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Coaching your child comes with own unique challenges

Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 9:00 AM / Hockey Skills presented by Canadian Tire

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Coaching your child comes with own unique challenges
Allowing them to follow their heart is of the utmost importance, stress athletes who have been there -- including Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine, who coaches son Daniel on the Long Island Royals Under-16 Midget National team.
Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine and his son, Daniel, have a mutual respect for each other.

That's a good thing considering dad also happens to be Daniel's coach for the Long Island Royals Under-16 Midget National team based out of Superior Ice Rink in Kings Park, N.Y.

While there's no question the relationship between coach and son is never an easy one, the LaFontaines seem to have found a common ground. The results have been encouraging, too, for any father hoping to one day coach his son.

"When I became the head coach of the Royals three years ago, I had an opportunity to continue coaching Daniel, but I still asked him if he would prefer I wasn't behind the bench," LaFontaine told NHL.com. "I've always been very cautious because I try and put myself in someone else's shoes and never wanted (Daniel) to feel any pressure, although all boys want their dads to be proud. The assistants usually say something to Daniel because he only hears dad's voice when I speak."

"You have to put the fact that you are a father or mother as your top priority first and foremost. At the end of the day, kids are pretty much going to turn out the way they're supposed to turn out whether we like it or not as parents"
-- Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine

According to 16-year-old Daniel, that's only partially true.

"I talk to my dad a lot about easy stuff like what to do in the corners, but I talk to (assistant coach Steve) Webb more about the mental part of the game," Daniel said. "He gives me good talks and lessons. You have to keep striving for your dream for when you get older … and it starts now with nutrition and the physical work. Coach Webb started up the 'Y Athlete' website for all of us, so I'm always setting my performance goals and I talk to him about attitude and work ethic, so it's good."

LaFontaine realizes the importance of having young hockey players develop both physically and emotionally -- something he constantly stresses to Daniel.

"You have to put the fact that you are a father or mother as your top priority first and foremost," LaFontaine said. "At the end of the day, kids are pretty much going to turn out the way they're supposed to turn out whether we like it or not as parents."

Allowing your child to follow their heart is of the utmost importance.

"You want to create an environment that will give them opportunities in all types of sports and let them do what they really love," LaFontaine said. "If you want to be the coach, then I think it has to be a situation where you're the parent first before you're their coach. I would stress that because if you push them in one thing, I think you kind of force situations that never work out."

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LaFontaine then recalled how impressed he was after reading the story of how NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana had hired QB coach Steve Clarkson to tutor his sons, Nate and Nicholas, on the finer points of being a signal-caller.

"What a great credit to Joe Montana, not as a football player, as a great athlete or role model, but just as a father," LaFontaine said. "He was smart enough to say, 'Listen, these are my kids, I love them, and I want them to be happy and there are other great teachers out there.' You can be their father and teach them all the things they might need to know, but I think at the end of the day, your child has to come to you to want that knowledge."

Needless to say, Daniel, who dons jersey No. 16 as his father did in his heyday, does appreciate any advice his dad is willing to share.

"After the game, he'll give me a 25-to-30 minute talk about everything I did and I like his perspective because he's not afraid to say it," Daniel said. "If I'm doing something wrong he always says, 'Work on your weaknesses.' The thing is, I like big competition, I like tournaments, I love the feeling of just going in the locker room and getting ready to play. In order to be that player, I need to listen and work hard."

LaFontaine stresses "H2R" to each of his players.

"Ask any one of our kids and they'll tell you, I always stress H2R -- to always be humble, hopeful and respectful," LaFontaine said. "If you're a Royal, you have to live by that. You're in a fortunate position and you must give it your best, but you always must remember how you got there and who helped you.

"I don't look at what the game could have given me when I retired. I looked at what the game did give me and I'm extremely grateful. Now, I just want to give a little bit back and help another generation."

The message he's provided, not only to his son, but the entire Royals' team has been positively received.

"We skate outside in the winter, and my dad will come out sometimes and we'll do quick give-and-go's and passing and that gets me motivated," Daniel LaFontaine said. "There's a little bit of pressure. When I was little, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but I wasn't really aware of what it was all about. As I got older, I started to realize how big a success he really was."

Webb, LaFontaine's assistant coach with the Long Island Royals, and another former New York Islander, feels the relationship between coach and son has been extremely positive.

"Pat's dad coached him and now Pat is giving back to Daniel behind the bench; I think earlier on when they first started out with this process it was a little tougher, but now that Daniel is thriving and coming into his own, I think he's a lot more comfortable having his dad around behind the bench and more engaged to listening," Webb said. "The relationship is a really positive one and a great example of how it should work having a father as a coach. I don't think Pat has added pressure on Daniel at all to perform. Daniel only adds the pressure on himself to be a good athlete, and I think that's been a very positive message to send people who are coaching their sons … to let the athlete dictate what they're going to be doing out there instead of trying to push them, so it's been a great experience."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale