About a year ago, as another new hockey season was about to begin, I decided to lean on my years of experience and observation in rinks across this fine land to put together a quick guide for parents considering joining the ranks of hockey moms and dads as something of a public service. A brief list of what to expect and a few do’s and don’ts for the yet to be initiated.
Many young parents come into this game all starry-eyed with visions of their little Johnny or wee Susie propelling themselves through minor hockey, into the OHL or a US college scholarship and onto fame and fortune as the next “Kid.” However, as we all should, but don’t apparently all know, Susie and Johnny are just little kids wanting to bomb around on the ice and have fun with their friends Billy and Lisa. They are not vessels through which dad will relive his misspent hockey youth.
With all of this in mind and with a new season either started or just around the corner for many families, below is a another quick list of things I’d recommend to all parents who want to maximize the enjoyment of the game for themselves, their children and those of us around them at the rink.
I suppose the first and primary Don’t is to not forget they are just kids who should be having fun playing a kid’s game. But here are a few more off the top of my aging hockey dad head for you to read and perhaps heed.
- Do let your child carry his or her own hockey bag as soon as he or she is physically able. This will most certainly save you on physiotherapy and chiropractic bills down the road. Do also let them tie their own skates when they hit Peewee…same reason.
- Don’t drop your Atom or Peewee aged kid off at the rink like it’s some glorified babysitting service. Once they reach Bantam age and they are somewhat able to fend for themselves, sitting through a 60 or 90 minute practice can be a little tedious. Until that time you should sit in the stands or lobby and pay attention to what’s happening on the ice. Practices for the younger players, still trying to get their “ice” legs, like so many little Bambi’s splayed out on all fours, can be quite entertaining. Weebles wobble and they do fall down.
- Do let your kids swim in the hotel pool between games at that away tournament. It’s not going to make a lick of difference to how they play or the outcome of the tournament. In most cases, this is the highlight of the weekend and the most enduring memory they will have from their minor hockey career.
- Don’t (or at least try not to) forget your kid at home, at the rink or at the hotel at 6:30am on a February morning at a tournament in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, I speak from experience on the last one, which had an upside as it became one of the best minor hockey stories I have to tell entitled “No One Gets Left Behind”. It’s worth a read if ya like a good chuckle at someone else’s expense.
- Do spend the extra $ on upgraded equipment and particularly on a good helmet; even if your kid is playing in a non-contact league. Early on they’re going to run into each other, trip over the blue line or otherwise battle the forces of physics. When they land head or tail first on the rock hard ice both you and they will appreciate the additional protection.
- Don’t get caught looking down at your mobile phone and then missing the perfect saucer pass, the bardown snipe or the killer kicksave. The work email can wait until after the final buzzer has gone.
- Do yell “Nice Pass”, “Atta Girl/Boy” and other such words of encouragement as loudly and as many times as you want or feel the need to. Pay no attention to the guy on your left who looks up at you from his Blackberry like you’ve disturbed his train of thought. In fact, move closer to him and start cheering louder.
- Don’t put jersey #99, #66 or #87 on your kid. That’s just not right. Even #4 and #9 are pushing it for those who appreciate the history of the game, but hockey association issued jersey numbers generally range from 2-18 plus 1, 30 or 34 for the goalies so we’ll let those two slide. With my previously stated bias, I’d also recommend keeping them out of a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey if you expect to instil any sort of a winning attitude or basic hope in them, but on this I will defer to ill-advised and misplaced allegiances your parents likely inflicted on you.
- Do strap on undersized road hockey goalie pads in the middle of February and let your kid fire a frozen orange hockey ball at you out on the driveway or at the local outdoor rink if you’re lucky enough to have one in close proximity.
- Don’t pay your kids for goals and don’t let Grandma, Grandpa or Uncle Jack from out East do it either. If you’re going to incentivize them (in a non-monetary way) to do anything, make it passing rather than scoring and focus on team rather than individual play. They, and their teams, will be better off for it in the long run. And this is not to say they shouldn’t also work on individual skills like stick-handling and shooting on the driveway, in the basement or when the coaches ask them to in practice.
- Do help out with your kids team either as a coach, manager, on-ice helper, trainer, fundraiser, timekeeper…. A team cannot run without volunteers and I guarantee you will be richer for the experience of interacting with the kids. Many of my favourite stories through the years are via those interactions with kids other than my own. Like the time 4 year old Little Johnny (yup, that was really his name) told me he “sucked at hockey and didn’t want to play anymore.” After a little cajoling, I convinced him to try another shift upon which he decided to grab the puck with his gloved hand and threw it into the net. He came back to the bench quite pleased with his accomplishment and new-found skill.
- Don’t spend 45 minutes of the 60 minute ride home from an away game analyzing your kid’s play shift-by-shift. A few more “nice passes”, “sweet goals” or “atta girls” will suffice. Remember to focus on the positives and the fun if you really want to see them play better next game.
- Do take 24 hours to chill out, sleep on it and/or otherwise consider tearing a strip off a member of your child’s coaching staff when they’ve short-shifted or misplayed your kid. I’m not saying you shouldn’t defend your child if you feel he or she has been wronged, but just make sure you’ve thought it through logically and in the context of the team situation and dynamic keeping in mind the coach also has 16 other players and their parents to consider.
- Don’t be that hockey parent – the one who’s rink ranting actions show up in the local paper, on the 6 o’clock news or in a YouTube video. Nuff said. Just don’t.
- Do savour every moment you have inside a rink watching your kid(s) play because tempus fugit and before you know it you’ll be wondering where it all went.
This is by no means a complete list of Do’s or Don’ts so I do welcome the wisdom of other seasoned hockey moms and dads who’ve likewise woken pre-dawn countless times to go watch their kids on-ice escapades with their best interests in mind.