The greatest gift a parent can give a child is a skill, and a belief in their own potential to achieve their dreams.
That’s the view of retired educator and author Karl Subban – and he should know.
Subban is the father of P.K. Subban, NHL hockey player formerly with the Montreal Canadiens, now playing for the Nashville Predators.
Two other sons have also been drafted by the NHL – Jordan, recently signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and playing for the Toronto Marlies, and Malcolm, goalie for the new Vegas Golden Knights.
Subban is an unlikely hockey dad.
He came to Canada from Jamaica at the age of 12, and Jamaica, he admitted, “does not produce hockey players.”
In fact, when his family moved to Sudbury, he said, his first idea was to stay indoors.
“I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t see any kids that looked like me. I wanted to go back to Jamaica, to see my friends, to play marbles and play cricket,” he said.
Then, during that first Canadian winter, something special happened. A neighbour’s son invited the new kid on the block to play hockey.
Subban learned to skate, he found new friends, and he found a new dream: “I wanted to be Ken Dryden.”
And although he eventually gave up on the dream of being a pro hockey player, he discovered he loved children, loved to teach, and that dreams are important.
Karl Subban was the special guest at Holy Trinity Catholic High School on Feb. 28, and at St. Teresa of Calcutta Elementary School, where he spoke to students in Grades 3 through 8 and shared his story as part of Black History Month.
When Subban retired from his position as a principal with the Toronto District School Board in 2013, at the age of 55, he had three goals: to spend time with his grandchildren and teach them to skate; to write a book, explaining the ideas behind Team Subban (How We Did It, The Subban Plan for Success); and finally, to become an inspirational rather than motivational speaker.
“It’s easier to motivate than to inspire,” Subban said.
Motivation is a push. “I never met a child who couldn’t use a little bit of pushing, but if you want to make a difference in the long term, you need to inspire," he said. "I want to speak in such a way, it makes a difference in the long term.”
Having discovered Canada through ice hockey, Subban insisted on introducing his own children to skating, almost as soon as they could stand – at the age of 2 1/2. At the time, his two daughters didn’t have the option of women’s ice hockey, but they did play a key role in teaching all three of his sons to skate.
“Good things happen when children have fun and while they’re participating,” Subban said. “Children learn from the people who love them, and the people they love.”
He urged parents, teachers and students to be aware of the potential inside every individual.
“Each and every one of you comes with beauty inside. That’s the beauty inside that I refer to as potential,” he said at St. Teresa. “You are born with this gift I call potential. When you develop it, it becomes your gift to the world. Potential is like a suitcase or a backpack, that has your skills, your abilities, your talents.”
But there's more to potential. There's the dream, belief and action, Subban said.
“Maybe you can’t do it right now but if you believe in yourself, and do the right things, you can,” he said. “The first thing is having the dream. The second part is believing. The third is making your dream actionable. Dream, belief, action… You have inside you the patience, the passion and the strength to be better.”
He shared a story of the day when son P.K., at the age of nine, came back from hockey practice without his usual spark. The reason? His coach had told him, “You’ll never make it in hockey. You’ll never go as far as I did.”
Subban said, “Did the coach’s words stop P.K.? No.” His son had a dream, believed in himself, and worked to reach his goals.
“Our Team Subban story started with a dream,” he said. “Dreams are big things. You just don’t know what you’re capable of accomplishing.”
That’s the message he shared with his sons.
“It’s OK to have doubts… You’re going to face adversity. You’re going to face challenges,” Subban told the students. “You need to be a snowplow. When people say things that are hurtful, you need to push it aside.”
Potential allows everyone to learn, to grow, to become more, to do more, to be more, and to persevere, he said.
“Potential was your gift at birth,” Subban added, but it takes belief and action – “There are four Ts in action: time, tasks, training and teamwork” – to achieve that potential.
“Excellence doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over time.”
He also had a special message for educators: “Be a difference-maker, not a teacher… Teaching is a calling. Who’s calling us? The children – for our love and support.”
This is a hard time to be a kid, Subban said.
“Our teenagers and adolescents are facing so many challenges these days,” with the No. 1 challenge no longer bullying, but “anxiety and depression.”
There is a solution, he said: “Believe in your potential. That’s my main message.”