Humans of INKspire

Liam Herbst

For those who are not familiar with you, what is your story?

I’m Liam Herbst, a former OHL goalie and a student at Western University. I grew up in Etobicoke, Ontario, and throughout my childhood I developed a passion for hockey (particularly goaltending). As I progressed into high school, hockey began to play a dominant role in my life. During this time, I was selected in the first round of the OHL draft by the London Knights. Following the draft, I was diagnosed with overuse related injuries to my knees and hips, and required six surgeries throughout the course of a nine-month period. Consequently, I missed the entire 2012–13 season recovering from these surgeries, just hoping I’d be able to play hockey again. Up to that point, I’d never had any real injuries before. As such, the surgeries were extremely difficult to cope with. I went from being the highest-rated goalie in Canada for my age group to someone who looked like they were never going to play hockey again, all in the matter of two weeks.

Throughout my recovery, I endured a lot of pain from both the injury and the drastic transition. Despite the circumstances, I was able to persevere and return to the OHL following my recovery. Upon my return, I had to cope with the reality that my play was limited in some ways due to my injury, but my return was nevertheless fairly successful. My first full season back went really well in particular. I was selected to play in the Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects Game and was forecasted to be selected in the 2015 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Unfortunately, I was overlooked and fell undrafted. However, I was able to make it to the San Jose Sharks Training Camp where I performed very well. I went to these Camps wholeheartedly determined to sign an NHL contract, But I was eventually taken aside by the goalie coach and the head scout, who despite being impressed with my play, informed me that they had no contract room and that I was being sent back to the OHL.

This was a crushing moment, as my determination and drive following my surgeries was geared towards signing an NHL contract, and playing in the NHL had been a lifelong dream for me. My entire life up to that point, almost exclusively dedicated to making this dream a reality. Because of this, I’d became a very one-dimensional person, lacking in other aspects of my life. I’d only had a half-hearted commitment towards my academics, even though I’d been a bright kid. I even noticed that in some situations, I was not as good of a friend or family member to those around me because of my extreme focus on succeeding in hockey. What I did not realize at the time, was that becoming a professional hockey player involves a variety of factors, many of which one has no control over. Once my career took a turn for the worse following the injury, it was hard to maintain a positive attitude because I partly derived my self-worth from hockey. This unhealthy mindset ultimately led me into a bout of depression. As such, I began to gradually realize that the extrinsically motivated goal of having a successful hockey career wasn’t the thing I truly wanted the most.

My final year in the OHL was with the Guelph Storm. As part of the Storm, our team did a lot of community outreach initiatives. Over the course of the season, I participated in thirty-five or so community outreach events. This started to open my eyes to the rewarding nature of helping people. As an OHL player, I realized that I had a platform that I could use to have a positive impact. Something as simple as going into an elementary school and reading to first- and second-grade kids, or any of the other ways we volunteered in the community brought me a tremendous amount of joy. I began to shift my focus to growing as a person and having a positive social impact. Once I saw myself as more than a hockey player and began focusing on becoming a more well-rounded person, I was much happier. I can honestly say that not playing in the NHL was the best thing that ever happened to me. If things had worked out differently, I may have never been able to change this perspective of mine.

How did you persevere through the substantial amount of adversity you faced during your hockey career?

From a young age, I was always wholeheartedly determined to become a professional hockey player. This determination allowed me to persevere through the more challenging parts of my rollercoaster-like journey. That isn’t to say that my confidence didn’t waver at times. Once I sustained my injury, I had to make the extremely tough decision whether or not I wanted to continue to play. However, once I made the conscious decision that I wanted to continue playing, I was completely determined to do so. A lot of people had negative things to say about my decision to return despite my injury, but coming back became something I had to prove to myself, regardless of what other people thought. Furthermore, throughout the entire process, I tried my best to maintain a positive outlook, which was essential to my successful recovery.

What have you taken away from your hockey career?

Hockey has allowed me to develop so many valuable skills that I have been able to apply in all aspects of my life. I believe there is not enough emphasis placed on this in the youth hockey community. Throughout my experience, as both a player and spectator, I have noticed that some parents are extremely unrealistic in their expectations of their children. These parents do not realize that the most important part of having their child play minor hockey is the skills they will develop as a person. The chances of your son or daughter making it to a point in their hockey career in which they are able to have their education funded is extremely slim. Moreover, the chances of them making a career out of hockey is even less likely. In contrast, I’ve learned to focus on what I can gain from hockey. Through hockey, I’ve been able to develop my work ethic as well as countless skills such as communication and teamwork. This is something that I have been able to experience and benefit from firsthand.

Following your hockey career, how have you been spending your time?

Aside from being a Business Student at Western University, my primary focus is the business venture that I recently started, the Herbst Goaltending Academy. The Herbst Goaltending Academy aims to provide instruction to goaltenders in rapidly expanding , who otherwise would not have the opportunity to receive proper coaching. I hope to take the substantial amount I have learned throughout my career as a goaltender, both mentally and physically, and pass it on to an entirely new generation of hockey players. I want to ensure that these young goaltenders are able to have a great experience and take the most that they can away from hockey.

I am also the Co-Lead for the Student Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI) at Western University. SAMHI was founded in Ottawa and has since spread to 18 campuses across Canada. SAMHI acts as a support network for student athletes. It strives to provide students athletes access to the information and resources they need to cope with issues related to mental health. Student athletes have a unique set of challenges that are not covered by the typical mental health resources offered in universities, and having a network of individuals that are trained to deal with this unique set of challenges is therefore essential. It creates an environment where student athletes are comfortable sharing their concerns.

As a side note, I recently started a YouTube channel where I elaborate on topics including the mental well-being of athletes. For those interested in topics pertaining to athletics, personal development and mental health, I definitely recommend checking it out. I strive to create content that is valuable and directly based on my own personal experiences.

What are some of the biggest things that you have learned up to this point in your life?

Through my extracurricular activities, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many amazing people that have exposed me to a variety of new perspectives and ideas. That being said, one of the biggest things I have learned is to open myself up to as many new experiences and opportunities as possible. I have found that you’re almost always able to take these skills and apply them to different aspects of your life.

Another lesson I have learned is to try my absolute best for anything that I strive to achieve. I have always had the ability to work hard, but learning from my mistakes is something I’ve had to evolve as I’ve grown. If you are able to honestly say that you tried your best in a situation and have made a conscious effort to learn from your mistakes, regardless of the outcome, you have succeeded. I have failed countless times in my life. However, in every shortcoming, I have reflected on my mistakes and taken something away from the situation.

Lastly, it is important to maintain a positive outlook on life. This is something that is so simple but can make all the difference in the world. You should not be blindly positive, and there are times when you can be critical and objective about situations. But overall, you should maintain a positive attitude. This goes hand and hand with impacting others in a positive way. As I have come to find, having a positive social impact can bring you a substantial amount of happiness.

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