Parental Guidance: There’s no set handbook
It’s only taken me a year to notice that the banner across this column reads “Parental Guidance,” but, to be honest, advice has certainly never been on the agenda here.
And to be fair, parceling out advice to parents is like putting on a tuna suit in shark-infested waters. Or coming up with a compliment for a pregnant mother.
We’re all so different – and so are our children – that one rule never really works for all of us.
I’ve known so many families over the years who’ve taken on the massive responsibilities of the sport of hockey, each has had wonderful success and, except for being certifiably insane, they all have done things very differently.
To refresh on my qualifications for even attempting to share my opinion, I have four children who’ve played hockey at various different levels for the past 14 years – from roller to in-house to AAA to the United States Hockey League.
They’ve also played all positions from goalie to defense to forward. I have two that don’t play anymore and I have a son who has a full scholarship to play hockey at the University of Wisconsin. I’ve also coached, managed and been an assistant.
So in the name of finally fulfilling my column title, I’ll put on the tuna suit and leap into the water.
Here are some things that have worked for our family over the years:
Pay Attention at Practices: Many coach-parent confrontations can be avoided if you simply watch your child’s practices. You’ll get a sense of the coaches’ demeanor and direction of the team. Is your child paying attention? Are they pushing themselves to improve? Are they worthy of significant playing time? These are potential issues you can observe before making decisions based on only watching games or hearing only the side of the story from your child.
Shoot for the Moon: I’ve always tried to instill in my kids that they can be anything they want to be and they should work to be the best at it. A child’s imagination is a very powerful force that can launch unbridled enthusiasm and commitment onto whatever they’re focused on. I never wanted to be the one who said to them, “Well, you know odds are you’ll never play in the NHL or get a college scholarship or make that team.” They’ll make their own realizations someday about their abilities, but they’ll hopefully approach whatever they jump into next with the same enthusiasm and commitment if they learned the sky is the limit right off the bat.
Don’t Follow the Crowd: There were several times in our lives when “keeping up with the Jones’” kept us up at night. After many mistakes, we realized that our path is the best because the object was to fit what we needed from the sport and what we were capable of doing. My son who’s going to college this year played one season of AAA at 16 years old. At 15, he played AA for the first time. I’m not saying this is the right way, but it’s an example of how we learned to ignore the people who told us that no one goes anywhere playing A- or B-level hockey. Every season is about confidence versus pushing; some seasons your child needs to be one of the best on the team to give them confidence, and some need to be about pushing them out of their comfort zone. Always playing at the highest level and struggling to survive can lead to frustration.
Coach Your Kids: I’ve always stayed close to the kids by helping teach them the game, or the way to handle relationships with teammates and coaches. They’re only with their coaches for an hour or two and a parent is a huge influence. I always tried to be consistent, talking about effort and staying within the confines of the overall team’s goals. Make sure you see a few practices or even talk to the coaches about how you can help coach your child. Just don’t be that parent yelling instructions during the game; they can’t hear you and you’ll just give us parents a worse reputation than we already have.
Now, if someone out there has advice for a nice compliment for a pregnant mother, I’ll feel better.
Scott Johnson is a Santa Barbara resident and the father of four hockey-playing children.