Ladies and Gentlemen—start your hockey-mobiles! Now that the season’s underway, the No.1 concern shared by parents all across the country is figuring out what’s best for your hockey player. And the best way to do that, says Steve Malley, director of coaches at the Bowie Hockey Club in Bowie, MD, is to get involved.
“The parent who drops their kid off at practice and goes for coffee,” says Malley, “is committing a serious error. Parents must be involved. As a coach, I want the parents to be part of the team. I don’t want to create an us-versus-them situation.”
Malley has played both high school and college hockey, and has been coaching since 1987. The Bowie Hockey club, which has been around for the past 22 years, includes 500 players and fields 12 travel teams. As the parent of a hockey player, Malley also knows what it’s like on the other side of the fence. To find the right mix for all concerned—the skater, the parents and the club—he has several suggestions for both
Parents and coaches
The first step is finding the right hockey club. While in some parts of the country there is a limited choice, the basic premises still apply. The first thing to do is to find out about the coaches. Ask if they are USA Hockey certified and, if so, how recently. Ideally, you want a club that encourages their coaches to continue expanding their skills, something which participating in USA Hockey coaching clinics helps them do very well.
Philosophy is major
Then get to know a couple of the club’s Board members and find out where they and the club stand philosophically. Is competition their main concern, or recreation? Is victory more important than participation? Do you agree? If not, either continue to look elsewhere, or see if there’s an area of compromise.
Once your skater is registered with a youth hockey club, Malley’s third—and most important—suggestion is to be an involved parent. That means helping out with the club’s activities, with your child’s team and, yes, interacting with the coaches.
“The worst thing you can do, is not tell the coach if you’re unhappy with how your skater was played,” he says. “But don’t do so immediately after a devastating loss. You don’t want to hit him when he’s down!” Wait until before the next practice, and then—as in all cases—approach the coach in a considerate, non-threatening way.
For example, Malley says, “I had a mom behind the glass who came and asked me, ‘Coach, is my son sick?’ When I replied in the negative, she asked ‘Then why isn’t he playing?’ That was a very effective message to me and it made me re-think just how I was playing her son.”
Many typical parent-coach problems can be headed off before trouble starts if the coach lays the groundwork. “Anything you can put in writing,” says Malley, “the better. And at the very least, do it verbally.” Coaches need to state ahead of time how they are planning to play the kids, whether at their discretion based on ability, or by giving equal ice time to the “B” players. Players and parents alike also need to know what the consequences are for missing practices, mouthing-off, or getting penalties. The more information the parents have, the better they will understand what the coach is trying to do, and the more they will support his and the team’s efforts.
Coaches must help, too
Because parents may be afraid to confront coaches due to possible retaliation against their child, it is extremely important that the coach make himself accessible to the parents. “Coaches need to reiterate that offer,” says Malley, “by holding once-a-month meetings with the parents.” This gives the coach a double opportunity—first to hear parents’ concerns, and then to dispel any rumors he may have heard through the grapevine or address any problems he sees before they reach a critical stage.
This is also where the team manager can play a crucial role. He or she should be the ultimate “listener” and liaison between parents and coach. For example, if the coach’s son or daughter is getting more ice time than other kids, bring it up first to the team manager. Malley admits that “any coach with a kid on the team needs to work hard at parity, and may need to be reminded on where, how long, and when to play their own child.”
Also, maybe your player would like to try a different position. If the team is winning 10-2, then the players should be allowed to skate anywhere they wish, especially in the Mite through Pee Wee divisions. Encourage the coach to experiment. Position switching can sometimes still work at the Bantam age, but by Midget level the players have usually found their niche.
With coach-parent relations—just as it is on the ice—communication is always the key. The rules need to be understood, concerns need to be heard in a non-confrontational arena, and the team needs to have parents, players, and coaches all pulling together. Most important, Malley encourages everyone to keep it all in perspective. “The main goal,” he reminds us, “is to have fun.”
Bettina Prochnow Young is a hockey player with the PCHA on a coed team and has two sons in hockey. She is a columnist for a newspaper in Livermore, CA.