Professional sports are something many people dream of doing. Being able to be paid to play a game that you love more than mothers love using the ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed line’, is a serious life goal for many.
As much as playing professional sports for a living is a dream for many, it’s not all sunshine, rainbows and solar powered killing unicorns. Professional sports are a business. And we all know business has some not nice parts that go with it. It’s just how the condom fits.
Every pro sport will have different quirks and aspects that affect the business part of it. Team sports differ in a business aspect compared to individual professional sports. Despite the differences amongst each professional team sport, the one thing that they all share is that they are all results driven. Have shit results and a team that basically resembles a kids team playing against a bunch of adults, will cause the business to be affected in many ways. Which in result will cause changes to be made to the team.
As fans and non professional athletes we get caught up in just the results and wanting our team to improve regardless if they’re in the upper echelon of the standings or in the shit house. With our focus mainly on that, we forget the human side of the business. We forget that these people are humans just like us, that they have lives outside the sport, they have families and they have local kebab shops that will be very upsetting not live in the delivery area of anymore. It’s a nature of the sporting business that isn’t easy to grasp unless you’ve been in that situation.
To understand what it’s like to be on the end of the changes to a professional sports team, I caught up with Vaughn Clouston. Vaughn is a professional ice hockey player currently playing for the Columbus River Dragons in the FPHL, whom I worked with this past summer at camp in the States. Vaughn was recently on the end of this type of change, getting traded from his then team Mentor Ice Breakers to the River Dragons, a team 830 miles away.
Vaughn, I would just like to start off with the old classic question that every sports journalist asks every time a trade goes down, were you shocked by the trade? Especially with Mentor playing some pretty good hockey at the time?
I had just walked into practice 8am Monday morning when I heard the news about the trade. My Captain, Nate Farrington, called me aside and explained to me that the GM had traded me the night before and that he was sorry and was going miss me. At first I didn’t know who I got traded to, and I was upset because I had been with Mentor since their first days of operation, being part of the inaugural team. Mentor had become home away from home for me with the small amount, but diehard fans we had, and especially the boys on the team. But trades are a part of pro sports and when I saw Coach he told me I was traded to Columbus, GA. When I heard that I was excited because the River Dragons have an amazing facility, fan base, boosters, and a community that really supports the team. And not to mention it’s in the south and that means warm weather.
The moment the bombshell was dropped, what was the first thing that come to your mind?
First thing I thought was warm weather and 3000 fans a night is going to be awesome!
You went from a team who were middle of the pack in the to a team in the bottom standings of the entire league. Did that sting a little bit or make you more motivated to help your new team right the ship, and set sail to higher up in the standings?
The standings of the teams didn’t affect how I felt at all. I was excited to join the River Dragons because of what I mentioned before. And also the GM (Scott Brand) made himself busy making 3 or 4 other trades within the same 7 days as mine to acquire a lot of upfront fire power in Anton Lennardsson, Cam Dimmit, and Parker Moskal. Cam and I played together in college and I was excited to play with him again, and I knew what Anton could bring to the lineup with his veteran presence. So it was clear to me that the team was heading in the correct direction and would have the tools to do it fast once we all met together as a new team in the new year.
As someone who will never play professionally and make money from playing a sport, I will never experience what it’s like getting traded. And as a fan we tend to not really think about the human side of sport too much, that the players we are watching are humans just like us with lives that are being affected by the business side of a team sport. What is the one thing that fans should think about more when someone like yourself is having to majorly alter their lives, packing up and moving miles away to an unknown land?
This is a tough question.
For me personally it’s not too hard to pack up and move around a lot. My roots aren’t too deep into any community and I have my Mom, Grandma, and Uncle supporting me every way they can while I’m away. However I know some guys in the minors have girlfriends, wives, and some even have kids, and when they get traded it can be hard not only on them but their spouses and children. Hopefully the team they are going to have accommodations for their family but a lot don’t and they have to leave their family’s for 6-7 months a year. That and the long drives that can happen. Not only with trades but also call ups to higher leagues. I’m lucky being in Georgia that it’s close to the league that calls up the most guys from my league, the SPHL, but many teams in my league are in the North and sometimes guys have to drive 12, 15, or even 20+ hours and then they get a 2-5 day window to impress the coaches. If they don’t, they get sent back on that long drive they just completed.
As you are aware from spending a summer with me, you know high anxiety is very prominent in my everyday life. When you get traded and have to move what is the biggest anxieties that come with the move?
I know a lot of players that suffer from anxiety, myself included, and it can be very difficult to adjust to a new locker room with all the new and different personalities and dynamics of the room. You’re worried if the boys will accept you, or see you as a threat to their job on the team. They also might not like you just for the fact that you got traded for somebody they really liked on the team. On top of a new team you also have a new coaching staff that you have to not only get to know, but also get them to like you; it can be nerve racking meeting a new Coach because he literally controls your career with the decisions he makes. I was very lucky with Columbus having one of the best coaches in pro hockey, Jerome ‘Boom Boom’ Bechard; he has a long history of playing and coaching pro hockey and really understands what we’re going through as players and helps as much as he can – most of the time he goes above and beyond.
With you only being in Columbus, Georgia for a few weeks how do you feel the adjustment has gone so far and what are the biggest changes you have had to face?
Joining Columbus has been great so far. The boys really made it easy to feel part of the team right away. I’d say we meshed off the ice but we’re still trying to find our rhythm on the ice together, but like I said before we have all the pieces we need for a playoff run, we just need to put them together and I think we’re almost there.
The biggest changes I had to make is to play a more defensive style of play, which for me is unusual, but I’m adjusting well. The two teams I’ve played for this season have two completely different styles of play. Mentor is more run and gun, while Columbus is more puck possessive.
For a lot of non hockey fans reading and the hockey fans reading who aren’t aware of the FPHL, you aren’t paid a huge amount, especially compared to the NHL and leagues above the Fed, and for the most part have to take up a second job to supplement your income. How has this move affected your finances ?
It’s true the minor leagues don’t pay well, but they provide housing and gear with a meal or two a week. It’s a sacrifice you make to play a sport you love, and it’s not a right to play, it’s a privilege and a honour. We do it because we love the sport, not to get rich. So yeah for me and a lot of others in the league it’s hard on the bank account and some even struggle to get 3 square meals a day. But if you ask any of us “is it worth it?”, we will all day reply “without a doubt”.
I know a lot of guys that had to retire early for one reason or another and it’s one of the hardest choices an athlete has to make because for most of our lives we value ourselves by what we do on the ice or field. Unfortunately a lot of athletes don’t know who they are outside the sport that they have been immersed in their whole lives and that can lead to depression. The sport can be taken from you at any moment, that’s why it’s a HONOUR AND A PRIVILEGE TO PLAY.
Big thanks to Vaughn for this interview. You can follow his career and life on Instagram: vaughn_clouston , Facebook: Vaughn Clouston.
Watch the Columbus River Dragons in action live on YouTube! Also follow their social media. @C_RiverDragons on Twitter, c_riverdragons on Instagram, Columbus River Dragons on Facebook or by visiting their website www.rdragons.com
Swankie – 23, Scotland. Loveable Loser.
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