When the Edmonton SuperHEROS chapter needed to find someone to lead the program this upcoming season, there wasn’t any question throughout the community on who it should be. Their decision was unanimous. The players needed someone who is dependable and compassionate, someone who is organized and a true team player. Luckily, they didn’t have to look very far.
Already with the HEROS team for three years, Zach Sokolan had started out as an on-ice volunteer with the Edmonton chapter before being selected to lead the on-ice charge as the new Lead Volunteer Mentor.
“It was actually really nice, just really accepting,” Zach said of his first practice leading the program. “It was super exciting to see how the volunteers helped out, were able to step up and follow along. So, then we started introducing more structure and then it kind of just melded together, like I could kind of step back and direct everybody.”
According to his peers, Zach’s coaching style is quietly taking charge on the ice and making sure the plan for the day is executed and that all the players are cared for, while still having fun. He receives tremendous respect from the other coaches, and accolades from HEROS families. He’s genuine and compassionate when it comes to the players, and effortlessly leads with his heart.
It was during the middle of his university studies around second year when Zach first found HEROS through his friends who had come across an Instagram story from HEROS. According to Zach, HEROS was looking for volunteers to come help out by simply playing hockey with some young people in the community.
“I hadn’t played hockey in years, I grew up playing hockey and just kind of missed it,” said Zach. “So, I reached out and took up the opportunity and then started to go back to help kids learn how to play hockey and teach them the kind of stuff that I learned when I grew up.”
Zach fondly remembers his first season as a HEROS volunteer mentor consisting of a free skating, informal approach. The focus was about getting the players out onto the ice, spending time with them and building positive relationships with each and every player.
“When I first started,” said Zach, “it was just as a regular assistant coach. I started off just as another coach going in and kind of following what we had. We didn’t really have many plans at that time. It was kind of just to go on the ice and spend time with the players. The first role is really just being a coach, being there for the kids, helping them learn to skate and just be one-on-one with them,” Zach explained.
At the start the players seemed to have a “love/hate relationship” for the ice.
“You’d see them come in,” said Zach. “They’d either sit down and they wouldn’t want to do anything. Some kids loved it [being on the ice], some kids hated it. And then just kind seeing how they grew. Some of them would come in and they wouldn’t speak. They would have their heads down. They wouldn’t talk. They wouldn’t interact a lot with everybody.”
Zach notes that the team has come such a long way, noticing that players are continuing to grow and develop through the game and that there seems to be even more excitement on the players’ faces each time they step into the rink. Throughout Zach’s time spent with SuperHEROS, one of his favourite memories is watching the players evolve, not only in their hockey skills but also in their personal development and confidence.
“This is like night and day now,” said Zach. “We have more structure now, we’ve introduced ourselves. They [the players] are excited to come, they wake up early to come. We have a kid that wouldn’t speak. He would always walk in with his head down and now he always waves, says hi, says goodbye, thanks us, and is involved in actually helping out to coach and helping things run smoothly.”
A true leader, Zach explained it really is a team effort that ensures an enjoyable and successful practice and an overall fantastic season. There isn’t a hierarchy and despite the role change, all the other mentors have an equal role in decision making and running practices. That sense of teamwork and ongoing communication is a staple in how the program is executed in Edmonton.
“I think the thing that makes me the most excited is everybody that’s involved,” said Zach. “I could never do it without the volunteers, the coaches, and the parents helping out and them just allowing their kids to come in and be there. Also, one of the things that gets me really excited, is just like, the kids. You’re into the stories hearing how their summers went how their school is going, what their families are doing, life changes and really getting to know them – it’s a really nice aspect having that connection.”
As the upcoming season arrives, Zach and the rest of the Edmonton SuperHEROS family are all set to welcome both new and returning faces. It’ll be a season to remember filled with caring and dedicated staff, volunteers, partners, and parents who, day in and day out, embody the traits we seek to instill in our players and communities.
“At the end of it, the players are really just kids,” said Zach. “We’re here for the sport but we’re also here to influence their lives and to help them grow as people. We can only get so far on ice, but seeing how much growth they have, like 10 years down the line, they might not remember how they did, passing and all that stuff. But they’ll remember their patience, they remember what got them there. How long it took. Even if they’re having a bad day if we can just sit with them, we can absolutely make their day and just have them go home really happy and excited to come back next week.”
Zach, we’re thrilled to have our players learning from you again this season. Thank you for all your hard work and for being a hero for our HEROS!
You can join Zach and a team of over 200 mentors across Canada by volunteering for your local HEROS or SuperHEROS chapter today. Click here to learn how.