By Eric Ormson
First, I want to thank The Hockey Think Tank for the opportunity to contribute to their mission of helping hockey people share their ideas and experiences. Or as Mike Babcock would say “rob and do”.
I have coached at Chesterfield Hockey association for the past 8 years and specifically with the 04 group heading into my 5th year. One thing that I don’t think gets talked about enough is how great the kids are and how much pressure they are under to succeed. Sure at times some kids will make some bad DECISIONS but in my 9 years I have not had a bad kid.
Kids today are faced with so much pressure and structure in hockey at an early age. Youth hockey is so competitive, we should appreciate more on how well they deal with it. I cannot think of another youth sport that puts kids in a big fishbowl and judges them starting at age 6 or 7. Think about it, you’re Red, White or Blue. After you move on from 8U you are AAA, AA, A1,A2, B or House and it’s out there for all your friends and family to see. Although I do think this teaches great life lessons and should not be changed, we should stop and think more about what these kids are going through.
We need to be there to support them and show them how to improve instead of making them feel like they are not good enough because they did not make a certain team. Hockey is a long term development sport and game of attrition. If you stick with it and continue to work at your game I truly believe you will find a place to play hockey. It will not be easy but if you have a lick of talent, desire and make sacrifices, you will find a spot if you are truly committed because there are so many leagues out there.
My passion from coaching comes from my Dad who I say all the time was the real hockey player of the family. I was really not much of a player but I have had so many amazing experiences on and off the ice because of hockey. I want my players to understand that. One of my early messages to the players and parents each season is “Hockey is great because you will learn equally as much off the ice as you will on the ice”.
Please don’t rob your players of the time in the locker room before and after a game/practice as that’s where they learn to develop relationships and get along with various types of people. Learning this skill will help them be better prepared for life. The 3 rules playing for me are Compete at 100%, Be Respectful and HAVE FUN!
One thing I don’t like about the culture of youth hockey is how negative it is. We are always looking to pick players, teams and coaches apart. Instead we should do a better job at finding ways to be more positive with players and coaches. Mistakes are part of the game and it’s ok to make mistakes. The questions that should be asked are “WHY” did you do that and HOW you can learn from it. Criticism has its place in the game and specifically constructive criticism coming from the right people.
Unfortunately, most of the time it is coming from parents sitting in the stands or on the ride home. I think this is driven from the fishbowl that families are put in. SOME parents feel that how their kid performs is a direct reflection of their status, ego or own ability. The reality of the situation is hockey is hard and players need support from their parents and encouragement over the long haul to help them achieve THEIR goals. I say this all the time HOCKEY IS REALLY, REALLY hard and a parent’s job is to seek out the best place for their child to develop confidence and opportunity to play. What I mean by that is the correct level, organization and coach that they feel will help their child develop the best. THEN GET OUT OF THE WAY AND BE A CHEERLEADER.
As a whole, youth sports have changed over the last decade to be more organized, time consuming and expensive. I think as coaches we do need to embrace that but with a healthy perspective and make sure we are committed to helping all level of players. In all sports we are so caught up in rankings, titles and labeling kids based on what team they play on or what tournament they are going to. There are so many good players out there that are not on the top team or not playing in the highest level tournament that should be looked at. As someone recently told me, there are really good players on both great and not so great teams. The flip side of that is true as well. It’s a good reminder when evaluating players for your team or for parents deciding on what team to play for. Remember, are they building confidence and are they getting an opportunity to play???
Thanks again to The Hockey Think Tank for the opportunity to contribute to your new mission on growing quality communication in hockey.
Good luck to all the families involved in the upcoming 2018-2019 season.