I’ve joked with friends for year about teaching a course on hockey parent behavior – wholly based on the mistakes I’ve made throughout the years. Sometimes older and experienced is wiser and sane. Yeah, I still lose it at times and yeah, my kid still rolls his eyes when I try and coach him in the car. But after three boys and 16 years as a hockey Dad, doggone if I haven’t learned a few things NOT to do. To save you all from having to sign up for a webinar – here’s some things that experience has taught me. And as obvious as some of these appear, it’s stupefying to see it day after day during the season. As figure skating great Chazz Michael Michael would say – “You’re Welcome Stockholm!”
Older and Wiser List of Hockey Parent – DON’Ts
- Don’t worry about ice time – as I tell my kids – any good coach wants his best kids on the ice at crunch time. If it’s not you – you need to work harder. Stopwatches, parent conferences with the coach and constant complaints about your kid’s ice time is a royal waste of energy and gives you a reputation.
- Don’t feel the need to buy every new hockey accessory and stick – peer pressure sucks for kids. Johnny or Susie walk into the locker room with a new $259 stick and every kid in the locker room begins asking their parents for the same. Let’s be clear here. When you spend that much for a stick you’re paying for a)marketing and b) flex. Neither matters if your kids is under the age of 15. Once that stick (built for much bigger kids and adults) is cut down – the flex goes with it. I have a line I love sharing with my 12 year old that he can recite verbatim. If _____ company can give me a certificate guaranteeing 50 goals this year, you can have the stick. Same goes for skates, gloves, etc. They’re all pretty much the same, coming from the same Chinese or Mexican factory. Paying $350-$600 for a pair of skates when your kid’s feet are still growing is just dumb. When your kid is old enough to pay for peer pressure, they can have the stick. In the meantime we try whenever we can to buy “last year’s model” which not surprisingly, looks a lot like this year’s model.
- Dads, if you’re vocal during games, don’t sit in the stands – As a fairly vocal Dad, I learned this one early. There is nothing to gain from sitting in the stands with the Moms. Nothing. You’ll tick off your wife with your game commentary and possibly say something that could offend a fellow parent you didn’t know was close by. Don’t do it.
- Don’t think you have any influence over the referees - They’re human. They make mistakes and yes, some have gargantuan rabbit ears and hear everything (especially the ones in Chicago). Don’t bite on screaming at the refs. It won’t help and in some cases may make things worse, never mind the bad example it sets for your kids. It all evens out at the end. Power plays at the younger ages are not exactly an advantage. My son played on one team a few years ago that I prayed would not draw an opposing penalty because our power play was so bad we gave up more shorthanded goals than we scored.
- Don’t be negative to your kids - Short of behavioral issues, it does absolutely nothing to criticize game or practice play right after they get off the ice. For one, it hurts the relationship with your kids. Do you really want them to have childhood memories of getting yelled at in the car, or memories of a hug and a “there’s always next game and I thought you did your best” conversation. My tip is, if you want to share insight – do it right before the next game and do it kindly, as an instructor would. They’ll have a lot more retention before the next game than right after the last one and your emotions would have died down by then.
- Don’t think your kid is going to return your “investment” – I hear parents say all the time that hockey is “an investment.” In what? These kids aren’t going to the NHL with a 99.8% certainty. Most won’t make it into college or high school teams for that matter and many won’t be playing after the age of 15. If you’re investing in anything, make sure you’re investing in the experience, the love of the game, family bonding, and building relationships. I didn’t play after high school, but growing up playing hockey (and baseball) represented my favorite childhood memories. It was money well spent by my parents and grandparents.
- Don’t think AAA hockey makes sense at the younger ages – USA Hockey has finally put the kibosh on AAA travel teams below the Pee Wee age bracket. It’s just silly. More money, more travel, more games when the kids should be developing their skills. After watching AAA “lifers” get cut in the Spring of their Bantam years, I wonder if the parents regret all the time and money spent on their kid’s “elite” hockey status and at what cost to the family when they could have been playing hockey cheaper and closer to home and getting the same experience. I’ve talked to countless coaches and hockey directors who admit that AAA hockey means nothing until your kid is a Midget.
- Don’t be a coach unless you are one – As we’ve said here many times before, let the coaches coach. Don’t constantly harass the coach about what they’re doing with your little superstar. If you don’t like the experience, leave at the end of the year, but don’t ruin the season by constantly second guessing a thankless, volunteer position. The most vocal parents never played or coached. Just shut up already or do a better job evaluating the coaching staff BEFORE you say yes at the beginning of the season.
- Don’t be THAT parent - You know the one, the person who spends the year yelling at the refs, complaining about ice time, micromanaging the coach, yells at their kid all the time, tells other parents their kid’s ice issues, shops their kid to other teams before the season is over, etc. Basically, all that’s on this list and all I didn’t get to. It’s not worth it. Trust me. I’ve done almost all of these at least once over the last 17 years. Thank God for maturity.