Wait! What? My kid?
As a hockey parent, it's only a matter of time before you'll find yourself walking into a conversation and quickly learn -- wow, Mark's mom truly thinks everyone on this team sucks.
All these weekends hearing her scream, "Ice It!", "Clear the crease!" or "Get the Puck!" to the players on the ice have had you thinking she's just a passionate hockey fan cheering on her favorite team.
Now though, you're left confused.
All of those things she's shouting at other people's kids kinda sorta feel like insults now.
No joke -- interpretations will take a 180 after walking into a fiery conversation like that.
It's alright -- it happens to every hockey parent.
And here's what I have to say to that...
Don't get wrapped up in it.
Don't even let it bother you for a nanosecond.
Truth is, Mark's mom just doesn't know any better.
She may have sat through hundreds of youth hockey games -- told you so herself -- and, as such, considers herself an expert but...she's not.
She knows enough to be...dangerous?
Think of her like the NFL fan that yells at the television when their team (which they're not actually on) gives up a big play -- as if they have the knowledge or wherewithal to do it better than the folks that are, you know, getting paid hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars to be in the NFL.
It's just blind ignorance and, yeah, maybe they are insulting your kid when they shout some of those things and, you know, watching that game alongside them as they say those things might make you start to believe it to.
Hmmmm...maybe my kid should get that puck? Why didn't they clear it? Where is he going?
But don't think that way.
I used to "think" I saw some issues with how my kids play the game -- but many of the issues I was suddenly noticing actually came to light via other parents' less-than-subtle critiquing in one of those aforementioned unfiltered conversations.
One complaint for one of them was that he was "all over the place" and "never played his position".
Hilariously, this was when he played half-ice so there weren't really positions anyway, but I saw it too. He really was skating all over the place.
But guess what?
After the game, I come to learn that the coach had used a Harry Potter quidditch analogy in the locker room during the pre-game.
My kid was the "seeker".
Wherever the puck goes, you go. Full speed, on the puck.
It was like a box and one defense in the NBA but instead of covering star player exclusively, my kid's job was to go the puck carrier hard. And he did.
And it was effective.
Another example, and my favorite actually, was a road game where my son's team was playing against a team that had one of those players that could win games all by himself. You know the type.
The coaching staff's solution was to have one of our better skaters shadow him. It's kinda like how they match lines in the NHL.
Ignore the puck. Ignore the play. Just be all over that kid. All game.
All over him.
Line up across from him on every faceoff.
Wear his jersey.
Before the end of his first shift, I knew exactly what was happening.
Not to brag or anything, but I've also watched a few hundred hockey games myself...
Other parents, though, were screaming at him to "Play the puck!" and "Get the puck!" as it sat between his skates.
Eventually those same parents began to throw their hands in the air audibly asking why he was even on the ice -- or on the team -- right in front of that kid’s parents.
To this day, many of them still think of him the same way.
The parents, that is.
We won that game because of him.
He didn't score any goals.
He barely even touched the puck.
Most of the time, he wasn't even facing the puck...but he was the REAL star of the game...that pretty much no one even noticed.
Well, except the kid he was shadowing.
HE certainly noticed.
So, besides having a lot of parents think they suck, what do these two players have in common?
Plain and simple -- they can take direction from their coach.
That will take a player a lot further in this game than a kid who is constantly thinking "Dad said I have to score a goal today."
It took me a few seasons of watching and coaching youth hockey to get a solid grasp on it all but I've come to the conclusion that the most important thing for a developing hockey player it to learn to how play the position your coach puts you in and play it well.
The moment a kid starts "covering" for other players or, gasp, doing what mom and dad told them to do in the car ride over (or just a second ago from the stands), they compromise their own development.
Play your position. Do YOUR job.
That's all any good hockey coach is asking.
If it costs your team the game -- covering the player on your side defending a 2-on-1 while the other player walks right in and scores -- a good coach won't have a problem with it.
You did your job. You eliminated your man.
Folks in the crowd won't see it that way, of course, but like I've already covered -- they don't really know what they're watching.
Hockey is five against five. Every player has someone they should be responsible for. No one's responsible for two.
At fault, really, on a two-on-one against is the other defenseman. Or the wingers hanging at the far blue line. Or a weak back-check by the center. Maybe even the goalie?
Someone didn't do their job. You did.
Defending a two-on-one is no small task -- you need to pick one or the other.
The correct decision for a youth hockey player is ALWAYS your guy.
So how do you remedy it?
This might be a little too blunt but, unfortunately, you can't fix stupid.
Really, just ignore it. It's not worth the effort.
Sit or stand further away at games to limit what you hear.
And enjoy watching your player get better and better cause, at the core, that's all that matters.
Oh, wait, you're that parent?!
And you're still reading?! Oh snap...
Okay, well, first off, thank you for trying to grow as a hockey parent and fan.
Hockey, in general, needs more educated fans.
Really, I applaud you.
Like, slow clap.
But not in a patronizing slow clap sort of way.
So, yeah, rather than over-utilizing that set of lungs and voice that can pierce any environment, you need to evaluate WHY the kids are doing what they're doing.
Don't get stuck on what they're doing -- think about why.
Hockey isn't a game of chasing the puck.
It might seem that way...but, as in the examples above, don't just assume a player is terrible because they're NOT chasing the puck.
It's really as simple as that -- once you start seeing the game away from the puck, it all starts to come into view.
Some players listen to their coaches to a fault, some play their positions to a fault, and some just chase the puck.
The kids in that latter group -- that you formerly praised -- are actually the problem. They're not playing hockey.
Mind blowing, right?
I mean, it's one of those things that once you realize it, you almost can't fathom that you were once that blind.
That's how it's been for me, anyway.
And if you totally disagree and still think the coach sucks for giving ice time to all of these terrible players...find a different team.
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