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How Hockey Helped Me Be Me as a Person With Asperger's

Hi, my name is Richard Coffey and I’m a Leafaholic. What I mean by that is I live and breathe the Toronto Maple Leafs, therefore I live and breathe hockey. My friends call me a sports encyclopedia because I can tell you any hockey, baseball and basketball stat/fact you ask. So I want to take a couple of minutes to tell you why I got so invested in the Leafs and what I’ve learned from making sports knowledge my life.

You see, I have Asperger’s syndrome. What that means for me is I often struggle with social interactions or in understanding things like body language, sarcasm or subtle things most other people do. So, growing up I struggled when it came to making friends because I didn’t understand how to start and have conversations, or how to play with others or anything like that.

All that changed one day about eight or nine years ago. I was watching TV with my older brothers and my dad when “Sports Center” came on. I had seen the occasional hockey game but I hadn’t gotten into sports that much. But that day, I watched the anchors of “Sports Center” set up a clash between the Canadians and Leafs excitedly, making this seem like the key game of the regular season (it was mid-January). I was instantly hooked.

When I went to school that week, I started listening to people’s conversations whenever they talked about sports. I would hear things like, “Are you gonna watch that (fill in random regular season game)? It’s gonna be epic!” And there it was, my ticket to making friends. I learned I could walk up to someone who liked hockey and say, “Hey are the Leafs gonna make the playoffs?” and bam! I had a conversation starter. This proved to work wonders for me as I started my dive into understanding sports, I started to pick up new friends because they were impressed by the knowledge I had.

I’ve managed to make hockey become my entire life. I can’t play for the life of me, but I spend a lot of time studying plays and working to understand hockey. Couple that with my new job as a play-by-play man on “Rogerstv Toronto” and I’ve made hockey and the Maple Leafs my whole world (I’m wearing a Maple Leafs sweatshirt whilst writing this).

Why would I choose the Leafs as my team? Why not the Hawks or the Pens (Crosby had just started)? I’ve thought about this, and I think it really starts to make sense now, but for the longest time the Leafs were a team that struggled with the right way to do things. For years, it has been a bad trade after a bad signing after a missed opportunity. The point is, the Leafs are sort of like me, struggling to figure out the right way to get by in the world and by chance they found that lucky break that helped them find their path. For the Leafs it was Auston Matthews, and for me, well, the Leafs! I like to think I found the team I related to the most, and that’s why I stuck with them through the last nine to 10 years.

What the Toronto Maple Leafs did for me, what Leafs Nation did for me, is something incredible. In this community, I found my place. I was no longer the guy who was different. I wasn’t the little kid in love with the weather network or the kid who randomly cried whenever he got slightly upset (I don’t do that anymore). I was the voice of understanding, I was the one who was respected because I knew what I was talking about. The Toronto Maple Leafs gave me a self-worth I never knew I possessed.

Find your passion, find whatever inspires you to look further than the surface. Find what excites you and invigorates you to try and do something greater. Because when you find that passion, you find that purpose, and you find communities you connect with. These communities can help you, listen to you, help nurture your passion whether it be hockey or something else. Then it won’t matter whether you’re different or whether you see yourself as different because you will have others who help you and support you in whatever you believe in. Find what you’re passionate about and don’t be afraid to follow that passion. I wasn’t afraid to follow my passion for the Leafs, and it truly changed my life for the better.

If you would like to watch my TEDx Talk I did in October 2016 about my experience with Asperger’s you can check that out here.

A version of this originally post appeared on the Centre of Leafs Nation blog.

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Thinkstock image by ronniechua

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