow unfettered. From this fertile playground emerged not only sport’s greatest legends, but the everyday gym and rink rats that can’t give up the game they love.

I can remember leaving school , 8th period study hall, so I could get to practice early. During my senior year I had the unique opportunity to meet Mickey Mantle in person. When I discovered it conflicted with hockey practice, I passed and hit the ice. A year out of high school, when my girlfriend, still a senior was elected Winter Fest Queen, I went to a men’s league game instead. Needless to say that relationship did not last! The list of events that caused me to miss hockey practice was non-existent. When my average at best skills began to deteriorate, coaching became the five more minutes I couldn’t live without. I am still watching that clock.

Commitment is a word we use often as coaches. It is something we expect, and demand from our athletes. I never saw my desire to practice and play as a commitment. It was where I wanted to be, because I loved it and because I wanted to improve. I shot baskets in the slush of spring, played football in the dead of winter and skated after practice on the rink I shoveled on the lake. My only commitment was to the enjoyment each sport brought to me.

It was a love of the game that grew from a childhood of unrestricted and unsupervised play. It was a simpler time with few distractions. If we could find a way back there, and we can’t, I wonder how many more committed athletes we could produce. The five more minute generation has been largely replaced by the one hour athlete. The structure of youth sports has replaced the uninhibited joy of neighborhood play. The sundial we used to mark our play time is now a Google calendar filled with ridged reminders and non-existent free time.

As the winter sports season sporadically begins with all the unpredictability of a lotto drawing, and teams deal with delays and complete cancelations, five more minutes seems pretty insignificant. We were stunned last March when winter sports were shut down just days and weeks from completion. Broken hearts begged for more time as they watched their dreams executed with the precision and swiftness of a guillotine. Little did we know then that the pandemic would steal away entire seasons as we waded through the spring, summer and fall. Most high school sports became a casualty and those that survived looked very different. The window for high school sports is finite and comes with an hourglass that doesn’t pause for cancelations or delays.

Most teenagers see time as virtually endless. It is one of the great perspectives of youth, the fictional guarantee of tomorrow. It’s a bullet-proof mentality that you will be here for five more minutes and at least five or more decades. Your to-do list is extensive and your sense of urgency non-existent. The pandemic changed that for most of us. It stole away opportunities and put us in a time warp unlike anything we have seen. For many of our athletes it was a type of adversity they had never experienced. The generation that thrives on doing it all, was suddenly forced to accept a limited menu. Their world was tipped upside down and for the first time many realized they actually missed going to school. They longed for way more than five more minutes.

Those of us who are back playing are experiencing firsthand the value of athletics in this time of enforced isolation. We have been given the gift of experiencing life without something we love, without losing it permanently. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder and with that new perspective our players may learn early in life the valuable lesson of appreciating today and not taking tomorrow for granted. We often learn that too late. When we waste time wishing for more time that is no longer possible, we sacrifice our ability to appreciate the moments at hand.

None of us know when that final five minutes will tick off our own personal game clock. When we can learn to live every day of our life like we do those five more minutes, that is when we can truly stop watching the clock and appreciate those things we love to do.

Father time is undefeated but the journey he provides is worth every second.

Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at drbauer13@gmail.com

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