Archive for January 2011

Easing A Hockey Dad’s Mind

January 29, 2011

Whether others do or not, I find it kind of interesting that recent posts tend to lead into new — very related — ones.

That seemed to be the case recently, having not long ago penned the one on “Sports Versus the Mountains, Ocean and Work” (please read that to gain a better background on the following story).

Anyway, a good friend — a hockey dad — has an 8-year old player I get to watch often.  Oh, I might also add that I get to observe the dad a lot as well, oftentimes noticing him grimacing or wincing as he watches his youngster play.

As for our recent discussion…  Sport parents might know that a rink or athletic field is a tough place to have any sort of meaningful conversation.  I mean, there are all sorts of distractions, with either kids or passersby interrupting.  In my case, I enjoy all those who stop to say hello or shake my hand.  I’m just saying, though, that it can be tough to stick with a line of discussion for very long (at least in my case).

Thankfully, however, my friend and I were actually able to break from the crowd one night recently, to talk a little about his young guy’s game, as well as about the dad’s expectations.

Providing a little background for the rest of this story…  Let me say that the dad played a fair share of hockey, which means he knows the game.  And, while it can sometimes be easier on a kid when his dad knows how difficult hockey can be, the dad who has been around the rinks can also be super-critical.  🙂  (Oh, if I could only make that Smiley shake his head.)

Actually, the dad I’m talking about here is a really good guy, and I sense he actually knows he’s sometimes hard on his boy, and he really tries his darnedest not to be.

Okay, so I’m attempting to help in all this, suggesting my friend’s son has really good skills.  And, although I get paid to determine such things, I’ve sensed my friend only half believes me.

On the other side of the spectrum, I don’t think he’s disagreed with my suggestion that his son seems to sometimes lose himself on the ice — or, he seems to just occasionally suffer from a “brain freeze” when we grown-up observers least expect it.

(Actually, today’s snowstorm has delayed the technical work required in initiating the following announcement.  So, you still have time to lock-into the old — Charter Member — price of only $5.95 per month!)

Pausing for a brief commercial break — 😉

Back to reality, though…  I mean, we are talking about an 8-year old.  And — at that, we’re talking about a kid who has exactly one year of Mite C hockey under his belt.  Yup, that’s it:  one year on the lowest rung on the hockey ladder.

Let me reaffirm that the boy is a pretty dawgoned good skater for 8-years old, he moves the puck fine, and he passes and shoots like a typical Mite A.  So, if there’s an area where I think the boy could improve, it would be for him to gain a slightly better understanding of our game.

Now, over several months, I’ve asked my friend if his son watches much hockey on TV.  (Like most any other subject, kids seem to learn quite a lot as they see older people perform on the tube.)  Interestingly, it was in our most recent conversation when the dad seemed excited that his boy had gotten the bug lately, and I guess he’s also been playing a lot of computerized hockey (which to me is just as good as watching the pros perform on television).

As an aside here…  What I’m suggesting is that youngsters can pick-up a lot from watching experienced guys play.  If a kid is a defenseman, he or she is pretty surely going to start recognizing the things older “D” do, and I’ll even suggest that a lot of little ones will start copying the skills and mannerisms of their favorite players.

As yet another aside…  I’m coaching an Instructional level team out of my Learn-to-play clinic, and in the beginning we coaches are asking all the kids to take turns playing in the net.  Of course, it’s fun to see those cute tykes waddling around in those big, over-stuffed goalie pads.  Every once in awhile, though — as happened a few weeks back, we’ll see a little one acting as if he’d played goal for years.  Ya, talking about taking-on his idols’ mannerisms…  After the game, the boy’s parents confirmed my suspicions, in that their son watches A LOT of hockey on TV, and he is always studying the goaltenders.

Okay, returning to my friend’s concerns, I was really trying to ease his mind.  And I tried to paint a picture for him that I’d like to share with my faithful readers…  Again, the boy is 8-years old.  Right?  So, thinking quickly as we stood in the rink, I got the dad to agree that his son had about 5-years before any meaningful judgment would be made on his hockey playing abilities.  Ya, I didn’t have to work very hard at convincing him that high school hockey will be the first real goal, and it had to help all the more when I put it in my kind of perspective — as in there being a good 5-years to help ready the boy for that challenge.

