The Five Golden Rules for Hockey Parents

Wow can you believe that it is September already?  If you are a hockey family, you’ve no doubt been frequenting rinks already as minor hockey and tryouts are getting started.  I live in the Interior of British Columbia and it’s crazy to see how many kids have been on the ice already.  Some haven’t had a break from the ice all season.  Especially at the eight, nine and ten year old level, some of these kids have not left the ice.  Not sure if I agree with that approach as I am a believer that kids should be multi-activity and play multi-sport.

We are a hockey family and I am a huge fan of the game (hence the reason I created The Hockey Fanatic website), and being a hockey parent I see all sides of it.  In this day in age it can be a challenge being a parent in general, but being a hockey parent has presented some interesting experiences.

Parent SignIf you are a hockey parent you’ve no doubt completed the Respect in Sport parent certification.  The Respect in Sport for Parents Program is useful for parents and caregivers of active children. This program encourages positive sport behaviors, and provides insight for parents into the roles of coaches and officials.  Specifically, Respect in Sport for Parents empowers parents to:

  • Ensure the safety and well-being of their children.
  • Encourage proper communication with officials and coaches.
  • Make sport and recreation result in a positive experience for all.

The thing is have you been to a minor hockey rink these days? Now I’m a competitive person by nature and I want my son to perform well and do well at hockey, but I’ve seen things from parents at rinks that just make me shake my head.  As early as five and six years old, I’ve experienced parents yelling at their kids and coaches from the stands. Now as a sport parent or hockey parent, I’m sure we are all guilty of a little of this and a little of that, but some of what I’ve seen just blows my mind.

Here is a little something for you hockey parents to consider.  A while back the released some information on odds of making pro sports.  Of course this is U.S. based but consider this:

  • The odds of high school senior players eventually being drafted by an NHL team: about one in 250, or 0.4 percent. That’s the chance of flipping heads eight times in a row. Pretty slim right?
  • In 1985, a study was done in Ontario. At the end of the day only 7 out of 22,000 10-year old players played in the NHL.  Definitely less than 0.4 percent.
  • Statistically speaking, the chances that a varsity high school athlete will go pro are six in a million

It truly is a longshot as this article points out.  A study conducted in 2003 shows that the chances of going from minor hockey to a steady NHL career are roughly one in 4,000.  Cory McNabb, who at the time was director of hockey development for the Canadian Hockey Association suggests that: “Those who succeed must have natural talent…”Some just don’t have it. Parents shouldn’t pressure kids but rather encourage them. … In the school system we don’t teach multiplication before a child can add. These youngsters need to develop fundamentals.”  Point being is that your child is most likely not going to play a regular shift in the National Hockey League.

Even if you get drafted, the chances of playing regularly in the NHL can be slim.

Youth Hockey Player Watching from Bench

Why then do so many parents push their kids into hockey and in many cases think that their child will be the next or Connor McDavid?  Is it me, or are parents overstepping their boundaries at the hockey rinks across North America?

I’m a firm believer that hockey should be fun not matter at what age.  As a hockey parent I want to empower my son to enjoy the game of hockey.  We previously posted top 10 rules for being a great hockey parent and with that in mind, I try to follow these five golden rules for the hockey parent.

The 5 Golden Rules for Hockey Parents

To ensure that your child has an enjoyable experience with hockey consider the following five golden rules.  Looks some kids may have God-given talent, passion and a superb work ethic, but there’s no need to put extra pressure on your child to perform to a certain level.  Of course the level of competitiveness, the level of play and the rate of development will vary depending on age, but anytime your child steps on the ice there should be a smile on their face.

