I made my seven-year-old cry last week.
The poor little guy is a goalie for the East York Bulldogs, a Minor Novice "Select" team in Toronto. I'm not part of the team's official coaching staff although, as an old puck stopper myself, I sneak on the ice for the odd practice to give my lad a few pointers.
Last week, the Bulldogs had a game against a team with a loud-mouth coach we really wanted to beat. Unfortunately, however, Theo let in a couple of "softies" and we ended up losing 3-1. A few hours after the game, Theo cuddled up to me on the sofa in our family room.
"Dad," he asked, "How do you think I played tonight?"
"Well buddy," I said, "You made some really good saves but you let in a few shots you really should've had."
Right away, his eyes filled up with tears and he started to cry.
"I did my best!," he wailed.
And right away, of course, I felt like a total jerk.
How do you balance the "fun" aspect of minor hockey with the cold hard truth that, at the "Select" level, you also have to perform well to keep your spot on the team?
It's a tough question—something I've spent a lot of time discussing recently with other hockey parents.
At age seven, most kids are pretty resilient when it comes to dealing with losing and poor performance.
Parents, on the other hand? Not so much.
On the drive home from last week's disappointing loss, for instance, I spent the entire time breaking down the game with the hockey dad doing the driving.
"Theo was too deep in his net on a few of those shots…”
"Yeah, but our defence has to be tougher in front of the net…”
"And hey! We've gotta pass the puck more…”
Meanwhile, in the backseat, the kids had already forgotten about the crushing defeat and were literally singing "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!"
That, my friends, is what you call a musical message delivered right to the solar plexus of a hockey-crazed dad.
Still, that nasty piece of business remains. If your little guy wants to play "Select" hockey, he has to put his best foot forward. He has a responsibility to his teammates to always try his best and, yes, he has a responsibility to mom and dad too. After all, we're the people paying the freight so they can play high level hockey. Registration fees, equipment costs, paying for road trips, which include gritting your teeth when the kids engage in those off-key tunes in the back seat.
So, how do you balance "good times" with constructive criticism?
The best advice I received from a fellow hockey parent the other day is to try and "pick your spots."
It's never a good idea to critique your little guy right after a game. Instead, wait for the NEXT drive to the rink or the next time you're on the ice with them to give them the tips they need to help achieve ultimate performance.
The bottom line?
The ice is for playing hard.
The car ride home is reserved for sing-a-longs.
And the couch?
That's ALWAYS for cuddling.
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