Time to start watching for new hockey season registrations to land in the inbox. I know my daughter is eager to get back on the ice and I'm looking forward to seeing our hockey friends again too. Starting off on the right foot (or skate) is a goal and I've always felt the preseason meeting can help with a smooth launch. Before you roll your eyes, look at your already filling up fast calendar and sigh at the though of yet another meeting, keep in mind how valuable a preseason meeting can be. It can really make the difference between a season that is fun or one that is long and miserable. Here's your chance to make sure everyone is playing from the same play book. Cambridge, Massachusetts hockey parents Steve and Jessica Kennedy agree and they oodles of advice to share with hockey parents, especially newbies. With years of experience under their belts, they could probably write a book, but here's the "Reader's Digest" version to help you prep for the new season.
Hockey requires a commitment from both players and family, however, there are other things going on in a child’s life than hockey. This is especially true given how the season has been extended for most of the year (late Aug./Sept. through April/May!). It is easy for kids to fall into the trap of playing hockey year round with spring/summer leagues, tournaments, etc. (a bad idea according to sports experts-the best athletes play more than one sport). If my child is involved with other sports I would want to make sure that the coach understands there may be conflicts with sports that are traditionally played in the fall and spring. While it is fair to presume a child’s “winter” sport is hockey, there should be a level of understanding from the coaches that scheduling issues are inevitable in the fall and spring. Not to mention activities other than sports (dance for our girls), scouting, music, and of course school trips, etc.
2. PLAYING TIME POSITIONS:
What is the coaching staff’s philosophy about playing time and positions? At the younger levels (mites and squirts here in MA) I don’t believe in any player or line getting more ice time than another. Hockey is one of the easiest sports to substitute players so nobody at this age level should be “on the bench” longer than anyone else. The same goes for “special teams” - every player needs the experience of playing on the power play or penalty kill. Hockey at this age should be about DEVELOPMENT – not winning every single game (wishful thinking I know..). To that end I would also hope to hear that players won’t be stuck in one position and will learn to play right wing, left wing, center and defense!!
3. SKATING :
One of our favorite experiences was with our youngest daughter’s team. She could barely stand on the ice, much less skate forward or backward. She happened to have a coach (Canadian!!) who not only had an upbeat attitude but was dedicated to teaching the girls skating technique, striding, etc. They played games as well but hardly came close to winning most of them. He told me that he could not care less about the score as long as the girls continued to improve their skating and were building a love for the game. This was great to hear! By the end of the season, with a great deal of encouragement, our daughter was a confident skater who loved to play. NB Cross-Ice for Mites! Cross ice games are the best way for young kids to get touches on the puck and learn to stick handle. Having mites and younger children start out on a full sheet of ice does not allow for these opportunities and can be overwhelming thereby hindering development. If a child is a mite or younger it would be a good idea to know the coaches feeling about the cross-ice concept.
4. POSITIVE ATTITUDE:
It sounds trite but the coach’s attitude toward the kids is so important in developing skills and a love for the game. A youth hockey coach should foster a fun and encouraging atmosphere, again esp. for impressionable younger players. The games and practices can be taken seriously without having to seem like a grind with yelling, etc. It could be hard to determine the coach’s attitude during the first meeting so a bit of “research” talking to other families can go a long way toward finding out what you are getting yourself into. Another story “from the field”: My daughter was substituting for another girls team in the program. I watched the game and saw that they were playing boys who were obviously older. They were outmatched but I thought they hung in there and gave a great effort – there was no way they were going to win but I really thought they looked like they enjoyed themselves regardless. We found out that in the locker room after the game the head coach told them he was disappointed and that they didn’t play their hardest, etc. These were 8 year old girls!! Needless to say my daughter wanted no part of that team! Fortunately this is a rare example.
By Steve and Jessica Kennedy
Rare, but it does happen. Let's make sure those kinds of experiences remain rare ones for our kids. Thanks to Steve and Jessica Kennedy!