Sports parents, in general, have a tendency to take their child’s sporting life too seriously. These hyper-involved “helicopter parents” (a term used to describe the constant hovering) frequently suck the fun out of kicking a ball, chasing a puck or eating dandelions and picking your nose while wearing a jersey.
Hockey is awful for this.
Having played the sport myself, I thought I saw the worst of the worst. Then I got a job working at a sports store owned by the president of minor hockey in my home town and was witness to the backdoor-campaign attempts of parents with children younger than 10.
There was the Dad who, between summer and winter hockey, had his kid on the skating treadmill down at our city’s new training facility. For those of you who haven’t seen one, a skating treadmill is a huge plastic-floored version of a normal treadmill they pulled from the depths of hell, put on an incline and loaded with harness straps. It’s used for improving cardio and building strength, both goals it easily achieves.
What it also does, is suck gigantic eggs.
It sucks in every conceivable way and in my own opinion (and, from what I’ve heard, the opinion of every person who isn’t selling them), it isn’t great for your stride.
“The kid loves it, he just can’t get enough,” the Dad would tell me when I’d ask some questions.
Then there’s the Dad who comes in around close, with a case of beer and “just wants to BS.” Before a top can be popped, the idle chitchat is on the upcoming tryouts. And he wants to know where his kid fits in.
“But he’s better than that Smith kid, right? That kid doesn’t know which way he’s going half the time.”
Then there’s the burning mad Dad, who just bought his son top-of-the-line skates and a couple Easton Synergies, looking for the “president” to straighten out the latest slight his son has received from what, in his opinion, appears to be an intentional campaign to keep the man’s family down.
“F*** him and his personal agenda…”
And it’s not just Dads anymore. Moms would flood into the store around hockey season, looking to buy the best skates possible for their little Gretzkys. We didn’t carry Bauer the first year the store opened, as another dealer in town had the exclusive rights to sell their lines. Parents of kids without full sets of adult teeth were furious that we had the audacity to run a hockey shop without Bauer skates. What kind of a sham were we trying to pull, anyway? We couldn’t fool them with our silly RBK witchcraft.
One Mom brought in her very own skate-measuring tool, the same one we used to make sure the edges on the blades were of equal height. We did a premier sharpening job, of course, but the Mom felt inclined to purchase her own tool and measure the edges before paying for the sharpening, just to be sure.
Eight-year-old kids are worried about the hollow in their blades? I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical because Jarome Iginla brought his skates in for me to sharpen that same summer and didn’t know what hollow his skates were done to.
Me: “How do you want them done?”
Him: “Um, I dunno, regular?”
Me, slightly flummoxed: “Hmm.”
I’m sure it was just that his trainer knows his needs better than he knew his own, but still, he genuinely didn’t know.
What this means is, one of the greatest players in the world isn’t sure, but the eight-year-old’s Mom needs to measure her son’s edges. Got it.
So what does this create?
It creates pure, awful, misery, for a kid who just likes to play some puck.
Nobody likes being told what to do and most people feel the need to rebel against something their parents pushed. I can’t think of a quicker way to get your kid to quit at 13 than by making his on-ice performance directly related to the type of off-ice relationship he has with his parents.
I never had a clue when I played well or not, because my parents told me I did every single game. Honesty is probably the best policy, but what the crap did they care if I sucked at hockey? They were paying a fortune (as all hockey parents do) in gear and fees so I could play, so they wanted me to enjoy it.
And so, I grew to love the game in my own right. I liked scoring goals. I liked getting assists. I just liked hockey.
Not once in my life was I worried about my parent’s reaction to how I played. I wanted to impress them, but knew I didn’t have to.
For parents, sports are a fertile ground for teaching points. You can use them to explain to your child “what you did to that kid was wrong and here’s why.” Or “it was great that you shared the puck on that play. Teamwork is effective.” Passing the puck doesn’t emasculate your son, Dads. It makes them better.
We’ve all heard horror stories about the kids afraid to get in the car with their Dad after the game; how the Dad always yelled and got upset when his child screwed up. I’d quit in a heartbeat if playing the game made my life that miserable.
No kid whose age is in the single digits should be playing hockey in the summer. Kids need well-rounded life experiences to learn to think creatively, play effectively and appreciate the game.
They’re still kids, remember? Let’s let them have a childhood.
Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and is currently a columnist for USA Today. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. He will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.