Successful Youth Hockey Parenting
By Patrick T. Clendenen
Parenting in youth hockey today is a challenge. The sport takes up a great deal of time. Families must travel for games and practices. It is expensive. The games and atmosphere can be pressure-filled. Parents want the very best for their children, some of whom dream to play in college or professionally. What is very best for them? What can you do to help your child and your child’s team react to the ups and downs of the hockey season with the proper preparation and perspective? What follows are some guidelines collected from various sources, including USA Hockey’s Parent Orientation Materials.
Arrive 25-30 minutes before game time, and help your child be dressed and ready with the proper equipment 10 minutes before game time.
To prepare your child for success in games, make sure that your child attends all practices and clinics. Skill development, the essence of youth hockey, comes only from practice. “Even if a child is not the `star’ player for a team, practice stresses the importance of teamwork, establishing goals, discipline, and learning to control your emotions, all of which are important lessons children can use both in and away from sports.” (USA Hockey Parent Orientation Materials at 2). Teaching the fundamentals of hockey through practice is the mission of youth hockey; game playing and winning, though goals, are secondary. Realize this: “In a game, even the best players handle the puck on average for about 45 seconds. In a well-structured 50-minute practice, a child will be working with the puck almost constantly.” William Houston, A Game in Crisis Part II (Toronto Globe and Mail, Apr. 6, 1998).
To prepare your child for life, however, make sure that your child has completed all homework and chores. In other words, there is more to life than hockey.
In the stands, refrain from yelling at your child or your child’s teammates. In most rinks, your child probably will not be able to hear you, but everyone else around you will. If your child does hear you, he or she will likely be unnerved or embarrassed. Leave the coaching to the coaches; instead, support your child. Here’s a story of a coach getting the point across to a parent:
“I said, `When your kid’s on a swing in the school yard, do you stand behind him and yell, `Swing! Swing! Swing!”? “And when he goes in the sandbox, do you yell at him, `Dig! Dig Deeper!”?
Prepare your child for practice and games by making sure that your child has had a good meal and plenty of rest.
No candy, soda, or sleepovers before the game.
“The kid’s playing out there [and doing the best that he can.] Just let him play.”
William Houston, A Game in Crisis Part VI (Toronto Globe and Mail, Apr. 10, 1998)
Parents should applaud good hockey and good sportsmanship on both teams. Parents should enjoy the game for what it is and not take it too seriously. Encourage your child to play by the rules. The holding, hooking, grabbing, and fighting of the NHL is a bad example to our players. If you see your child playing over-aggressively or to intimidate, encourage him or her instead to use creativity and playmaking. Encourage your child to handle the puck and attempt a play, even when it backfires. Remember body checking at the Pee Wee level and above is at its core designed not to intimidate but rather to regain control of the puck. Do not let your child forget it.
Do not coach your child in the car or at home. Talk to your child about his or her experience, but do not try to mold it. The most difficult parent is one who coaches against the real coaches. If you have an issue with the coach, speak with him. Otherwise, do not place your child in the middle.
To your child, emphasize the positive. No matter what the score, support your child and all of your child’s teammates. Encourage your child to support his or her teammates, even when they make a mistake and regardless of ability. Hockey is a team sport and everyone makes a contribution.
Never blame the officials, one of your child’s teammates, or the coaches for the result of a game. Do not criticize a player or coach within ear shot of your child or say that a player does not belong on the team. Your children will mimic your behavior and develop a bad attitude with teammates, coaches, and officials.
Keep your own expectations about your child’s hockey career in check. Stress the true values of our game--sportsmanship, creativity, teamwork, cooperation, fun--not the demons of hockey: overaggressive and violent play and unhealthy competition.