That’s about where we left-off that night.  And, while I probably DID ease my buddy’s mind — at least a little, there was a lot more I’d have said given more time…

If I had to roll it all neatly into a ball, however — and tell you exactly how I feel, it would go something like this…

1) We can’t do it FOR our youngsters.  No, if they’re going to go anywhere in the game, it really has to be their idea, their dream.

2) That said, I think we can only help or hinder them thereafter.

3) Hindering them is probably a two-parter…  First, there are both subtle and blatant ways in which we grown-ups can take the fun out of hockey.  (If you want some pretty good insight into this topic, see my piece on “Hockey Success Breeds More Hockey Success“.)  As bad, perhaps, is when a parent is more than a little selfish, and puts ALL of his or her own wants ahead of what could help the youngster.  (Not that a youngster should come first; however, he or she could get a fair share.)

4) And this last one is really the opposite of the previous point.  In other words, parents soon learn what things could help their youngster gain an edge.  From that point, I think it’s just a matter of giving the kid a chance.  (I am not talking about over-indulging, or going overboard — sometimes you can do TOO much; I’m only suggesting kids be given that fair chance.)

Getting back to my friend and our conversation…  I’ll say again that his boy is on course — as an 8-year old.  I’d also mentioned as we were going our separate ways that the boy is probably going to be lucky — and huge, like his dad.  It can’t hurt to have that on your side IF you’re also skilled and smart.

Of course, there is that “smart” part.  But, my suspicion is that the boy is just mentally young — like lots of kids his age.  My further guess is that “the light can come on” at any time — next week, next month, next year; it doesn’t matter.  I know (having observed thousands upon thousands of kids) that it will come on.  All his dad has to do is to keep his son in a good frame of mind until it does.


Sports Versus the Mountains, Ocean and Work

January 18, 2011

Are you going to beat the price increase at before the February 1st deadline?


Okay, if I have you wondering about that title — about “Sports Versus the Mountains, Ocean and Work”, good.   😉


If just this one time you might give me a little latitude, in that I’ve really amassed a bunch of scattered thoughts or experiences in this entry.  Ya, I’ve seen a lot of things go right and wrong under this heading, so I’m just looking to share as much as I can with you today…


This subject comes to mind often in my work, whether it’s during my off-season training programs for older players, or as I coach a winter team.  Ya, no matter the time of year, the kind of choices I’ve hinted at up above are frequently playing into my players’ lives, as well as into my approach to coaching them.

As an example…  Over the past few years, I’ve had a couple of pretty good older players who would frequently leave our team — or our training — for long weekends in the mountains.  Of course, homes-away-from-home require maintenance, so a teenage boy was often needed by his dad for such things.  Oh, and I’ve had as many kids on my teams who were fortunate enough to have cottages on Cape Cod, or the family had a timeshare in some distant spot.

Of course, these are difficult economic times for many American families.   So it makes sense that some of my older kids also have had to pick-up part-time jobs — over the summer months, during long weekends, or after school.

Not that the mountains, beach or work are the only distractions for a wannabe athlete.  No, girlfriends have to be included, as should be school socials, religious events, as well as special family times.

Oh, and before I hang all these distractions on the kids, appreciate that lots of moms and dads want their own “me time”.  Who can blame them?  Many Americans are working longer and harder than past generations, so we can’t blame a mom or dad for claiming, “I need a break!”

Okay, so let’s see…  It seems to me that we have the potential for a pretty long list of distractions.  We’re talking cabins or cottages, a kid’s part-time work, maybe a girlfriend, obligations at school and at church, extra family obligations, the parents’ extra needs, and — oh, ya — school work.

So, I have to ask you:  Is there anything wrong with a youngster devoting necessary time to ANY of those activities?  My unequivocal answer:  ABSOLUTELY NOT!

In other words, I’m going on the record — right now, stating there is nothing wrong with any of those things, and even a lot right in partaking in them.

Okay, Dennis, so why are you wasting this Internet real estate and your reader’s valuable time citing everything to this point?  Well, dear friends, it’s because a lot of things go into any of us becoming successful at what we do, and this almost always requires some sort of choices, or some kinds of sacrifice.

