I would like to thank @ for his contribution to the Centre of Leafs Nation blog. Rich’s story is inspirational! I can’t thank him enough for sharing his story with all of us.
Hi my name is Richard Coffey and I am a Leafaholic. What I mean by that is I live, and breathe the Toronto Maple Leafs and I live and breathe hockey. My friends call me a sports encyclopedia because I could tell you any hockey, baseball, basketball, stat/fact you could think of. Now this isn’t some piece about why I’m so awesome, what I wanted to do is to take a couple minutes to tell you why I got so invested in the Leafs and what I have learned from making sports knowledge my life.
You see, I have Asperger’s Syndrome. What that essentially means is that often I struggle to properly socially communicate in understanding things like body language, sarcasm or subtle things you might not realize you already understanding because for most people you just 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 8 or 9 years ago, I was watching TV with my older brothers and my dad and Sports Centre came on. Now 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 Centre set up a clash between the Canadiens and Leafs on a Saturday night so excitedly, making this seem like the key game of the regular season (it was mid-January) that I was instantly hooked. That also got me thinking though, when I went to school that week I started listening in to people’s conversations whenever they started talking about sports and I would here the same things. “Are you gonna watch that (fill in random regular season game)? It is gonna be epic!” And there it was, that was my ticket to making friends. I learned that I could go up to someone who liked hockey and just go “hey are the Leafs gonna make the playoffs?” and bam! I have 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 have managed to make hockey become my entire life. I constantly and studying plays trying to learn and understand. (I can’t play for the life of me) but I spend so much time working to understand hockey. Couple that with my recently begun job as a play-by-play man on Rogerstv Toronto and I have made hockey and the Maple Leafs my whole world (I’m wearing a Maple Leafs sweatshirt whilst writing this)
Now why, you might be asking, would I choose the Leafs as my team? Why not the Hawks or the Pens (Crosby had just started), I’ve thought about this for a while, and I think it really starts to make sense now but the Leafs for the longest time a team that struggled with the right way to do things. For years, it has been bad trade after bad signing after missed opportunity. Remember the only playoffs I’ve seen was Boston 2013 (Also known as the night that occasionally is in my nightmares). The point is though the Leafs are sort of like me, struggling to figure out the right way to get by in the world but by chance they found that lucky break (the Leafs Auston Matthews, and me well “The Leafs”) that helps them find their path. I like to think that I found the team that I related to the most and that’s why I stuck with them through all the shit of the last 9-10 years.
What the Toronto Maple Leafs did for, what Leafs Nation did for me is something incredible. In this community of who knows how many, whether it be online, or at games or at bars with my dad or simply just talking to people, I found my place. I was no longer the guy that 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 one 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 self-worth that I never knew I possessed, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I have been really surprised with what I have learned as a member of Leafs Nation over the last 9 or so years. Find your passion, find whatever inspires you to look further than the surface, find what excites you invigorates you to try and do something greater. Because when you find that passion, you find that purpose, you find communities that you connect with that help you, that listen to you, that help nurture your passion whether it be hockey or anything else. Then it won’t matter whether your different or whether you just see yourself as different because you will have others there to help you and support you in what ever you believe in. So, I encourage anyone out there, anyone who has taken the time out of your day to read this to find what you are 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
If you would like to contact me