When it comes to being the parent of a hockey-playing kiddo, there’s a lot to know. Equipment, icing, long-term athlete development, body contact versus body-checking, the list goes on.
And while that knowledge is important, there’s a second set of rules that parents have come to value: the unwritten rules that come from seasoned vets who have become rink rat moms and dads.
Pat Westrum and his son, Erik, know that rulebook well. Pat is Minnesota Hockey’s District 6 Coach-in-Chief, and an amateur scout for the Montreal Canadiens, among other jobs in the hockey community that involve plenty of facetime with players and parents. Erik is a former Gopher (1997-2001) and retired NHLer who is currently coaching in and has kids playing in the Prior Lake-Savage Hockey Association. He was also recently named head coach of the Southwest Christian-Richfield high school hockey team.
Here are a few unwritten parent rules they have learned during their time at the rink:
Google calendar, white boards, planners, make sure everyone knows times and dates of games, practices and non-hockey activities. Since most associations use SportsEngine to post schedules, be sure you know how to sync the online calendar to your own calendar.
If you’re a Pinterest mom and dad, there are plenty of nifty ways to create a command center to keep the entire family on schedule.
“No one wants to constantly be told what they did wrong,” said Pat. “I think parents can get lost in the conversations where they are trying to be helpful, and where they are being too hard on their child.”
Point out the positives instead of the negatives. Remind your child, and yourself, that it’s just a game.
In addition to keeping your kids safe, hockey equipment can provide your players with important life lessons. Teaching them to put their equipment on by themselves, to pack their own bag and how to take care of their favorite stick or skates helps instill independence and responsibility.
Challenge your player to be able to get dressed on their own by the time they reach Squirts/10U and start handing off details such as taping sticks and when to sharpen their skates by Peewees/12U.
Practice is for Kids
During tryouts at Apple Valley High School, paper covers the arena windows to prevent parents from coming in and watching, the brainchild of Pat.
“What happens when parents start coming to practices and tryouts is, one, they can start screaming at their kids, or say their kids are better than others,” he said. “And if they go to practice every team their kid plays on, they start analyzing and telling their kids the different criticisms and thoughts."
But that is not a parent’s job, that’s a coach’s job. Let the coach run practices the way they know how and use practice time to run errands.
Meals to Go
Between work, school and activities, hockey parents are parents on the go. Ideally every night includes a hearty home-cooked meal at the dinner table, but that’s not always possible.
Plan ahead with nutritious meal plans and prep so you can make sure your skater is fueled up before and after getting on the ice.
Check out this article from USA Hockey Magazine for ideas of what to prepare.
Ask the “Tough” Questions
“When my kids get in the car after practice, the first thing I ask is: ‘Did you have fun?’” Erik said. “That’s the first and most important thing, because if you’re not having fun at any level, you should not be playing the game.
“The second question I ask is: ‘Did you work hard out there?’ I think that question is important not only for hockey, but for life skills in school and beyond.”
Asking those questions keep things light and keeps the focus on the right things.
A Hockey Holiday
Whether it’s that piece of equipment they didn’t quite need when the season started, Minnesota Wild swag or a set of mini sticks and nets for floor hockey, coming up with a Christmas shopping list should be much easier with your kid playing hockey.
Need ideas? Check out this list by our friends in Illinois.
Whether it’s your Mite’s first year, or you have a second-year Bantam, be realistic with your skill standards, and with the goals – even the big ones.
“It’s great to dream big and want to go to the NHL,” Erik said. “Every kid should aspire to that if that’s what they want. But if you look at Minnesotans who have made it to the NHL in the past 100 years, there’s not a lot, and that’s a byproduct of people who really love the game and are talented and put the work in.
“I think parents think that every kid should have that dream, but the biggest thing is ask your kid what they want to do. You can try and help them get there but be realistic and make sure the focus doesn’t stray from having fun.”
Sink the Stink
Most hockey parents will tell you if you figure out a way to kill the hockey smell effectively, you’re parent of the year. Make sure to clean out the bags, get plenty of air to wet equipment, and don’t forget to toss it in the washer every once in awhile.
More tips to dispel the smell can be found here.
Theirs, Not Yours
“I think the biggest mistake parents tend to make is they can not live vicariously through their kids and hope they’re going to be something they may not have the chance to be,” Pat said. “That was the hardest thing for me when watching and coaching Erik. You have to remember this is their experience, not yours. You’re not in control of it anyway.”
It’s only a matter of time before your child sits next to someone in the locker room that has the same piece of equipment. One of the best ways to help know which is yours is to put your kids' initials on the tags.
This becomes even more important if your team all orders the same apparel for game days.
Bring a Blanket
It may seem like a silly reminder, but there are plenty of drafty barns with cold, aluminum bleachers around the state – bundle up!
You Should Have Fun Too!
It’s listed last, but it’s one of the most important. Nothing beats watching your son or daughter have the time of their life doing what they love – whether it’s hockey or something else. Enjoy every moment of watching them play, learn and have fun.
“No. 1 as parents, we’ve got to enjoy what our son or daughter is doing,” Pat said. “Don’t ever forget that part.”