As I sit here writing what will undoubtedly be a controversial article, I am brought back to my days as a coach and player for examples. It's hard for me to criticize the people who taught me the game and helped me get better at whatever sport I was engaged in, but, as I look back now, I have to wonder why some of these coaches were allowed to stand on the sidelines. Normally, school extracurricular sports are coached by a teacher, and that's fine. However, it's the sports that take place at the community clubs where a parent coaches a team that normally see the phenomenon I like to call "Weekend Warrior-ism". These parents are their kids biggest fans, and they want everyone to know how good their kids are in everything the kids do. After seeing enough of this in my life thus far, my question to all coaches is this: why are you coaching?
Let me be clear here: not all coaches are afflicted by "Weekend Warrior-ism". There are very good coaches out there who take on the role as teacher, and help children learn the important things they need when playing sports. Things like sportsmanship, team goals over individual goals, and skills are stressed instead of winning and losing, and that's precisely what a coach at the grassroots level needs to emphasize. Children need to learn these vital life lessons in order to become well-balanced members of society. Good coaches teach these skills.
My problem, and the basis of this entire article, is that there is a heavy emphasis placed on winning and losing in today's youth and minor hockey programs. It seems there is more demand for results rather than building fundamentals and having fun. There is a far higher demand placed on parents and players as children are expected to go to hockey schools in the summer, skate all year, criss-cross the country for tournaments, and still have enough time for important things like school and family. Children as young as 12 years-old who are exceptional players have agents now. Where did we steer off-course, and can we get back?
I'm not sure if we can, but here are my proposals for fixing what is wrong with hockey for children 12-and-under.
First, lose the weekend warrior coaches. Coaches are supposed to be teachers to children of that age, not the next John Tortorella. I should never hear a coach questioning a ten year-old's heart or bag-skating them in a practice because they laughed about messing up a drill. Record the wins and losses as a reflection of your team's overall skill level compared to others of that age group, but don't let it become your main focus.
Teach the important things like skating, stickhandling, passing, teamwork, and having fun. After all, a lesson taught with humour is a lesson retained. Have fun, let the kids laugh and play, and teach them fundamentals to make them better. Believe it or not, the Internet is a fabulous resource for finding some of these drills, and I'll link a few of them up at the end of this article.
Secondly, if you're a parent who sits in the stands, encourage your child as much as possible, and don't point out the mistakes they made. If your son or daughter brings up what they think they did wrong, help them work through it by asking what they would do differently next time. When combined, constructive criticism, positive reinforcement, and allowing your child to figure out what went wrong will make them a strong player mentally. You have no idea how important that will be down the road.
If you stand around the water cooler at work and discuss how your son's or daughter's team went 6-0-1 last month and how many points he or she had, don't even bother going to the rink. Stay home. Don't show up. You're not there to make your son or daughter a better player. You're there to use him or her to make you look better in front of your peers. Your child isn't playing for a Stanley Cup and there's no Art Ross Trophy at the end of the year, so stop worrying about points and missed goals.
How many times have you heard Walter Gretzky brag about how good his son, Wayne, is? How many times have you heard Troy Crosby boast about how good his son, Sidney, is compared to everyone else? That's right: never. And that's the key. They pushed their sons to be better by helping them and supporting them. It was never a hockey boot camp at either household. It was always about fun.
I've seen lots of coaches and I've seen lots of parents at games, and I'm not saying everyone is like this. In fact, the majority of coaches and parents are very supportive of their children regardless of whether they win, lose, or draw. But every once in a while, you run into the Weekend Warriors - the parents who lives vicariously through their children and can't stop talking about how good their children are compared to everyone else.
And, personally, they are the most pathetic people at the rink. They are the parents who are screaming obscenities at the referees, trash-talking the other team's fans, yelling at the players to lay someone out, and whooping it up when their child scores his or her fourth goal because the other goaltender "sucks". You know who I'm talking about because we've all seen it. Heck, maybe it might be you.
So what can you do to prevent this type of person from coaching your child?
Ask questions of the potential coach. Go to practices. Talk to your child. Ask to be involved if you feel you can make the commitment. Be supportive of all the players as well as your own child. Cheer them when they win. Cheer them when they lose. Cheer them whenever you can. Play street hockey with them.
Most of all, encourage them to have fun, and not to worry about personal achievements or statistics. That's what being a kid is all about, right? Let them play. Let them have fun. And stand behind them 100% no matter what their skill levels are.
As an example, don't be like Jules Winnfield as a hockey coach or fan. It's funny, but he doesn't teach good fundamentals that children should know.
Tomorrow, I'll look at another controversial topic, and I'm sure it will generate some discussion as well. With hockey seasons already started all over North America, it's time we demand more from the pedagogues we put in charge of our children so that they become better players and people. Isn't that what we all want for our children?
As for the links, I encourage you to check out Hockey Canada's Skills Program. TSN also has some video examples of some of the drills. You can view the stickhandling drills, speed and agility drills, the one-touch pass and move drill, tips on how to dangle, tips to improve quickness and agility, and the importance on being ready for the puck. Some great tips and drills in those videos.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!