There is no parental bluebook for raising a future National Hockey League star or an Olympian. There’s no magic formula. There are no guarantees. But it does happen, and the Backes family of Spring Lake Park knows what it’s like.
Minnesota Hockey sat down with Karen and Steve Backes, whose son, David, is the current captain of the St. Louis Blues and a two-time U.S. Olympian. Karen and Steve offered some insight into their parenting strategies and philosophies while David was growing up.
In Multiple Sports
Growing up in Spring Lake Park, David was a multi-sport athlete as he played soccer, baseball, tennis and, of course, hockey.
“We didn’t want him to eat, drink, sleep and do everything hockey as a kid,” said Karen, who added that by playing other sports, David wouldn’t get burnt out by just focusing on one sport. It also helped that David enjoyed other sports, and they likely helped him become a better athlete.
In the Stands
As with any parent who has kids in youth sports, both Karen and Steve were always passionate supporters of David at practices and games, but they were careful with how they displayed it.
Karen iterated how she and her husband noticed other parents who would constantly scream at coaches, players and officials. It’s the type of behavior she and Steve never wanted to exhibit. Hockey parents make a lot of sacrifices and commitment to their child’s experience, so it’s natural for parents to want to be a little too involved, as Karen explained.
“We both did cheer at the games. David would tell me that he could hear me up in the stands, which may have been his way of saying to be not so vocal,” Karen said. “Most of what I was cheering about was encouraging-type comments and that kind of response.”
In the Car
While both Backes’ weren’t necessarily vocal at games, they were still one of David’s guiding hands as he progressed in his hockey career. Sometimes, parents may even utilize the car ride home after a game as a place for offering constructive criticism for a child’s play. For the Backes’, though, that typically wasn’t their strategy with David.
“If there was something wrong that happened in the game or negative that happened in the game, David was already beating himself up about it,” Karen said. “The coach in the locker room after the game would get his two cents in.
“So, by the time he got in the car, we really learned that that’s not the time to talk to your player about the game or try to correct any plays that he or she was doing. What we tried to do was wait until times were a little calmer to have a better conversation with him and try not to be too harsh or negative about it.”
In Juniors and College
Once David transitioned from high school graduation to the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Lincoln Stars and Minnesota State-Mankato, Karen and Steve stood by as David’s most loyal fans. They always let the coaches coach and remained supportive through ups and downs.
“We were not the experts, so we left that in the coaches’ hands,” said Steve about offering any hockey-specific advice for David.
In the NHL Spotlight
Now that David has become an NHL captain and two-time Olympian over the past decade, Karen and Steve can reflect on their time with David as a youngster and offer some advice for parents who have a budding NHL star or just kid who loves the game.
“Everyone wants their kid to be a professional hockey player, but the reality is, there’s a small chance that they’re going to play junior, college or professional hockey,” Karen said. “It’s important to remember for kids to have fun out there. … Growing up and playing hockey with their friends in their community is an important piece of that childhood.”