By Melissa Walsh
Don't read too much into your Mite team's season record. At this highly developmental, early level, the reality of many wins for one team and many losses for another is just the way the blue puck bounces.
So your Mite's team won just about every game...
You experienced a season that's out of the ordinary in youth hockey - one that actually falls short of the ideal. According to USA Hockey, Mite teams in a healthy league ideally win or lose between 30 to 70 percent of games.
In rink society, moms who've been through an all-win Mite season have felt the peculiar social ramifications of a winning record. It can be lonely at the top of Mite hockey - the murmurings that your Mite team is loaded, that the coaching is too intense, that your team is too physical, etc. There are the dirty looks from opposing-team parents when you stand and cheer for your team's fourth or fifth goal of the first period.
The rink gossip allegations could be entirely unfounded. Your Mite team may be showing excellent sportsmanship, and your coaches may be absolutely brilliant in their instruction of 7- and 8-year olds. If that's the case, then just enjoy victory and your child's experience of youth hockey glory while you can.
Or the situation could be that beneath the surface of final-buzzer victory - the triumphant hoisting up of the sticks, tossing of the gloves, and hugging of the goalie - your champion Mite team's season journey was far from ideal.
Poor winning Mite team dynamics can be fueled by a head coach operating with a win-at-all-costs mentality - for example, rolling only two lines instead of developing the whole bench. Though being selective in who gets ice time may be appropriate on occasion for higher-level youth teams, not playing the entire Mite roster evenly is inappropriate because this early level is so skills-centric and highly developmental.
Back in 2006, USA Hockey's Ken Martel said in USA Hockey Magazine, "At all levels, if you don't develop your bench you are in trouble - you won't be the team that you should be." A coach not only develops each player individually by rolling the entire bench, he develops the team dynamic, which is critical to long-term team development.
Ideally, Mites - win or lose - are developing a love for the sport. A sense of fraternity is important to this end. The whole team ought to own game results together. To develop the game skills and confidence that can't be nurtured in practices, each Mite needs opportunities to maneuver in pressure situations. If a Mite goalie is not breaking a sweat in net because his team is in the offensive zone for most of the game, he's not developing.
Still, Mom, wear your spirit scarf with pride, but for the sake of rink etiquette cheer a little more gently with an all-win record, and remember that a winning season is just one season of glory in the great youth hockey journey. Next season, your team might lose some games and have an even better season!
So your Mite's team lost just about every game...
Clearly, losing every game falls short of the ideal season, but don't lose heart. Sure, losing stinks, but it is possible to make a losing season a good experience for long-term hockey development.
Chances are that Mites on a team tallying many losses are continuing to hone their game as well as growing tougher skin. As long as the adults - coaches and parents - are handling the losses well, the kids are still developing their love for hockey.
If the coaches and parents are encouraging the Mites rather than berating them and instructing rather than criticizing, they're promoting a good Mite hockey experience despite the losses. If the coach is developing the entire bench and treating each Mite with kindness and respect, then he is fostering team fraternity. And remember, all that the coach can do is teach from a healthy store of knowledge and patience. The rest is up to the kids.
A losing Mite season won't in itself scar a player or stigmatize a team, but ugly coaching and dumb hockey-parenting will.
So treat improvement as a win. Consider the possibility that they didn't lose, they just ran out of time. If your team narrows a scoring gap from the last time it faced an opponent, then chalk it up as one for team development. In other words, if you team beat its spread, rejoice in the successful effort. What's more, your goalies probably became quite skilled in handling pressure in the net. Be sure to tally and acknowledge the saves.
Encouragement will put a smile on their little Mite faces and urge them to keep working hard. More important, they'll learn that youth hockey is about fun and learning the game over performance. Remind yourself and your Mite that stats are poor indicators of the skills and friendships being built.
So wear your Mite's team swag proudly and never stop believing that your Mites will be winners in developing a love for playing hockey. Because in hockey, heart matters a whole lot.
© 2013 Powerplay Communications