Parents of members of the Long Island Gulls hockey team watch the team play during a road trip in early 2007 in Marlborough, Mass. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
There are certain people who I hope will read this column, though by nature they probably won’t know it’s about them.
I’m talking about the dads who stand at the back of the rink purple-faced, banging on the aluminum walls when a goal is scored, screeching at their kids. I’m talking about the moms who incessantly shake plastic jugs full of pennies and, yes, screech at their kids.
You may think this behavior stops once the players leave their teens (Guh. How odious is it that the bulk of it is aimed at children?). But there are, in fact, NHLers tortured and haunted by overwrought parents living their failed dreams vicariously through their sons.
Yes, professional athletes make millions of dollars, but remember your early 20s? Not exactly a great time to be emotionally rattled.
The most well known case of psycho parenting is that of Patrick O’Sullivan, the Kings left winger whose father was criminally abusive towards him, even in major junior.
John O’Sullivan seemed to think he knew something about high-caliber hockey because he played 35 games in the Atlantic Coast League between 1981 and 1986.
There are others like him who still harangue their kids to this day (Patrick got a restraining order against his dad), even though they have no professional (or even major junior/NCAA) experience in hockey. And they are actually affecting these players’ NHL careers with their stupidity.
Can you imagine the embarrassment of an NHLer having their dad tell a Stanley Cup-winning coach their son deserves more ice time, or a spot on the power play unit? It happens!
It seems so simple, but here’s the rule: If you didn’t play to your child’s level, shut up. You have no idea what you are talking about. Whether you spend your day putting up drywall or doing complex accounting procedures, the one thing you are not doing is coaching a major hockey team. So shut up and stop ruining your children’s life.
Even retired NHLers who have young gun sons or daughters playing the game know better.
You won’t find a nicer person out there than J-P Parise, who played almost 900 games for the Isles and North Stars, among others. Parise learned long ago that yelling at children over hockey is a mistake. While raising New Jersey Devils star Zach and goalie prospect Jordan, Parise realized the following:
“I was hard on them at first and I felt terrible,” Parise said during an interview for Hockey's Young Guns, a book I co-authored with Ryan Dixon. “I went home (one day) and thought, ‘Why the heck am I doing this? This is supposed to be fun. I always had fun playing hockey.’ From then on I would never yell at them. Players should look forward to the next game or practice.”
Sage advice. Should an NHL coach yell at a player? If they think the player needs it, then sure. That is a professional relationship and the player doesn’t have to see the coach at every Christmas or birthday for the next 40 years. And the coach has earned the right to voice his opinion through years of experience and hard work, running professional practices and watching hours upon hours of game tape. Not because they once scored a hat trick in a high school game 25 years ago.
Now, I’m not saying a parent shouldn’t push their child to be the best they can. Motivation can be a tricky thing, especially for teenagers who would rather play drums in a punk band (which was my downfall. No, wait, lack of talent was my downfall). And in the sleazy world of minor hockey politics, having your kid switch teams, leagues, whatever, may be a necessary step.
Obviously there is a balancing act. Get your kid that tryout with the rep squad, but remember there are too many teams out there for your child to be overlooked for too long.
In the meantime: support, support, support.
As Parise noted, hockey is supposed to be fun. Waking up before dawn and driving to a frigid rink an hour away means you have two hours of bonding time with your son or daughter, so use it well. And use it to talk about other things.
“We would never talk about hockey to or from games,” Parise noted.
This sport can change lives; make sure it’s for the better.
The Straight Edge will return Oct. 3.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every second Friday, and his feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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