As youth hockey seasons around the State of Hockey draw to a conclusion, many parents will begin to look back and try to assess their child’s year. Navigating an end-of-season evaluation is tricky business from the parent’s perspective.
How many goals, assists and points did my kid score?
Did my kid get as much ice as the other kids on the team?
How much better did my kid get?
What does he need to work on in the summer to make the team next year?
These are all queries that might come to mind. However, parents should be focusing on two questions.
“It’s not their win-loss record, it’s not going to be the scoreboard that determines whether or not the season truly was a success,” said Katie Hanneman, a trainer with the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). “It’s going to be: Are these kids having fun and are they going to play again next year? Those questions have to be answered by the parent first.”
Hanneman knows this is easier said than done. She leads PCA workshops in Minnesota and has two children, 7 and 9, in competitive sports.
“It’s difficult,” Hanneman said. “Keeping perspective and taking it down a notch even as you go through all this training. I tell parents all the time, you have to check yourself daily walking into that arena.”
One of the hardest things for a parent to ignore is their child’s teammates and friends.. Every kid matures mentally, physically and emotionally at different rates so it’s unfair to compare kids to one another when evaluating a season. What’s more important is how much each individual improved, on and off the ice, compared to themselves.
“We start this competitive race the minute that they’re born. How early does your kid walk? How early does your kid talk?” Hanneman said. “Really it has to be about that individual kid and staying true to yourself [as a parent].”
She suggests keeping in mind the family values away from the rink and applying those values to your child’s year-end evaluation. Did he or she make friends? Did they learn sportsmanship? Did they learn how to be a good teammate?
Test Kitchen for Life
“Keep the big picture in mind.” Hanneman said. “If you look at the percentages of kids that actually do go on, even to play at the high school level, let alone play at the collegiate or professional level, the numbers are not going to support going beyond today and tomorrow.”
PCA calls sports the test kitchen for life because they bring a mixed bag of experiences young athletes will encounter, outside of the playing field, as they grow older. Parents can look at how their child dealt with the different experiences the season offered.
“Giving them opportunities to focus on bouncing back from mistakes and learning how to take coaching from multiple people or dealing with teammates,” Hanneman said. “Focus on the real life aspects that kids are going to get from sports.”
When Does It Turn Into More Than Just Fun?
“I think it depends on the kid,” Hanneman said. “Every kid is going to be so different in how they transition through the stages of development. Some kids are going to be ready at the 8 to 10-year-old range. Some kids are never going to leave, what we call, the Romantic Stage, of why they're playing sports for the sheer fun of it.”
PCA calls the second phase the Technical Stage, where kids start to crave the interworking of the sport. Some kids never hit that point and it’s OK.
“It really is about knowing their own child and making that assessment based upon the individual,” Hanneman said.
Passion and Ignition
Parents can also evaluate themselves and how they handled the season. Did they help ignite a passion for the game?
“Maybe this year’s win-loss record wasn’t fantastic,” Hanneman said. “But a year from now, if these kids love the game, they’re going to continue to want to work hard, they’re going to have that passion, the ignition and the drive to want to work harder and to be better.”
The key for any parent is finding a balance for their child. Burnout is a real thing and oversaturation of hockey for a child who doesn’t want it can have a negative impact on their experience. If a child is not having fun, the likelihood that they’ll want to work on improving decreases.
“The number one thing I think that parents need to do a better job of is taking the time frame down,” Hanneman said. “Have them leave before they’re ready to go, so they’re dying to come back the next day.”
And remember, when evaluating the season, it’s your kid underneath all that hockey gear.
“Sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in, ‘This is my child versus this is my child the athlete,’” Hanneman said. “All the kid wants from the parent is that support and love and to differentiate between, ‘This is what I am versus this is what I do.’”