So You’re Signing Your Kid Up for Hockey Eh?
We had a friend last week who has younger kids and has enrolled her son for his first year of hockey. Hockey, for many, is a hand-me-down game. I definitely remember strapping on a lot of my older cousins’ gear growing up and the Devil has been the occasionally unwilling, but non-voting, recipient of her brother’s seconds. There’s a whole Canadian industry built around exchanging used equipment, which we’ve also leveraged from time to time. And with this reduce, reuse, recycle attitude we also have our share of old hockey gear tucked away, which we gladly offer up to friends who can get yet another life from it. The young lad in question, excited by the newness of playing hockey, stood wide-eyed with anticipation as I carted in three different bags of elbow pads, skates, socks, helmets and sweaters up from under the stairs and down out of the rafters in the garage. I haven’t counted, but am pretty sure we’ve close to enough hockey sweaters from years worth of teams, camps and clinics to dress four teams of various sizes. We even had some old lacrosse gear from an one-time experiment with that sport which unfortunately got ruined by a bad coach, but that’s a whole nuther story.
Our young player-to-be was like a kid in a candy store as we outfitted him within a couple of articles of the full set. Turns out we’d already given or traded away all of the smaller skates – generally a hot commodity with the biggest price tag when purchased new. We also couldn’t, in good conscience, provide an adequate helmet as the ones we had were past their expiry dates. The grateful new hockey mom asked why he couldn’t just use one of these helmets and we were quick to point out this is, perhaps after skates and just slightly ahead of a protective cup/Jock (or Jill for girls), the most important piece of equipment you shouldn’t skimp on. I would think there is enough hockey concussion and generally injury buzz to make the importance of good equipment obvious, but it got me to thinking there are a lot of other things new hockey parents should maybe get some counsel; assuming of course I have some level of authority on the subject. Here, I will do my best to provide some insights and rules (written or otherwise) for new hockey dads…and moms, in an effort to make your hockey experience and that of your child, more enjoyable. Think of it as a hockey public service announcement or perhaps several bundled into one.
– Properly equip and protect your kids. Back to where we started. This is generally less of an issue these days with team trainers and a heightened awareness around the importance of safety. However, I’ve still witnessed players both young and old with undersized or unkempt equipment putting themselves in harm’s way. And don’t let them tell you something, like elbow pads, are too big and restrictive. This is the same flawed thinking which kept helmets off of NHLers for years and now does the same with eye-protecting visors. The game’s played with speed, on ice and accidents are bound to happen. Add body checking into the mix for older boys and the protection factor goes up a notch. If protective equipment is available, why not use it to its fullest capacity?
– Prepare thyself mentally. The chances of your son or daughter playing in the NHL are awholebunchofextraspecialtalentluckandperseverance-to-one. Or maybe your kid is THE ONE, but he/she definitely won’t get there if you don’t have the right attitude. There are a lot more of the latter stories than the former. Do not try to relive your own childhood professional hockey dreams through your kid. Love the game for the game; pass it on. And if they don’t love the game, because surprisingly enough not everyone does, let them try something else.
– Dress warmly and stand outside. It should be obvious hockey rinks are cold in the middle of January, though some of the newer models come equipped with heaters and/or significant insulation. Regardless and in order to get the full, true hockey experience your kids’ games should not be viewed from behind glass. Now, I won’t say there hasn’t been the occasion where the allure of a modern heated licensed bar overlooking a rink where the Boy or the Devil were playing hasn’t been too much to pass up, but for the most part the game is best enjoyed when you can see it, hear it and feel it.
– Since you’re outside where your kids can see and hear you, CHEER dammit! I’m not a fan of parents who sit on their hands or worse yet, their smartphones, while their kids are down on the ice seeking affirmation for their efforts from the stands. And to be clear, I am talking about cheering for your child and his/her team in the spirit of good sportsmanship. Presumably you and your child are at the rink to have an enriching, enjoyable experience, so do your best to enable one. There will undoubtedly (double undoubtedly) be those situations and those hockey parents which are less than positive, but you can choose to simply avoid those instances and not be those parents. Again, I am no saint. I may have pushed the sportsmanship envelope a time or two (particularly with a referee or two), but overall I believe my kids have continued to play and love the game because I’ve brought a positive passion to the arena.
