I have worked as a trainer for AA and AAA Midget hockey teams, as well as a trainer for Bantam lacrosse teams. And I’ve managed my son’s hockey team since he started playing. All “my” players have been boys from the ages of 12-17. And I say “my” because I really do take my job (paid or not) seriously.
I treat them the way I’d treat my own kid. Including the time I had to fend off a drunk moron from trying to beat up a kid in a hotel hallway at tournament. They’ve had me laughing til I cried and, yes, sometimes they made me cry. But I can honestly say the boys in this age group are … unique. Do I hug and kiss you or do I kick your ass? That is the question.
By the time boys get to this age, their personalities are pretty much set. Thanks to hormones, they can still be little powderkegs of emotional timebombs. Some are better at keeping their emotions in check than others. Some are prone to retaliating. Some are prone to smashing their sticks on the ice, on the bench … on someone’s head.
Some can’t deal with the emotions in a healthy way and retreat into themselves and their playing suffers. They might criticize their teammates, they might cuss at the ref, they don’t outwardly react but they inwardly combust.
Then there are the kids that let things slide quite easily. If a ref misses a call, they might grumble but the move on. They might get frustrated but they get over it. They focus forward, they stay positive. They encourage and they press on.
It’s been my experience that the kids that are more resilient and let things slide and keep their emotions in check are – by far – the more successful little humans. They appear happier. They seem to enjoy the game more. They want to play. They want to practice. They seem, well, emotionally healthy.
And here’s the thing:
There’s often a correlation between the kids who CANNOT control their emotions in a healthy way and parents in the stands who CANNOT control themselves.
No shocker there.
Here are the ways your behaviour is affecting your kids:
YELLING AT THE REF
Your kid hears that and it increases his frustration with the ref. He begins to see the game as “us vs them” and the “them” is the ref. He blames the loss on the ref, but never credits the ref with the win, strangely enough. When parents criticize the ref, it causes kids to focus their efforts and anger on things they can’t control. Teach your kid that the ref doesn’t put on his pants for a game and think “I’m gonna go out there and miss some calls.”
Kids should never criticize their teammates but for some reason (and this is especially true for parents of the goalie!) it’s ok for parents to blame the defense and yell at them for not hustling or getting back fast enough. It’s a team and there’s a coach and his job is to teach, coach, and manage the game. Kids should focus on their efforts and not the efforts of their teammates. When parents criticize a portion of the team, it creates division on the bench.
CRITICIZING THE GOALIE
Blaming the goalie for a loss when he has a “bad game” is counter-productive. It may not happen in the stands, but it happens off ice, maybe on the way home after a loss. Kids need to be able to adjust their game, strategies, and tactics based on whether or not their goalie is having a “good” or “bad” game. This is called being flexible. It’s a great characteristic in a human being. Perhaps if the goalie blocked every single shot, every single time the defense wouldn’t have to stretch themselves and improve their game – what would be the point? Teach your kid that goals-against is a TEAM stat, not a goalie stat.
Yeah. This is just embarrassing for your kid. I’ll be honest, if you’re That Dad or That Mom in the stands then the rest of the team pities your kid. And your kid can hear you from the bench. And the team can hear you. And I, personally, want to throat punch you. You’re an embarrassment to sports parents everywhere. And I can tell you from personal experience that other teams say things like “Oh, are we playing McKnight? That’s the team with the crazy mom, right?” You become the object of ridicule. Explain to me how this helps your kid? Kids should never have to yell “MOM! STOP!” from the ice because you’re fighting. Kids should never have to join in on the laughter about their own father because to defend you makes them look just as crazy. Stop. Just stop.
As a sport parent you have to realize that there’s a coach-player and coach-team relationship that has nothing to do with you. At some point you should not be advocating for your child to the coach and your child needs to self-advocate. This includes ice time, discipline, behaviour, leadership opportunities, etc… At some point you need to stop sitting at the dinner table and feeding the spirit of malcontent in your child with things like “yeah, the coach should give you more ice time instead of Johnny, you’re the better player” and instead start saying “Have you spoken to the coach about your concerns?” If your child believes he can advocate for himself, he will. Unless he thinks YOU don’t believe he can.
(Note, there have been some high-profile cases of abuse of players by coaches, I’m aware of these situations and the above paragraph does not apply. If you have concerns about any adult behaving inappropriately, DO SOMETHING.)
Kids see what you’re doing. They see you when you’re barging into the timekeepers’ box to cuss out some other parent for making a mistake. They see you when you’re yelling at the lady volunteering at tryouts because the line is too long and she helped someone else instead of you. They see you when you grumble and complain about the amount of fundraising. And strangely enough, when they see you do these things… they rarely see you volunteer. You’re teaching your kids that volunteers aren’t valued, and yet almost every sport they play is upon the shoulders of volunteers.
Seven ways to be a sport parent your kid can be proud of:
- Volunteer to help the team or the organization.
- Cheer positively, encourage resilience. “Good job!” “Next time!” “Let’s go!” Or my favourite: loud whistling. Kinda hard to whistle angrily!
- Know the rules and regulations – follow procedures with complaints instead of just complaining. Encourage kids to have sober second thoughts and follow through on issues.
- Apologize if you make a mistake. Then change your behaviour.
- Spend more time listening to your child than you do talking about the game – his performance is not a reflection of your parenting. His performance is a reflection of a set of circumstances on one day, for one hour of his life. It does not dictate his future – don’t assign it more significance than it has. Good or bad.
- Let your child see you encourage others. This is a team.
- Smile. Yes, smile. Give a thumbs-up once in a while. When your kid looks back to see you in the stands, don’t let him see your grumpy ass scowling with arms folded in discontent.
Finally, since not every kid can go to The Big Show, sport parents everywhere need to start redefining success.
It’s not a game. It’s not a season. It’s not an award.
It’s your kid looking forward to practices, games, seasons … loving the game and enjoying it with you.