By Melissa Walsh
During the long road trip back from a lacrosse tournament recently, my 16-year old son and I were chatting about hockey. We were talking about how much we love playing hockey. Before he began playing lacrosse, he had been a hockey guy. He still is — a goalie. All four of my sons have been on skates since age three. I didn’t start lacing ‘em up until much later in life.
Me: “When you guys were little and I hadn’t started playing yet, I wondered if you ever got tired of playing hockey. I also wondered if the pros got sick of being on the ice so much. But now I get it. You don’t get tired of it. I could play hockey every day and be very happy.”
My son: “Really, you could? I think I could play every day, too.”
Me: “You know why I could play every day and love it.”
My son: “Why?”
Me: “Because when I play hockey, I’m completely away from all of the stress and problems of my life. One hundred percent. It is the one activity I do when I absolutely do not think of any of my problems and worries at all. Not on the ice. Not on the bench. Not in the room with my team mates.”
My son: “Yeah. Me, too.”
Me: “That’s what makes playing hockey so important.”
Then I encouraged my son to keep playing hockey throughout his life. College. Beer leagues. Whatever.
“As long as playing hockey is in your life, you won’t get old,” I told him. “It’s the fountain of youth.”
My son nodded.
I continued to drive on thinking about what I had just said about what playing hockey means for me in my life. Isn’t that how the game should feel for kids, too? Completely worry-free. Problem-free. Pure joy and all fun all the time — on the ice, on the bench, in the room.
When parents make the youth hockey game about youth performance and not the pure fun of competing as part of a youth team, they’re introducing problems into the experience of playing hockey that would not develop organically among the kids.
Even at “elite” youth hockey levels, the hockey game should always feel as pure as shinny with friends on a remote pond away from critical adult eyes and commentary. Always. This is to play the game “loose,” to play it creatively and dynamically; it’s playing for the love of the game and a healthy will to win. Glass-banging and critical commentary screamed through the glass taint the game with anxiety and insecurity streamed into the minds of the players. And wise youth hockey onlookers know that good hockey demands confidence among the players.
In youth hockey coaching clinics, we coaches learn about how to let the game teach us. We watch our players play the game the way they know to play it in the moment; accordingly, we note what to teach or emphasize during the next practice. Game time is usually not the right time for overt instruction from coach … and never the right time from parents at the glass; the game is doing the teaching. Players win or they learn.
This is why you will see many good youth coaches watching silently. During practices, these good youth coaches teach like crazy; they instruct, demonstrate, and engage with positive reinforcement continually, not leaning on the stick just watching.
Parents should know what it is for a kid to be in the game, keeping in mind that for the players the game is the great escape into a special experience owned by the players and understanding that the game itself is the best teaching tool.
So, hockey parents, don’t interfere with that. Don’t crash the players’ game experience with your will of what you desire the game to be for you.
Apart from cheering for all sweet goals and all great saves, keep your mouth shut and hands down during the game. Keep the game pure and worry-free for the players.
©2015 Powerplay Communications