– Find a good spot. A seemingly minor, but generally important factor in your ability to enjoy the game. If you go to any minor hockey game you will notice hockey dads and moms (more so dads) situated sporadically in all corners of the arena. Moms generally huddle together in the stands on the side of their kids’ team. Some dads prefer to be down on the glass at one end of the rink or the other or sometimes switching from period to period to be closer to the action. Others, like myself, prefer standing with a bird’s eye view from up above in line with the blue line closest to the Boy or the Devil’s bench (ok, that admittedly sounds a little obsessive compulsive and is certainly rooted in a fair bit of superstition).
– Let the coach do the coaching. Unless you’ve stepped up as a coach or on-ice helper, the best way to support your young player from a hockey education perspective is to let the coaches do their job. No, you may not agree with everything a coach says or does, but conflicting instructions, particularly those delivered in the car on the way to practice or a game will not help your kid. If you have a real, lasting issue with a coach, bring it to his/her or the governing body’s attention. While I myself have encountered some questionable coaches over the years, I’ve always tried to give them the benefit of the doubt realizing they are giving their time to our kids.
– Make your kids carry their own gear most of the time. Another minor item in the list, but I hate (HATE) whoever invented hockey bags on wheels (beyond the fact they don’t fit in the trunks of most cars). Call me old-fashioned, but once a kid hits peewee age, if not major atom, they should carry their own bag to and from the car to the rink back to the car and to the basement or wherever their stanky bag lives (sometimes in our house it’s the front hallway for days on end). Now I said “most of the time” because after certain long practices or spirit-crushing losses it’s ok to shoulder some of the burden. And, oh yeah, add a year or two to this rule for goalies since their stuff if a whole bunch heavier.
– Hockey is not a 12-month sport. Bobby Orr and I agree on this so I feel pretty justified. Encourage your kids to play other sports or take up other activities in the “off-season”. If they really, really want to play hockey in the Summer, let it be a camp or a 3-on-3 league where they get some variety/change of pace. If they really love the game, they’ll be chomping at the bit to get back on the ice in September after taking a good part of May, June and July off. They will be better off as more rounded athletes and people in the long run.
– Get them playing outside. Whenever possible, find an outdoor rink, pond, street or driveway for your kids to play on. If they’re hooked, they’ll likely do this on their own. There is really no better place for young players to develop their creativity and let their imaginations take over. A place to work on their mad dangles, backhand top-shelfers, slap shots and goalies stacking their pads. I can remember self-commentating my own games of CBC’s showdown where I was Guy Lafleur or Steve Shutt or member of the Habs (an affiliation I have since given up in favour of my beloved Jets) facing my buddy in the role of Mike Palmateer or Chico Resch.
– Play with your kids. It can take years off your own life. Probably the most fun I have in my hockey dad life is when I get an opportunity to pass to or receive a crisp pass from one of my kids, whether during a practice, in a game of ice or ball hockey or on the aforementioned pond, which hasn’t happened nearly enough of late. If we had such a pond to ourselves in close proximity I’ve no doubt we’d spend hours on it as I did on some Manitoba farm fields in March and April when I was a lad. Playing against them brings me equal satisfaction and I think they like it too. We’ve even managed to get mom suited and on the ice on a couple of occasions much to their delight.
In case it’s not already coming through loud and clear, the key overused, clichéd but honest, basic message for new hockey dads and moms is just make sure at the end of the day they have F-U-N. If they have fun, regardless where, who or how they play they will likely keep on playing. Children playing – isn’t that one of the most basic things we all wish we could be?
Any and all thoughts or suggestions from hockey types who are as or more experienced than I are always welcomed!
Hockey equipment image courtesty – Greater Lansing Amateur Hockey Association http://glaha.pucksystems.com/page/show/41611-equipment-checklist