So You Wanna Be a Hockey Parent – Take 3

Hockey Parent Rage CartoonLeaning on my vast experience and sage wisdom as a now relatively elder hockey dad, I am digging deep again to give back to the game by laying down some ground rules for would-be hockey dads and moms out there. This guide (as a follow on to my previous rants “So You Wanna Sign Your Kid Up for Hockey, Eh?” and “New Hockey Parent Do’s and Don’ts“) is intended to not-so-subtlely inform and suggest ways to prevent yourself from becoming “That Hockey Parent.” With all the negative hockey parent news bouncing around of late, one would think it wouldn’t be necessary to come up with such an obvious list, but I’m sure we’ll all bounce into one or more of those less than savoury progenitors who cannot help displaying their buffoonery in the face of what should otherwise be junior’s simple, happy pursuit of pucks and fun. So here, for those who need to be told or reminded is another list I welcome anyone to add to from their own hockey dad or mom experience:

  • DO not only let, but actively encourage, Johnny or Susie to play soccer, lacrosse, karate, basketball, Xbox, chess, piano or whatever else catches their fancy and gives them a break from what can be six hectic months of hockey depending on which level they play at. And they don’t need to get back on the ice a couple of weeks early to “get their hockey legs.” Don’t worry, they won’t have forgotten how to skate or lose their stride. Rather, come September, they’ll be chomping at the bit to get back on the ice with renewed enthusiasm, picking up where they left off. Or if they don’t, then maybe hockey just ain’t their thing and that’s ok too.The Devil, for example, tried gymnastics, dance and soccer, while her semi-foolish Dad enrolled her in an Introduction to Mandarin course when she was 8 (from which she would no doubt benefit when she entered the work force several years later). The soccer may have stuck as she was pretty good at it, but we did say only one competitive sport was allowed. She just kept going back to hockey and now in her final year is as eager as ever to get back to it after an unusually long delay thanks to a past season-ending broken fibula. She didn’t make it past one Mandarin class in case you were wondering.
  • If you’re not on the coaching staff, DO NOT try to be another all-knowing coach when transporting your impressionable young player to or from the rink. Positive reinforcement and encouragement is always welcomed…hockey instruction, which may contradict what the actual coaches are saying,  is not.
  • I probably don’t really need to say this one as true hockey parents already get it, but if you’ve played the game, DO get on the ice with the kids as a helper or coach. Especially with younger players, there is no such thing as too much help and we all need to pitch in to keep this great game going. I have been very fortunate the past few years to have a friend and two young adults who want to give back help me with my teams. They and so many others like them are to be commended for their efforts. I’m not sure if I’ll continue coaching beyond this year, but I may after I take a little minor hockey sabbatical.
  • If you coach your own kid, DO NOT hold him or her to a higher or lower standard. Coaching your own can be tough (I know all too well) because if you’re an honest coach you don’t want to be seen favouring your kid. Of course, we also know coaches who seemingly don’t care and put their kid on the ice every second shift. DON’T be that coach. The Devil and I have bumped heads a coupla times before because I know other players look to her for cues as to how hard they have to work in practice or a game. Even this Summer in dry land I’ve had to remind her if she doesn’t put in a full effort, no one else will. Bottom line on this topic – BE FAIR – and treat your kid like any other player on the team.
  • DO let your children watch as much hockey on TV or the Internet as they like on non-school nights. And if they ask for popcorn, make them popcorn.
  • DO allow your kid to miss that early morning or late night practice if they really just don’t feel like it. If it happens more than once, it’s time to find out why, take a break or find another pastime. Making a kid do something they really don’t want to serves no purpose.
  • DO NOT offer to play goal in a ball hockey game with 9 year olds in the dead of winter unless adequate…nay AMPLE…protection is readily available. A frozen tennis ball, or even worse orange hockey ball, is a deadly object, which you should not, under any circumstances, put any part of your insufficiently padded body in front of.
  • DO occasionally boast to your friends about how well your kid or your kid’s hockey team is doing. We’re all allowed to be proud parents. However, DO NOT recite stats including your offspring’s CORSI rating, GAA or current goal scoring streak, re-enact your kid’s recent scoring plays complete with colour commentary or share junior’s 3-hour highlight reel on DVD at friendly get-togethers.
  • During games, cheer loudly for, not at, your kid and the team. To be quite honest, neither really hears you anyway, unless you are “that parent”, who goes over the top and not in a good way.For a couple of years, I developed something of a schtick (appropriately termed under the circumstance thought I) whereby I would scream C-O-L-T, COLTS, COLTS, COLTS prior to the drop of the puck before each period of the Boy’s games ala Fireman Ed in New York. My voice paid the price on more than one occasion following multi-game tournaments. However, I believe the gesture was appreciated, or at least noticed, as I often caught both teams looking up at me. I’m sure the other squad and at least some of our own boys just thought I was nuts. Simple validation came in the form of the Boy saying some of the guys loved it.

As I enter the final year of the Devil’s minor hockey career, the last sentimentally-driven, recommendation I will make for new hockey parents is to cherish the family time you have together with your kids in the car, at the rink or out on the pond. For me anyways, even shivering through the coldest 6am practices top nearly anything else I could have been doing at the time. Watching the Boy and the Devil joyfully skate, pass, check, shoot, score is at a whole nother satisfaction level. #imhockeydad

Cartoon courtesy – 13 Simple Rules for Hockey Parents Everywhere

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.

hockey equipment

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