Thursday, January 11, 2007

Little reminders that hockey (and youth sports in general) is more than goals and victories...

OneGoalMy son's hockey coach just forwarded this around. It's a column from a few years ago called Fun is the Winner.

This blog doesn't cover much in the way of sports (read Bill Simmons), but this is nice...
It happened during a playoff game years ago, when I turned from the bench, heard the screams in the crowd, saw the tight faces and parental anxiety, and understood completely the great contradiction that is minor hockey.

A little boy, no more than nine years old, in a one-goal game, with minutes to play, tapped me with his stick and asked a most important question.

"Coach," he said, "Do we get snacks today?"

"Snacks," I almost shouted but quickly composed myself. And in my mind I'm thinking, we're up by a goal, time is running out, the play is in our end, we're barely hanging on ...

Who cares if we have snacks?

Except the little boy cared. More about the juice than the score. More about the snacks than winning. More about the experience of hockey than the end result.

I thought about telling his father this story after the game but the father was one of those "kill the referee" kind of parents. If I told him this story, much as I found it amusing and telling once perspective set in, he might have destroyed his son's future in hockey.

Can't you just hear the dad?

"Snack, I'll give you snacks. Son, there's a game to win here, a big game. Think smacks, not snacks. This is no way to be a champion."

It is a way to be a child. An honest way. A fine way.

And too often we forget that. Too often we get too caught up in the result. That game, that day, that shift, that moment. We don't see the world and the game the way our kids do -- and we should try to see it that way more often.

That's why I love coaching. Every time you think you're the next Scotty Bowman, every time you're planning your next line or your next power play, you get one of these little reminders:

"Coach, I have to pee."

Nothing is quite as real as that.

And suddenly, that's all that matters, you learn how little minor hockey is about winning or losing. It is about being there. The more parents who understand that, the more hockey would develop well-rounded families -- not children but entire families.

A fascinating poll was presented at the On Ice Summit of a few years back. It asked young players what they would prefer -- more ice time or more winning. The overwhelming response came in favor of ice time, not victories.

Ask the parent the same question and the answer might be different. Ask most coaches and the answer would almost certainly be different.

Adults want to win. Kids want to play. Adults want to be in charge. Kids want freedom.

Adults push for more power skating and hockey schools. Kids want a sheet of ice and a puck on their stick and no questions asked.

And what minor hockey could use is more adults who thought like they did when they were eight. Adults who make the game fun. Adults who don't shout. Adults who don't make the car ride home a 20-minute lecture. Adults who listen instead of judge.

This game of ours can be a wonderful tool for any family. But it has to be first and foremost for kids. We can't lose focus of that. We can't give in to executives whose minds are so closed they can't see they're strangling kids in the process.

The little boy was right. This game should be about snacks. The more we lose our priorities the more minor hockey becomes for the adults instead of who the game was intended for in the first place.

And last time I checked, we weren't the ones playing.


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