Let me say that another way…

I don’t think one can dream of being a brain surgeon while avoiding studies and opting instead for a part-time job and spending every other waking moment with a girlfriend.  (Could someone pull this off?  I guess so.  However, are the odds in his favor?  Ha.)

Of course, what I was getting at there is the need to make some serious and well thought out choices — based on what it is a young fella (or gal) REALLY wants.

Can he (or she) become a rocket scientist while still enjoying the beach or a significant other?  Of course!  BUT, are there still some tough choices to be made, or is some sort of personal discipline required to “have it all”?  Ya, I think so.

Interestingly, the two high school players I thought of as I typed that earlier insert had very different goals.  (Or, might I suggest, their parents had different aspirations.)

Both families owned vacation homes upcountry, and both kids on occasion disappeared while the rest of our team was training.  Funny thing, though:  the family with the seemingly higher aspirations disappeared a whole lot more often that the more realist one.  (Go figure.  ???)

To be honest, the one family had it right, with the boy hoping to have some fun as a good high school hockey player, later moving on to a decent college where he could slightly adjust his next goals (which wouldn’t likely include playing college hockey).

And that’s pretty much the point I want to make here.  I mean, far be it for me to tell a family when they should take-off.  Hey, I occasionally wish I had a getaway place, and I’ve been feeling lately like I could use a drive through the mountains or some time soaking-up the sun’s rays on a beach.

As I said very early-on, there’s everything right about experiencing lots of things, and especially in not missing-out on some great social opportunities.

Of course, I guess you’ve surmised by this time where I think a lot of families (and potential athletes) go wrong.  For, it all goes back to choices again, I believe, or the matching of a youngster’s (or parents’) goals with his or her aspirations.  Ya, there’s a price to be paid for getting what we want in the end.

Two more points…

I have found it amazing that the high school guys who have begged-off practices — to catch-up on a school project or to study extra for a test — actually struggled with their grades.  On the other hand, those who never missed a practice for those reasons were top-ranked students.  Hmmmmm…  Why would this be?  My only guess (and a fairly educated one having observed lots and lots of kids) is that the better students plan their study-time extremely well, and they’re usually far ahead on projects and readying for exams.

Believe it or not, I’ve also found that most of my very successful players — or the ones who ultimately got opportunities to play hockey beyond high school — didn’t miss-out on very much social stuff.  And again, we might say, “Hmmmmmm…”  What I’ve seen those kids do, however, was to fulfill their hockey commitment on a given day/night, shower, and then hustle-off to whatever else it was they wanted to do.  Ya, where there’s a will, there’s usually a way.

In closing, I might suggest that my 40-plus years in coaching tell me that the aforementioned lifestyle choices seem to start very early-on for a hockey player.  In other words, parents begin making choices long before a youngster has much say, and those choices seem to continue until the player reaches the end of the road.

Oh, I leave you with this one…  From what I’ve said to this point, it might make sense that — over the course of a long season, just a couple of players miss a ton of team activities.

As they miss one, a parent might offer, “It’s import that ____ make this church function.”  As they miss another, “A special aunt is ______, so we’ll be away _____!”  On yet another occasion — this time noticing me wince, the parent answers, “Well, I think it’s important that we get away as a family…”

All the while, mind you, I think we both know that other team members were finding their own getaway times, celebrating family milestones, dealing with the flu bug or whatever, BUT STILL HARDLY EVER MISSING A TEAM FUNCTION!

Finally, I hope no one leaves this page with the idea that I believe one lifestyle is any righter or wronger than another.  All I am suggesting is that a youngster’s (and again, the parents’) aims in the end have to fit the chosen lifestyle.  So, whether it’s making a better team the next year, or ultimately getting the chance to enjoy high school hockey and maybe beyond, I think it’s all going to ultimately boil down to the choices made way back when — between the kid’s sport, the mountains, the ocean, his or her or the parents’ work, and probably a whole lot more.


I want to thank all those who commented (and helped my psyche) in reference to this old coach’s wrestle with “the guilties“!  Thanks — big time!  And if you haven’t read that yet, it’s my very last entry.