Hockey can be a special part of the holiday season, but it doesn’t need to be a family’s top priority
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – The holidays can be a busy time for youth hockey players.
Juggling competing in tournaments and practicing hard to improve as a player are important areas to focus on.
However, AHAI Coach-In-Chief Jim Clare stresses to athletes to remember what the holidays are really about.
“It’s also family time and it’s also time to spend with others, not just hockey people,” Clare said. “Don’t overdo it. You’ve got a Christmas tournament, you’ve got a Thanksgiving tournament, you’ve got a Martin Luther King tournament. At some point, when is enough, enough?”
Clare wants players to have a good balance of spending time with their hockey family as well as their own family.
“If a team is going to schedule multiple tournaments over the holidays, it’s OK to miss one. It’s OK not to be there or if you have to be there late because you have family obligations,” Clare said. “I think coaches need to understand the family dynamics as well. Just because four or five want to do it and the other 10 don’t, doesn’t mean you necessarily do.”
When Clare was coaching at specific clubs, he would have a meeting with the parents at the beginning of the season. One area that was discussed was the season schedule. He would ask parents, “What tournaments would you like your kids to attend? Is traveling over the holidays an option? Which tournament will your kid be around/be gone from?”
“It’s getting a buy-in from the families that helps you survive when that time comes,” Clare said. “They can’t complain about it, because they were part of the process in the beginning.”
Involvement in tournaments and how many trips a team is going to take during a season also depends on the players’ age and skill level. Giving the kids options on tournaments can go a long way.
“These kids are 10, 12, 14 years old — they’re not professional athletes,” Clare said.
When the players are on the road for tournaments, Clare believes it’s important for coaches to set up team activities outside of hockey. He said visit a local landmark or even just go bowling or paintballing. Big cities offer plenty of fun activities.
“If you’re in Nashville, maybe you go down to the Country Music Hall of Fame or a Predators game,” Clare said. “If you’re in Toronto, you’re going to the Hockey Hall of Fame, or in Buffalo, you visit Niagara Falls. Trying to get some local flavor to give the kids an experience.”
Clare, 54, remembers going on hockey trips as a teenager, in particular to Long Island, New York, to watch the New York Islanders practice in the 1980s. He got a team yearbook signed by some of the players on the perennial Stanley Cup-winning squads.
“I can’t tell you one thing about the hockey games I played,” Clare said. “I don’t know who we played; I don’t know how we did. If we won or lost, I don’t remember. But I remember being in that practice rink and watching those guys and getting their autographs.”
It’s those lasting memories that are important to the development of a kid.
“It’s creating those memories outside of the rink, because those are the ones that you remember,” Clare said.
Since hockey is an expensive sport — especially staying in hotels and eating out during away tournaments — there are a few pointers to potentially save some money. If a tournament is close, Clare suggests parents rent a bus and have families chip in and split the costs. Also, bringing your own breakfast food — cereal, granola bars — can help alleviate added expenses.
“Ways to help reduce the cost of the event is beneficial to parents,” Clare said. “Parents are forking out a lot of money for their kids to play hockey, especially here in Illinois, it’s expensive.”
Packing goodie bags for players for before and after games is cost effective. Heading to Costco prior to a tournament and buying snacks in bulk is a sound idea.
When it’s all said and done, enjoying a tournament on and off the ice is what it’s all about, no matter how everything pans out.
“Sure, it’s a competition and you want to play different teams, you’re out of state playing different teams that you wouldn’t see normally, which is kind of fun,” Clare said. “But at the end of the day, you’re creating a good chemistry and culture and getting the kids away from the local environment and building, both from a parents standpoint and from a kids standpoint, chemistry. You’re hanging out in a hotel lobby, you’re playing cards with your teammates, parents are hanging out together; you’re building team bonding.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.