Preston received a perfect pass off the boards from his teammate. There was just over a minute to go in the tied hockey game and he turned to make his move up ice. He took the puck over the blue line and began moving to the net, but he had two defenders in front of him and no open shooting lane. However, Todd had penetrated the D and was waiting for a pass on the left side of the net. No one had picked him up, he was wide open. What to do? It was a no brainer, get the puck to Todd. Preston knew what they had been practicing over and over, but he couldn’t shake the voice of his dad screaming at the top of his lungs. His dad always wanted him to take the shot himself. He constantly told Preston his teammates weren’t as good with the puck as he was. Yet, coach had been drilling the team on working together. Give the puck to the one with the clear shot and there sat Todd in perfect position. Preston knew what the right thing to do was, but he could see the face of his father now, who was pounding on the glass, screaming, “Take the shot Preston, take the shot”. Preston wound up and shot. The puck never got through; it bounced off the defender and onto the stick of the opponent. Quick as a flash they cleared the zone and were moving up ice, leaving Preston and Todd behind the play. They skated hard, but didn’t get back before the red light flashed. The other team scored! As Preston skated toward the bench, he glanced over to where his Dad was standing. His red face stuck out from across the ice and he could see the disapproval in his eyes. It didn’t matter now that Preston had done what he said, he didn’t get the result his dad wanted. Preston just looked away; he knew it would be a long ride home. For now he had to face Coach, Todd and the rest of his teammates.
How many times is this scenario or a similar one, played out in our hockey rinks or sports fields all across America? As a hockey mom and a marital and family therapist, I am amazed and disturbed by the intensity of parents when it comes to our children’s sports. Don’t get me wrong, I am a die-hard hockey mom, with or without lipstick. I love to watch my boys play the sport they love. I can cheer loudly with the best of them. But there is a line that too many parents are crossing these days. When cheers of encouragement turn to yells of discouragement or when parents forget they are the PARENT and not the COACH, the line is crossed.
Since when did youth sports become about the adults and not the kids? Too many times it becomes about stroking our egos rather than stroking our kids’ self-esteem. Last season, I was horrified at what occurred on one of my son’s hockey teams. At the very beginning of the season most of the parents seemed excited and very supportive of the new coach; however by November, when the team didn’t have a winning record things began to change. Some of the dads felt they needed to help the coach out by telling him how to run lines and where their kid should be playing. One dad went so far as to text the coach during a game. When the coach didn’t respond to these comments the parents began screaming instructions over the glass. None of the adults in this situation were really thinking about their kids. It was all about adult egos.
I am so impressed at all our young men/women learn to do on the ice. They have to balance while skating on thin blades of steel, controlling a small rubber disk with a long thin stick, while keeping their head up and preparing for the inevitable check that’s coming. Oh yea, and they need to learn how to see a play developing in front of them and react in a matter of seconds. WOW! I can’t even get passed the balancing on two thin steel blades. The last thing they need is to have to do all that and be concerned about their parent’s emotions on the other side of the glass, or whatever playing surface.
Why do most of us allow our kids to play a sport, anyway? The best reasons are because it allows them a chance to be part of a team, learning to work together with others for a common goal, it keeps them focused and out of trouble and it gives them a healthy release from their daily pressures. It can serve as a very healthy and important aspect in our children’s lives. If our kids are playing sports to make us proud, or to earn a scholarship or to make it as a pro, they are playing for the wrong reasons.
Don’t mistake me, my son would like nothing better than to play college hockey especially for his favorite school the University of Michigan. And my husband and I would like nothing better than for him to earn a scholarship to do it, have you seen the price of college lately? However, that is the icing on the cake and very difficult icing to get. We encourage him to pursue his dreams and let him know it takes hard work to achieve them. But there has to be balance. If we rode our son every time he messed up during a game or every time he really didn’t feel like working out, we’d create a hatred for the game in him. It’s important to nurture a love for the game. My favorite thing to tell my boys is, when they take the ice look around, sniff the air, listen to the sounds of the rink and be grateful they get to play this sport. Their love for the game needs to supersede what the score board says or what the future holds. What our kids need from us is a healthy diet, plenty of rest, to teach them how to balance sport and school and most importantly that we fill up their emotional tanks. We need to be encouraging! That is our job as parents when it comes to sports. That way they can be the best they can be for the coach when we take them to practice or a game. The coach will teach them the fundamentals.
As parents it’s also our job to be encouraging to our kid’s coaches. It’s not our job to tell them how to run practices or lines during a game. It’s not okay to berate a coach because he/she isn’t giving our child enough playing time. Coaches have an exceptionally difficult job and most of them are volunteers!! Most coaches of kid’s sports, coach because they love kids and they love the game. So they thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to pass on their love for the game to young eager hearts. I am well aware that there are coaches who can have unrealistic expectations of kids and who put too much pressure on the kids. But any hockey club or youth organization worth playing for will have proper steps to follow in dealing with this. If not, choose a better club. Just be sure that it’s not your expectations that are out of whack before leaving.