The journey for hockey parents can be extremely rewarding. Watching children grow, learn, smile and sweat with their buddies is a joy to watch.
But there are some pitfalls – or “parent traps” – that can actually taint that joy, impede development and/or in the worst cases ruin the experience for kids and parents.
As the Coach in Chief of the Eagan Hockey Association and a Minnesota Development Model instructor for Minnesota Hockey, Erik Anderson has helped many a hockey parent stay the course. Plus, he’s one himself. So he's seen how these situations and pressures can sneak up on even the most well-intentioned parents along the way.
Here are some scenarios hockey parents may encounter, with some advice on how to process and proceed, courtesy of Coach Anderson:
Scenario: My child's friend wants him to play on AAA. He wants to play with his buddy and I don’t want him to get left behind if he doesn’t play on this team but I want him to be able to play his summer sport too...
Coach Anderson’s Advice: “It’s critical for parents to not just listen to people’s opinions but to know the facts about their child’s development. If they go to admkids.com, it has all the information they’ll need about doing the right thing for their young player at the right time in their lives. It’s science- and fact-based, well-researched information. The data shows that the best athletes in the long run are those that are well-rounded, healthy (avoid overuse injuries) and play multiple sports. That doesn’t mean you can’t play hockey in the off-season, but do things like taking skating lessons or doing open skating, shoot pucks in your basement or garage, or play another sport where skills may translate to hockey. This will build a better hockey player and athlete far better than signing up to play four tournament games. More games can create burnout and not necessarily better players. At the end of the day, the best athletes are going to be the best players, and you can become a great athlete by having a well-rounded experience.”
Scenario: Another parent gave my child a big compliment about their growth and the great season they had. I can’t help but be very excited about how much better she is than most players her age. Should we move her up early or consider finding one of the “elite” clubs?
Coach Anderson’s Advice: “Hockey is one of the most fun sports you can play but it’s also one of the most difficult. Things like hand-eye coordination and learning to balance on steel blades on ice take a long time to master. It’s truly a long-term development sport. Part of the enjoyment should be taking the time to develop. Parents panic and worry about where their kid is at 8, 9, 10 years old, but there are still many changes that will happen even through high school. So what’s the rush? What’s the end goal? The goal should be that your child is having fun, and along the way having a chance to develop and get better. If that’s the focus, then it doesn’t really matter where they are as a 10-year-old. I would tell parents that when you look back, some of the best players on the ice when they were 7 or 8 aren’t playing anymore, while some of the little guys who may have been a bit behind are now high school studs. Parents should relax and enjoy the ride.”
Scenario: My kids’ teammates all have the newest gear every season. I feel like I’m letting them down by not buying the latest models, but I don’t know if we can afford it …
Coach Anderson’s Advice: “As long as you have safe equipment that fits correctly and is comfortable, especially at the younger ages, you’ll be fine. The difference in ounces between types of sticks or skates may be imperceptible. What will having the most expensive equipment do for your youth player? Maybe his or her shot will be a mile per hour faster. As a 10-year-old, why does that matter? Hockey is a hand-me-down sport and that’s okay. One of the things that makes the community-based model so special is we take care of each other through equipment drives and trade-in programs that are affordable and effective.”
Scenario: My child is being recruited to play on a prestigious team this summer and fall. The competition would be really good so it seems like a great opportunity, but it’s also a lot of travel and feels like too much too soon for a an 11-year old …
Coach Anderson’s Advice: “A lot of families get lured into playing in summer tournaments ‘to be seen’ even at young ages but really, you’re just making a big investment in a few games that aren’t going to do much for your player’s long-term development. In the long run, your player would be better served if they spent that weekend practicing or playing a different sport or giving their body a rest. Tourneys are fun, games are fun, but there are better ways to spend your money. On top of that, here in Minnesota there are so many good hockey people and opportunities that you don’t need to travel somewhere else to get noticed. If you’re a good hockey player you will be noticed during the season.”
Scenario: While watching games, I keep noticing my daughter make the same mistakes over and over, and it blows my mind when the officials miss simple calls like offsides or icing. I used to be pretty quiet at games and car rides home, but I’ve noticed I get more vocal as I get more frustrated with certain things …
Coach Anderson’s Advice: “Parents need to let the players play, let the coaches coach and let the refs ref. Hopefully things are getting better, but I still hear kids getting yelled at from the stands at Squirt games. Parents need to remember – the kids don’t like it, the coaches don’t like it. What seems like harmless instruction can conflict with what the coach is teaching the kid and create confusion. And yelling at officials is totally inappropriate. There’s already a shortage of referees, so we need to respect and appreciate them.”