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Parents have ability to set tone for youth players

Wednesday, 02.06.2013 / 9:00 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Life as a hockey parent isn't easy.

In addition to the rising expense of equipment and ice time, there's a commitment to travel and setting alarms for early-morning wakeups every weekend during the travel hockey season.

It's an unforgiving process, but one that can be extremely rewarding for our sons and daughters if done properly.

"I always tell parents the one thing they should expect out of their kids is attitude and effort in the early stages of learning the game," said Jon Greenwood, the director of hockey development at the Maritime Hockey Academy in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Author and youth hockey advice columnist Christie Casciano Burns admits there are two areas every hockey parent should take into consideration in the early stages of youth hockey development.

"Punctuality and selflessness in practices and games," Burns told NHL.com. "And nagging parents need to chill … seriously. Let the coaches coach, referees ref, and let the kids be kids."

Burns' son, Joe, began playing hockey when he was 8 years old with the Lysander Youth Hockey program in Lysander, N.Y.

"It's out of control at times when you have parents yelling at the referees or telling the coach who to put into the game," she said. "Some parents have the wrong perspective when it comes to their 9- or 10-year-old player. Let them have fun and build their character, as well as their skill."

Amy Colclough, whose two sons have combined to play for over 34 different hockey teams in the New York area, is currently president of the Baldwinsville varsity ice hockey booster club. She's a firm proponent of providing guidance for those hockey players just starting out.

"Usually, a coach will tell the parents during tryouts that they shouldn't talk to him about ice time since that depends solely on the play of their child," Colclough told NHL.com. "It's also important to be a good listener, because kids hear everything that comes from adults. Parents usually speak out of emotion, and most of it isn't even based on fact.

"I always tell my kids that playing on a hockey team is no different than working a job, because you have to make it work no matter what situation arises. If something upset you, is there anything you can do to change that? If not, than suck it up and take a better attitude."

Even before U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine became an assistant coach with the Long Island Royals Midget National team, he asked his son, Daniel, if he wanted him around.

"So long as he gave me the green light, I was OK going behind the bench," LaFontaine told NHL.com. "He liked me coaching and liked me on the bench. The thing is, he didn't hear a coach's voice when I was talking, so I didn't say much [to him]. In some cases, if you're not careful, it could be a lose-lose situation."

LaFontaine was head coach of the Royals for three seasons, winning an Under-16 Tier I National championship last April in his final season at the helm.

"As a coach, you have to be real objective having a son on the team," LaFontaine said. "I tried to talk to the players just as a coach. I had the other coaches talk to Daniel, and it seemed to work in a good way because I think all dads who have 15- and 16-year-olds … we're not too cool. I think we embarrass our kids sometimes because we try to say too much."

Casciano Burns, the author of two books based on her accounts as a hockey mom in the trenches, said one ugly trend she's witnessed in some parents is their willingness to pay their children in exchange for a goal.

"When you're paying them to score goals instead of earning it on their own, they're not going to pass the puck and all they'd think about is, 'Oh, I'm going to make five dollars if I score this goal,'" Burns said. "It's such a bad example. Parents have a great opportunity to become role models for their kids, even their coaches. When there's more positive energy and gentle encouragement to try harder and be more creative out there, I think you'll generate many more good memories than bad ones."

Greenwood vividly recalls coaching top 2013 draft-eligible prospect Nathan MacKinnon as an 11-year-old Pee Wee with the Cole Harbour Wings in Nova Scotia. To this day, MacKinnon still considers Greenwood somewhat a father figure in the way he taught the game.

"You can't control how quickly your kids will develop, and you can't control how good a skater they will be since that takes time," Greenwood said. "But you can control a player's attitude and how much effort they're putting into something. I tell parents to be patient because so long as your kids are bringing a good attitude and effort, you'll see improvement.

"Parents sometimes expect their kids to get better overnight, but each player will improve at a different rate. Give it time."

Colclough feels the best hockey parent will always look to make the game fun for their children.

"If it's not fun, you need to find out why it's not fun," she said. "Is it because they're too tired or is there a relationship they need to work on with a teammate or someone else? If I had to sum it up with one thing, I would say hockey at any level should always be about the team you play for and not about the individual."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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