  1. Avoid confusing your own agenda with what’s best for your kid. / Avoid placing unnecessary expectations on your child – Do not expect your child to make the NHL. As illustrated above the odds are extremely against it.  There is one thing about dreaming about it and there’s the reality or matter of fact of it.  Let the kids just play and develop their skills and help encourage them by not placing any expectations on them.  Focus on the experience and not the outcome.
  2. Empower your kids – while you may expect your son or daughter to play hockey, perhaps you should start by asking them what they want? Do they want to play?  How competitive do they want to play?  Don’t dictate and “force” your kid to play.  Especially at younger ages.  Say your child played hockey since they were five or six and then at age eleven or twelve, they no longer want to play, let them make that decision.  Communication with your children is something that is always needed.  Let them decide if they want to play hockey.  Ask them if they want to try out for the “A” team or for Spring Hockey.  They may not want that pressure.  Kids can and will have anxiety when placed in uncomfortable positions, and while we do not want to shelter them, we also do not want to pressure them into doing something that they may not want to do.  Which brings us to golden rule number three…
  3. Be Supportive but don’t Smother – encourage your child to play hockey and grow their skills, but at eight and nine years old there’s no need to have them on the ice twelve months of the year. For one, their bodies need a break.  Secondly their brains and over-stimulation of being on the ice all the time can be too much.  Allow them to be multi-sport athletes, encourage other activities such as music or art lessons.  Smothering them with ice time and drills and video clips of NHL players training at elite levels can be counter-productive and provide a false sense of skill.  Support their efforts but keep in balanced.  Furthermore when you watch your child’s practice or hockey games, there’s no need to yell at them to “skate” or to “get in there”.  They are learning the game and quite frankly are probably a better player than you are, so yelling at them while they are on the ice only distracts them.  Instead when they look up give them a smile or a thumbs up to show your support.  This will go a long way in building their confidence and in making the experience more enjoyable for both you and your child.  Support can come in different forms depending on the need for it.  Even in extreme cases such as when coaches short-bench on development teams, there is a right way to support without over-stepping your boundaries as a parent as Yannick Lescarbeau exemplified with his open letter to his son’s team (see previous link about short benching).  Talk to your kids and seek to understand how you can best support them when they need you whether they are on the ice or off.
  4. Listen and encourage vs. praise and criticize – is it really about how many goals your kid scored in last weekend’s tournament? Kids don’t need to be told that they’ve had a good tournament or a good game.  They know… most kids can rap of stats like nobody’s business. Jim Taylor, a psychologist based in San Francisco and author of Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child confirms this sentiment.  “Kids don’t need to be told they’ve had a good result—it’s self-evident. If you want them to repeat that behaviour, identify what skills enabled them to do that. For instance, instead of saying, ‘All right! You had the winning goal,’ try, ‘You were really focused when you took that shot.’”  So telling your child to go out there and do your best is probably the best advice and encouragement that you can provide.  Over-the-top praise and harsh criticism may not be the best way to go about providing feedback.  I know that as a hockey parent I’ve been guilty of both over-the-top praise and critical assessment of my son’s play, but I’ve worked hard at trying not to do this and I always encourage him to try his best and have fun.  This article from Today’s Parent entitled: How to raise the next Sidney Crosby touches on a lot of this and was an inspiration for this article.
  5. Let them be kids – kids should want to play hockey and not be forced to play hockey. It makes more sense if kids play for fun, or just want to play a physical activity.  Sports are great for learning life skills, for developing social skills and for camaraderie.  When your young player’s season is over, ensure that they actually have an off-season.  Encourage them to play another sport and not just soccer or baseball, but individual sports such as swimming, tennis or such.  They grow up so fast so let them be kids if only for a short few years.  If they want to play Lego, or Fortnite or just hang at the pool, encourage that.  Remember when they are on the ice, they are not paid professionals, they’re not always going to make the perfect play or skate as fast as they can.  They are kids.  The same can be said about training.  Be realistic with training – ok so we’ve all seen the videos of the Russian kids training like NHL veterans or Connor McDavid at 13 years old training like nobody else.  Fact is that Connor has talent, and he worked very hard and is probably still one of the hardest working players on the planet when it comes to his on-ice training.  Not everyone can be Connor McDavid.  Yes he played competitively and lived and breathed hockey at an early age.  He has dedicated his entire life to the game of hockey.  Quite honestly it is not realistic for most kids or families.  At earlier ages and maybe even throughout your child’s hockey journey, focus on the process and not the outcome.  Should a nine year old kid be in the gym working on core exercises?  Let them enjoy their youth, there is no way that a nine year old hockey player needs to train like a nineteen year old hockey player.

My son is a great little hockey player and he might have aspirations to play in the NHL one day, but he’s nine and a lot can change.  We encourage him in his play and development, but for us the main thing to to have fun with it, enjoy it and to always try his best.  He’s had some great success, but he’s also successful at school and other aspects of this life.  He also talks about being a financial planner or a chef or a pro baseball player. We will support him in wherever his passion lies.  He loves watching hockey and asks great questions about the game and not just about the players, but the refs and coaches as well.  He’s a very coachable player and is creative, but honestly we don’t see a need to have him on the ice 365 days a year.  We try to live by the five golden rules for hockey parents to ensure that he develops the necessary confidence and life skills not to be a great hockey player, but to be a great person.

I was speaking to him the other day about the upcoming hockey season and I mentioned to him about how much fun it is to watch him play hockey on the ice.  One of my favourite things about watching the kids in minor hockey is when they look up to the stands and smile at their parents or their grandparents.  You cannot put a price on that.

I wish other hockey parents would take a step back and let the kids play and just have fun.  Not even just hockey, but all sports.


Additional Resources

How to raise the next Sidney Crosby – Today’s Parent

Canadian Roulette’: Why some parents devote everything for the ‘infinitesimal’ chance of getting their kid into the NHL – National Post

So You Want to Play Pro Hockey – Total Sports Management

How Many Draft Picks Make the NHL –

How Hard Is it To Make the NHL – Huffingtonpost

Book: Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child. – Jim Taylor