For some parents, hockey is an unfamiliar pursuit. For others, hockey just runs in the family. Parents in either of these situations have something to remember, though: It’s for the kids.
The men and women who coach youth teams do it because they want to share their knowledge and love of the game with young people. The most important jobs for any parent of a first-timer are to support your child and reinforce the messages coaches preach at practice.
Early in the season, coaches are likely to have meetings with the parents of their players. Listen carefully to the expectations of the coaches. The attitudes of parents are likely to rub off on the kids. It can be difficult to let another person work with your son or daughter without inserting your own ideas. However, this can prevent coaches from having the effect they need to on their players.
“I think the biggest thing for parents is to let the coaches introduce their kids to the sport and skills and to let them enjoy the game without any real input from the parent,” says Jeff Giesen, associate head coach of the women’s hockey team at Minnesota State University. “It’s not going to matter what position they play. They are all going to get equal ice time and experience being the goalie.”
Interacting with the Coach
Coach and parent interaction shouldn’t be non-existent, of course. There needs to be a barrier, though. Making it clear to kids that, at the rink, the coach is in charge gives the players the right message.
“I think the interaction should be minimal but should be very appreciative for the coaches taking the time to work with their son or daughter,” Giesen said.
One way parents can help, though, is by volunteering to manage different aspects of the team away from the ice. Another way is by familiarizing themselves with USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“It takes extra people at the younger ages and associations need extra volunteers to help keep it a positive experience for all the kids,” Giesen said. “Other questions might be are they familiar with the ADM and trying to develop skills, as well as excitement and passion for the game.”
Fostering a Love for the Game
The passion kids develop for hockey at a young age will determine how much they enjoy the game and the experience in the future. Support from parents is exactly the kind of thing that makes a kid who wanted to play hockey someone who wants to keep playing hockey.
A major contributor to that is avoiding any undue pressure. No 8-year-old should feel like they need to score a goal to have a successful day at the rink. The focus after and between practices shouldn’t be on starring, so much as enjoying the experience and giving a great effort. Hockey players need to practice and work hard to improve.
As such, parents need to make it clear that nothing matters more, in these early stages of development, than enjoying your time on the ice.
“Parents always need to support their sons or daughters and make going to hockey a positive experience,” Giesen said. “Best line ever to your child after practice or a game is ‘I loved watching you play.’ Don’t coach them or say they should have done this or that or worked harder. Let me them enjoy the experience.”
In situations where young players do need to give a little more effort or improve their technique, the coaches will tell them.
If you want hockey to be a part of your child’s life down the road, let them fall in love with the game the way everyone else does – by learning, getting better and having fun with their friends.
“Don’t think they are going to get a scholarship or sign a contract at age 7,” Giesen said. “Developing a passion and excitement for the game will go a long way down the road.”
Wherever that road leads, whether it’s to the NHL or not, hockey is a positive influence on young people in so many ways. For parents, the goal is to let it become a positive experience all around.