Hockey Mom Blog #2: This post is the second in a series of thoughts and ramblings about my life as a hockey mom. These years are fleeting, and I hope that what I share will be with you on your journey through the world of youth sports.
If there is one thing that 41 years on this planet has brought me, it is the certainty that just about everyone has an angle. The people who don’t are simply floating through life, lost in all the things that happen to them. Most of us have a plan, and as parents, a plan for our kids.
Unfortunately, sometimes that plan causes adults to lose perspective, and to do things that ultimately thwart the plan they so carefully laid. These plans can also cause harm to others around them – often unintentionally, but in some cases, very purposely.
Nobody knows this better than a sports parent, or in my case, a hockey parent.
I truly believe that all of the diabolical things I have seen over the years come from a place of good – an honest desire to do what is best for the young people they love so dearly – but become so warped that it is extremely difficult to see the good behind it.
MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR
With the exception of the time spent playing instructional hockey, I don’t believe my son has ever been on a team that hasn’t had at least one person who worked to manipulate the overall environment of the team in favor of their child. At its worst, there were several people doing this simultaneously, and that was a complete disaster.
Back when I was young and started to enter a phase of my musical development that involved competition, my mom gave me some sage advice. At the time, I don’t think she found herself to be wise, I think she was just horrified at the cut-throat nature of flute auditions and the invariable trash talk (I know, I know, it’s not hockey…). Still, she told me: “Keep your mouth shut and prove yourself. Do what you do, and do it well.”
If there is one thing a hockey parent can’t do, it’s keep their mouth shut.
Still, this is something I have tried to remember and pass on to my son. It’s not my job to talk him up and tear other kids down just so he may be given an opportunity. It’s his job to prove himself. Unfortunately, in the hockey world, everyone knows everyone and by the time you are twelve years old, you have a reputation. (Crazy, right?)
Much of this reputation is based on what other parents say – parents who, rightfully so, have a biased opinion. Some of these parents have postured and manipulated situations for years, both vocally and financially, to benefit their own kid. I’ve felt for a long time that the greatest deficit my kid had was not having a parent who was a coach. The coach’s kid doesn’t carry the burden of worrying about making a team or being cut – and when your kid gets to an age where this really matters to them, this is a huge source of anxiety.
This is a hard thing for me to take as a parent, because it does really matter to my kid. I’ve reached a point in my time as a hockey parent, that I am so tired of the manipulation game that I wish he loved something else besides the sport.
But here I am – and most times you can find me in the parking lot with a beer in my hand.
YOU’RE NOT DOING YOUR KID ANY FAVORS
I know these parents think they are doing the right thing. I know this because I believe in the basic goodness of people. But the sad truth is, when you manipulate an environment to favor your child, you are ultimately handicapping them. Adversity makes them strong. Proving themselves makes them strong. Navigating the small challenge right now helps prepare them to bust through the big one later on.
Trash-talking another kid to other adults and manipulating a team climate to better favor your kid may work in the short-term, but in the long-run, you will find that it is a game that you will have a difficult time keeping up with. The stakes will get higher, and your manipulation may backfire on you.
STOP CHASING JERSEYS
There are two universal truths in all of this: It feels amazing to have your kid be really good at something, and as parents we want them to achieve at the highest level possible.
Hooray for your kid being good! However, that won’t always look the way you think it should. Jerseys are a nice accessory, but they don’t tell the whole story. If your kid is playing for a high level team, but doesn’t see the ice, how is that benefiting them?
Perspective is lost when we as parents ignore the long game in favor of the short game. Well, if my kid makes this team this year, then next year he can make this team, and it’s only a matter of time before the college scouts see him and then on to the NHL.
That’s such crazy bullshit, I could barely stand to type it.
A long term plan is good, but be sure it is your kid’s long term plan. If it is, I guarantee you that it will include copious amounts of mini-stick games and team sleepovers. It will not include countless camps, grueling tryouts and intense teams where they leave crying instead of begging to go back out on the ice.
MY ROLE IN ALL THIS
Parents definitely have a very important role in all of this. We are major stakeholders in our kid’s success. I wish some of the coaches that have coached my son believed this. Unfortunately, some of them have been jaded by crazy parents who have blinders on and forget that coaches are human beings as well.
The part that I should play is actually pretty simple. I need to raise my kid to be respectful to all adults, not just the ones I personally like. Even if an adult wrongs my kid, they have to understand that acting respectfully is more of a reflection on them as a human being than whether or not the person deserved to be treated respectfully.
I should be an advocate for my child. This doesn’t mean beating a coach over the head with how much playing time my son should be getting. It means having an open line of communication in regards to the things that make my kid tick. A coach should be made aware of the best way to get results out of my kid. In this particular communication, it would be a good thing to model the kind of respectful behavior you expect from your kid.
I need to really look into a team’s environment before signing my kid up. What is the coaching philosophy? What are the parents like? What are the kids like? While being a part of a good team is nice, I think it is more important for my kid to be on a team of great kids who support each other. It is more important for him to have coaches who believe in him, trust him and like him. Probably most importantly, for him to have coaches that won’t give up on him when he makes the mistakes that kids do as they are trying to become good human beings.
My role is not to take down other kids for the benefit of mine. It is not to manipulate a coach or parents to make a team what I want it to be for my kid. It is not to force my kid onto a team that makes me look like an awesome hockey mom, while driving the love of the sport right out of him.
Being a hockey mom is a tough gig. Word on the street is, my kid is at an age where it is only going to get harder.
Say some prayers for me, Friends.
P.S. Here is one of my favorite articles of Rules for Hockey Parents.