Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Youth hockey is a constant learning process

Parental Guidance
By Cean Burgeson
for California Rubber Magazine

As hockey parents with a son entering his sixth year of playing, I can safely say my wife and I have evolved from “greenhorns” into fairly educated hockey folk with experience in four hockey associations covering two different states. As such, there are opinions we hold now that are very different from when my son was in learn to play hockey, mini-mites, mites, and squirts. Now that those days are behind us, we have the benefit of time and experience. Each year we learn a few new things and change our perception of what hockey means to us and our son, as well as how we approach the sport. That’s one of the exciting aspects of youth hockey – it always seems to present something new for the families who become involved with the sport.

With the benefit of this hockey hindsight, there are two topics I wrote about last year that I’d like to re-address, as my opinions and insights have sharpened a bit over the course of the last year. The first topic is changing hockey programs. At the younger levels of hockey, it seemed to me that changing programs didn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you can keep the same group of players together year after year, hockey associations and programs benefit, and the development of each individual player and their team performance overall increases. This opinion has not changed.

That being said, I feel the need to add one small addendum. Every hockey program has their own distinct offerings which differentiate them. Some programs are run by rinks, while others are run by associations. Some field teams at every level, while others do not. Because of these types of differences, you may find yourself changing teams more than once during the course of your player’s hockey career. There are also factors such as program cost, rink distance, the ability to play up a level, and whether or not the player actually makes a given team. All of these affect where your player laces up for the season.

The second topic is the ability to play up a level. I said in my previous column that I don’t think kids should play up unless it’s an exceptional case. I still believe that is true. However, I’ve modified my opinion a little. I’ve found there are times when it just makes good sense to move a player up if they are performing well enough to do so or if a team is having trouble fielding the required number of players without moving someone up. I must add that this determination should not be made by parents, but by the coaches.

I think it’s valuable to reassess the hockey experience each year. One of the great things about youth hockey is that not only are the kids constantly learning new things, but so are the parents. I encourage all of you to look for ways to improve your own “hockey IQs” this season along with your player.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The many hats of a hockey parent

Parental Guidance
for California Rubber Magazine

Hockey parents fulfill many roles for their youth athlete. First and foremost, we are parents; nurturing our children and making decisions that are in their best interests. These decisions include which teams our kids should play on, how we’ll get them to practices and games, and how we’ll pay for their season, equipment, tournaments, and other hockey related expenses. At times, it seems like chauffer and financier are the only roles we play in our hockey players’ lives. But don’t underestimate your influence.

Some parents are also coaches or assistant coaches. With this comes the added responsibility of the welfare and development of not only our own player, but an entire team full of other players. But even if you don’t coach your son or daughter’s team, there’s a good chance you’re coaching your child at home, by playing street or inline hockey and going to sticks and pucks sessions. This type of involvement has an incredibly large impact on your child’s growth and abilities as a hockey player.

Another hat we wear as hockey parents is that of trainer. We have to make sure our athletes get enough sleep, eat the right foods, and stay healthy. Part of this may involve helping a child recover from an injury by taking them to doctor’s appointments and supervising rehab exercises. And after the healing process is over, taking the proper steps to prevent further injuries.

An additional role that all hockey parents fulfill but may not think about is that of sports psychologist, especially with younger athletes. We have to keep them mentally prepared and prop them up a bit when they get cut from a team, take a tough loss, or perhaps don’t perform on the ice as well as they had hoped. Goalie parents are probably the best amateur sports psychologists on the planet.

We are also agents, managers, and public relations staff. I’m not saying we should be grooming our kids for the NHL. I’m talking about being an advocate for your young athlete. This means being involved with their development in an active and constructive way by maintaining a good relationship with the coaching staff.

This doesn’t mean arguing ice time or telling the coaches how much better your kid is than the rest of the team. Instead, carefully watch their development and pursue a healthy dialogue with the coaches as to what your player needs to work on in order to develop most effectively. And lastly, we are public relations specialists, sending out relentless emails, Facebook postings and pictures to grandparents, friends and family members, probably to the point that they think we’re mad for spending so much time on hockey. It’s great, isn’t it?

So, as we set out on yet another hockey season, I’d like each one of you to pat yourselves on the backs for successfully wearing all of these hats during the course of this season. You deserve it, and probably don’t get praised enough for all that you do.