Hockey Parenting 2.0
Reprinted from Wisconsin Prep Hockey.
It is official, all youth athletics have crossed over into the twilight zone. They are all too organized, travel too much, too expensive and too time-consuming. We place too much emphasis on keeping score and winning and too little emphasis on having fun. As another hockey season descends upon us, I have some simple advice for parents to help make your hockey experience more valuable to your youngster and more enjoyable for you.
Skip tryouts. Leave the rink, go to a movie, have dinner with your spouse, just stay away. If your child makes the A team, be happy and humble. If your child makes the B team, be happy and calm. Next to skill, the most important quality of a good athlete is confidence. As the Dalai Lama said, “Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck”.
Benefit: Stress reduction.
Every rink has water available. Save time and money on the Gatorade because I’m not certain that ten-year-olds even have electrolytes. And if they do, I bet, like their energy level, they never run out. Honestly, when you bring those colorful beverages to the bench or lockeroom, it is a bit embarrassing. They aren’t going to produce the magical results you see on the television commercials.
Benefit: Saving money and your child’s embarrassment.
Refrain from packing and unpacking your kid’s hockey equipment. “My mom forgot to pack my skates”, is a phrase no kid should have to utter. And if they do forget, make them watch practice and I bet it won’t happen again. Passing up these valuable lessons only ensures they will be repeated. Once they hit squirts, they can carry their own bag and if they can’t it’s probably too big. You don’t carry your kid’s backpack to school for them; you shouldn’t have to carry their hockey bag either. There’re hockey players, it’s part of the code. Donate your wheelie bag to a flight attendant and get one that must be carried.
Benefit: Increased leg strength, hockey cred and responsibility.
Kids can dress and undress themselves—go get a cup of coffee and relax. Once they have been through it a few times they can figure it out. It is simple problem solving, eventually they will get it on or off. Be patient, let the lockeroom be their place to be with their teammates.
Benefit: Team Unity. (Rink coffee is cheaper than Gatorade)
Teach them to tie their own skates as soon as possible—good skaters have loose skates and lots of ankle flexibility, so let them get used to it early. As long as you keep tying them, they are going to let you. It is ok if they are uncomfortable, they can figure it out if you just allow them. Home skate sharpeners are almost as popular as snow blowers, but if you are in the minority, when they are old enough to drive, turn that responsibility over to them.
Benefit: Ankle strength, responsibility and pride.
New equipment is for Christmas, maybe a birthday—but should not be a birthright of every new season. Buy used equipment—a squirt doesn’t need a powerfly holder, hyperbolic, aerolite, 3D lasted carbon, lightweight foam core pair of ridiculously priced skates. Do they? They are going to step on to the rink, not the moon. Those top end skates could be used by a fifty-five-pound squirt for ten years and still not be worn out—it’s basic physics. Today’s skates are as rigid as marine core training. Like golfers we have convinced ourselves it is about the tools and not the talent. This is youth hockey, not the NHL.
Benefit: Saving money—Reduce the cost of playing the game.
Buy wooden sticks. Force dealers to put them back on the stick rack, it’s supply and demand economics. No seven-year-old needs a $100 composite stick unless they are six feet tall and two hundred pounds, or you can buy a ten flex. A wooden stick will do fine. We continue to put the price to play hockey out of the reach of so many potential families. And like tying skates, they can learn to tape their stick much sooner than they would like you to believe.
Benefit: Saving money—Reduce the cost of playing the game.
We train our kids to believe that eating is part of the game experience. The concession stand, or a trip to McDonalds seems to be an essential part of going to the rink. If they go out and skate well, have fun and come off with a smile on their face—they don’t need a reward, except maybe a pat on the back and a peaceful ride home. Walk past the concession stand a few times—I know we need to support the rink, but it shouldn’t be the place where you eat most of your in-season meals.
Benefit: Discipine and better health.
Herb Brooks said it best, “The name on the front of the jersey is a hell of a lot more important than the name on the back”. This is a team sport; the sooner kids learn that the better. The names on the back of jerseys are for when you get to the NHL. Then fans can use your name to swear at you instead of just a number. You should be able to figure out which kid is yours without that visual aide. If you can’t, remember that is why we put numbers on the jerseys—those numbers aren’t a ranking system—they are for identification. Nobody wears two name tags at work, right?
Benefit: Team unity and humility.
Don’t watch every practice—let them tell you about a few—they’ll enjoy it. Send them the message that you have more important things to do than watch them practice. This is not neglect, but common sense. If parents spent as much time helping kids with their homework as they do watching practice, our kids would all be getting straight A’s. This is their experience—not yours. Turn them loose.
Let your kids have fun. If their best friend calls on a Friday night and wants them to: a) go to a movie, b) go to the outdoor rink, c) go sledding, don’t say no because they have a game tomorrow, or in most cases three games. They are kids if you haven’t noticed, and they don’t get tired. Do you ever remember being too tired as a kid? Let them go swimming at the motel, play football in the snow. Pro athletes might need to sleep in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, but your kid doesn’t.
Benefit: Balance and a happier child.
Once that puck drops, your one and only job is a fan. Please stop yelling instructions and criticisms from the stands. Don’t try to coach or officiate from your haughty perch. Those jobs have already been taken. None of them, including the players, need your instructions or opinions screamed at them. If you truly have something to offer, get your certification and get inside the glass. Otherwise, your job as a fan begins and ends with encouraging all of them and cheering on your team’s success. And if you can’t do that, drink more coffee, it tastes better than your foot, or watch the game where no one can hear you, like on LiveBarn in your car.
Benefit: Fewer coaches and officials leaving the game. More friends on the team.
After the game, pat your coach on the back and thank them for their time and effort. These people are giving you and your child the most valuable resource—their time. Buy them a cup of coffee, thank them again and talk about anything but hockey. Treat playing time issues as if they were Covid-19, mask up and shut up. It is a modern-day black plague that can destroy your season. And on the car ride home, don’t turn into a crazed, emotional, question-spewing nightmare set on replaying the entire game. Listen first, your kid will let you know if they want to talk about the game.
Benefit: Respect from your coach and the aforementioned peace.
I’d like to tell you I got all these right with my kids, but I didn’t. Good Luck & enjoy your season!
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at email@example.com.