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The wrong way to raise a hockey player

Courtesy of Ryan Kennedy

There are certain people who I hope will read this column, though by nature they probably won’t know it’s about them.

I’m talking about the dads who stand at the back of the rink purple-faced, banging on the aluminum walls when a goal is scored, screeching at their kids. I’m talking about the moms who incessantly shake plastic jugs full of pennies and, yes, screech at their kids.

You may think this behavior stops once the players leave their teens (Guh. How odious is it that the bulk of it is aimed at children?). But there are, in fact, NHLers tortured and haunted by overwrought parents living their failed dreams vicariously through their sons.

Yes, professional athletes make millions of dollars, but remember your early 20s? Not exactly a great time to be emotionally rattled.

The most well known case of psycho parenting is that of Patrick O’Sullivan, the Kings left winger whose father was criminally abusive towards him, even in major junior.

John O’Sullivan seemed to think he knew something about high-caliber hockey because he played 35 games in the Atlantic Coast League between 1981 and 1986.

There are others like him who still harangue their kids to this day (Patrick got a restraining order against his dad), even though they have no professional (or even major junior/NCAA) experience in hockey. And they are actually affecting these players’ NHL careers with their stupidity.

Can you imagine the embarrassment of an NHLer having their dad tell a Stanley Cup-winning coach their son deserves more ice time, or a spot on the power play unit? It happens!

It seems so simple, but here’s the rule: If you didn’t play to your child’s level, shut up. You have no idea what you are talking about. Whether you spend your day putting up drywall or doing complex accounting procedures, the one thing you are not doing is coaching a major hockey team. So shut up and stop ruining your children’s life.

Even retired NHLers who have young gun sons or daughters playing the game know better.

You won’t find a nicer person out there than J-P Parise, who played almost 900 games for the Isles and North Stars, among others. Parise learned long ago that yelling at children over hockey is a mistake. While raising New Jersey Devils star Zach and goalie prospect Jordan, Parise realized the following:

“I was hard on them at first and I felt terrible,” Parise said during an interview for Hockey’s Young Guns, a book I co-authored with Ryan Dixon. “I went home (one day) and thought, ‘Why the heck am I doing this? This is supposed to be fun. I always had fun playing hockey.’ From then on I would never yell at them. Players should look forward to the next game or practice.”

Sage advice. Should an NHL coach yell at a player? If they think the player needs it, then sure. That is a professional relationship and the player doesn’t have to see the coach at every Christmas or birthday for the next 40 years. And the coach has earned the right to voice his opinion through years of experience and hard work, running professional practices and watching hours upon hours of game tape. Not because they once scored a hat trick in a high school game 25 years ago.

Now, I’m not saying a parent shouldn’t push their child to be the best they can. Motivation can be a tricky thing, especially for teenagers who would rather play drums in a punk band (which was my downfall. No, wait, lack of talent was my downfall). And in the sleazy world of minor hockey politics, having your kid switch teams, leagues, whatever, may be a necessary step.

Obviously there is a balancing act. Get your kid that tryout with the rep squad, but remember there are too many teams out there for your child to be overlooked for too long.

In the meantime: support, support, support.

As Parise noted, hockey is supposed to be fun. Waking up before dawn and driving to a frigid rink an hour away means you have two hours of bonding time with your son or daughter, so use it well. And use it to talk about other things.

“We would never talk about hockey to or from games,” Parise noted.

This sport can change lives; make sure it’s for the better.


Filed under: General, , ,

Psycho parents ruin the game for kids

Courtesy of Justin Bourne

Sports parents, in general, have a tendency to take their child’s sporting life too seriously. These hyper-involved “helicopter parents” (a term used to describe the constant hovering) frequently suck the fun out of kicking a ball, chasing a puck or eating dandelions and picking your nose while wearing a jersey.

Hockey is awful for this.

Having played the sport myself, I thought I saw the worst of the worst. Then I got a job working at a sports store owned by the president of minor hockey in my home town and was witness to the backdoor-campaign attempts of parents with children younger than 10.

