How important is it that your children go as far as possible in this sport? Would you like to know what you can do as parents to help your kids feel and perform like winners? Believe it or not, your role on the “team” can make or break your children’s experiences on the ice. How you act and what you say — both before and during practices and games — can determine whether your players have a love affair with hockey, feel good about themselves and reach their potential, or end up hating the game, feeling bad about themselves and becoming premature dropout statistics.
If you sincerely want your children to have happy, fulfilling experiences that keep them in the sport as long as possible and positively shape their self-esteem and confidence, then you will take what I’m saying here very seriously. On the athlete-coach-parent “team,” everyone has an important role to play. In order for the experience to be a healthy, successful one for the athletes, every member of the “team” must play their role to the very best of their ability.
For the players, their role on this “winning” team is pretty obvious. They must love the game, listen to the coaches, show up for practices, be good teammates (remember, hockey is a team sport!), work hard, be good sports, try their best (whatever their best is for that particular day), have fun (your children should not be playing unless they’re having fun!), learn from their mistakes and failures, etc.
The coach’s role on this winning team is to know the game, be organized so as to make the practices most beneficial, be motivated and enthusiastic, be positive, know how to catch kids doing things right, provide critical feedback in a kind and appropriate way, build a supportive and close-knit team, keep the children physically and emotionally safe, educate the parents, be a good communicator with both the players and the parents, inspire the kids to go beyond their limits, be a good role model and teach critical life skills (such as teamwork, good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, handling both success and failure, managing adversity, etc.).
However, even if the kids and the coaches do their jobs well, the quality of your children’s entire hockey experience rests upon what you do, as the parents! You are the most critical members of the “team.” If you don’t play your role correctly, then you will inadvertently end up sabotaging your children’s hockey experience, setting them up for failure and jeopardizing their emotional well-being and happiness.
So what is your job as parents? If you want your children to be successful on the ice, then you have two critical roles.
First, your job is to be supportive! You want to be behind the players when they’re doing well and, even more importantly, be behind them when they’re struggling. This is especially critical in relation to your own child. You want to be your child’s “best fan”! You want to be supportive of your child, supportive of all your child’s teammates and supportive of your child’s coaches.
Part of this support is to be unconditionally loving. You want to communicate in your words and deeds that — no matter what happens in the games or practices, regardless of how badly your children perform — your love is unconditional. Parents who tie their love to how their children perform set those kids up for overwhelming performance anxiety and massive unhappiness. Your children should never have to perform for your love.
Second, but just as importantly, your other “job” on the team is to not coach! It is not your job to evaluate your child or the other players on the team. It is not your job to criticize your kid’s play or any teammate’s play during the game and offer “helpful hints” as to what they need to do to improve. It is not your job to do pre-game “psyching” with your players, laying out everything that you think they need to accomplish in this upcoming game. It is not your job to offer after-game “critiquing” in the car ride home when your kids are a captive audience. You may think you’re being helpful when you do this. You are not. You may think this will help your children to perform better. It will not.
When you, as parents, take on the coach’s role in these ways — when you push and criticize your children, when you show your frustration and unhappiness in their play — you end up putting far too much pressure on them, killing their enjoyment of the sport and distracting them from just relaxing and playing the game well!
It is very important for you to remember that the primary way our children learn is through modelling. How you say things and how you act will determine what lessons your children ultimately learn. If they see and hear you openly criticizing their teammates (perhaps, because you may be jealous that they are getting more playing time and more limelight), then your children will learn to be jealous and do the same. In this way, you will rob your kids of an opportunity to understand that the very best way to get better as an athlete is to be surrounded by better players! Better athletes inspire and push them to reach higher. You do not want to bash your children’s teammates, you want to celebrate and respect them!
Along these same lines, what are you teaching your children about teamwork when you criticize the play of their teammates or angrily complain that they shouldn’t be playing ahead of other children? That’s right — nothing good! When you do this, you indirectly teach your kids to be selfish, mistrust the coach’s decisions and exhibit a lousy attitude. For a team to work, everyone has a role to play. It is the athletes’ job to play their assigned roles to the very best of their ability. It is your job, as the adults and parents, to model appropriate behavior around this so that your children learn the right lessons.
Furthermore, when your kids hear you criticizing or poking fun at their teammates for making mistakes and failing, then you will indirectly teach your children to be afraid of making mistakes and failing. When you do this, you do them a grave disservice that will end up crippling their development, both as hockey players and as people. Why? Because we learn and grow through our mistakes and failures! There is no other way. You don’t go from beginner to expert in anything without falling on your face enough times. Failure and mistakes are the foundation of success!
If you sincerely want your children to have rewarding experiences on the ice, then it’s up to you to start playing the right role on the team today. Be supportive. Be unconditionally loving. Be good role models. Encourage taking risks and making mistakes. Be positive team players! Remember that your children and their teammates are just kids — they are not pint-sized pros. They ALL need your love, respect and sensitivity.
For more of Dr. G’s great tips on how to help your athlete feel and perform like a winner, check out the Competitive Advantage Parents’ and Coaches’ Guide to Winning At The Youth Sports Game.