There was the Dad who, between summer and winter hockey, had his kid on the skating treadmill down at our city’s new training facility. For those of you who haven’t seen one, a skating treadmill is a huge plastic-floored version of a normal treadmill they pulled from the depths of hell, put on an incline and loaded with harness straps. It’s used for improving cardio and building strength, both goals it easily achieves.

What it also does, is suck gigantic eggs.

It sucks in every conceivable way and in my own opinion (and, from what I’ve heard, the opinion of every person who isn’t selling them), it isn’t great for your stride.

The kid loves it, he just can’t get enough,” the Dad would tell me when I’d ask some questions.

Then there’s the Dad who comes in around close, with a case of beer and “just wants to BS.” Before a top can be popped, the idle chitchat is on the upcoming tryouts. And he wants to know where his kid fits in.

“But he’s better than that Smith kid, right? That kid doesn’t know which way he’s going half the time.”

Then there’s the burning mad Dad, who just bought his son top-of-the-line skates and a couple Easton Synergies, looking for the “president” to straighten out the latest slight his son has received from what, in his opinion, appears to be an intentional campaign to keep the man’s family down.

“F*** him and his personal agenda…”

And it’s not just Dads anymore. Moms would flood into the store around hockey season, looking to buy the best skates possible for their little Gretzkys. We didn’t carry Bauer the first year the store opened, as another dealer in town had the exclusive rights to sell their lines. Parents of kids without full sets of adult teeth were furious that we had the audacity to run a hockey shop without Bauer skates. What kind of a sham were we trying to pull, anyway? We couldn’t fool them with our silly RBK witchcraft.

One Mom brought in her very own skate-measuring tool, the same one we used to make sure the edges on the blades were of equal height. We did a premier sharpening job, of course, but the Mom felt inclined to purchase her own tool and measure the edges before paying for the sharpening, just to be sure.

Eight-year-old kids are worried about the hollow in their blades? I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical because Jarome Iginla brought his skates in for me to sharpen that same summer and didn’t know what hollow his skates were done to.

Me: “How do you want them done?”

Him: “Um, I dunno, regular?”

Me, slightly flummoxed: “Hmm.”

I’m sure it was just that his trainer knows his needs better than he knew his own, but still, he genuinely didn’t know.

What this means is, one of the greatest players in the world isn’t sure, but the eight-year-old’s Mom needs to measure her son’s edges. Got it.

So what does this create?

Misery.

It creates pure, awful, misery, for a kid who just likes to play some puck.

Nobody likes being told what to do and most people feel the need to rebel against something their parents pushed. I can’t think of a quicker way to get your kid to quit at 13 than by making his on-ice performance directly related to the type of off-ice relationship he has with his parents.

I never had a clue when I played well or not, because my parents told me I did every single game. Honesty is probably the best policy, but what the crap did they care if I sucked at hockey? They were paying a fortune (as all hockey parents do) in gear and fees so I could play, so they wanted me to enjoy it.

And so, I grew to love the game in my own right. I liked scoring goals. I liked getting assists. I just liked hockey.

Not once in my life was I worried about my parent’s reaction to how I played. I wanted to impress them, but knew I didn’t have to.

For parents, sports are a fertile ground for teaching points. You can use them to explain to your child “what you did to that kid was wrong and here’s why.” Or “it was great that you shared the puck on that play. Teamwork is effective.” Passing the puck doesn’t emasculate your son, Dads. It makes them better.

We’ve all heard horror stories about the kids afraid to get in the car with their Dad after the game; how the Dad always yelled and got upset when his child screwed up. I’d quit in a heartbeat if playing the game made my life that miserable.

No kid whose age is in the single digits should be playing hockey in the summer. Kids need well-rounded life experiences to learn to think creatively, play effectively and appreciate the game.

They’re still kids, remember? Let’s let them have a childhood.

Filed under: General, , , ,

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