Let's Make Hockey Fun Again
Peterborough Examiner Photo
By Scott Lowe - MYHockeyRankings.com
Last weekend I watched from a distance as a young hockey player on an NCAA college team was pulled from his locker room and berated by one of his coaches to the point of tears. This was in full view of anyone still in the arena who was paying attention.
Before going further, let’s be clear about something; 22-year-old hockey players don’t just cry.
I’ve seen players break bones on the ice, be cut wide open by skate blades and block a hard rubber puck with every conceivable body part without so much as flinching. This player, who left home when he was 16 and literally traveled the continent chasing his dream of playing NCAA hockey, wasn’t just going to break down the first time his coach got in his face.
Nope. There had to be more to this.
And there was.
The tears likely resulted from a realization that it was over. All of the time, money and hard work had helped him achieve his goal. He made it. No one could take that away from him.
But it was over.
He had been scratched the night before, telling me after the game that he was going to transfer to a school that didn’t have hockey and possibly try to play for a nearby low-level pro team to help pay the bills. But at that point he was determined to stick it out for the remainder of the year and enjoy what was left of his college hockey career.
“He’s made me hate the sport,” he told me, referring to his coach. “Everyone hates him, and a bunch of kids are going to leave.”
This player had been told by his coach the previous year that he could be a top-pair defenseman if he switched from forward to D. After suffering with the rest of the small-college sports world through a year of COVID quarantines, cancelled games and broken promises, he came out to play defense in my summer league. It was a little rough at first but competing against other college and high-level players pushed him to figure it out quickly.
By the end of the summer, he looked good and was ready to head back to school and make an impact as a defenseman. And make an impact he did, recording a goal and two assists in the first two games and potting another goal three games later.
A few weeks later he was in the doghouse, scratched and literally quitting.
“I’m done. That’s it,” he said, his eyes still red after the public admonishment.
He said the coach questioned his attitude and mentioned his plus-minus. A quick glance at the team’s statistics shows eight players with equal or worse plus-minus ratings than his.
And to top it off, “The guy who was yelling at me? Yeah, he’s the coach who shows up to practice once or twice a week,” he said, shaking his head.
What are we doing?
Since Thanksgiving I’ve heard from no fewer than 10 players playing AAA, prep or junior hockey who are unhappy with their current hockey situations. Looking back to September, that number is even higher, and several players come to mind who have given up the sport or decided to play at a lower level in hopes having fun again.
Many other players I talk to who play in my league, play on my showcase teams or skate in my summer training program are extremely stressed out about hockey.
The sport becomes much more difficult with each step up the developmental ladder, and players often see their ice time diminish and their roles change drastically. That can be difficult to accept for players who have been among the best on their teams for many years, and they often begin to worry about next year and being able to reach their long-term goals instead of focusing on the next game, next shift and next practice.
A tense hockey player is not going to be a good hockey player. Performance can suffer, confidence may be lost and the spiral toward the bottom of the lineup tends to continue.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with young athletes determining they want to pull back and play at a lower level so that they can enjoy a sport more. In fact, this is advised. Life is too short to pursue something that makes us miserable.
Hockey is still a game and should be fun no matter the level. With only a relatively small amount of athletic scholarship money available for hockey players at the NCAA level, to make it that far, many players spend up to $15,000 a year for two or three years after 18U and before college and then up to six figures more in tuition over four years once they achieve their goal.
Why spend all that money just to be unhappy and stressed out?
And there is no guarantee that the investment is going to lead to an NCAA offer. There are only about 150 teams at all levels playing NCAA varsity hockey. Most kids throw in the towel before aging out or don’t ever receive the college offers they seek.
So why can’t the sport be more fun for those who pursue it at the highest levels? And what can we do as parents, mentors and coaches to restore the enjoyment that so many young players seem to have lost?
Focus on Today and Control What You Can Control
“I think we’ve gotten away from what sports do for our children,” said Jason Kilcoyne, a former Tier 2 junior coach in the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) and the current head coach of the New Jersey Rockets United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) Tier 3 Premier team. “Ninety-nine percent of the players won’t play hockey for a living, so it should be more about what do they learn from playing the sport that they can take with them to their professional lives in terms of teamwork, decision-making, learning how to be successful, learning from others, dealing with defeat, competing and managing people’s egos.”
There’s no doubt that many players and parents lose sight of the bigger picture when it comes to the benefits of participating in competitive sports. Ironically, all the lifetime benefits Kilcoyne mentioned frequently get lost in the pursuit of the long-term hockey goal of playing at the NCAA level. Much of the pressure young players feel on the ice is placed on themselves resulting from external stimuli. The rise of social media and the phenomena of FOMO – fear of missing out – has played a large role in creating more stressed-out players.
“Too many players are looking to keep up with everyone else and not focusing on the journey,” said Bryan Erikson, head coach and president of hockey operations for the Northeast Generals, a tuition-free Tier 2 United States junior team in Massachusetts. “They see a kid make a D1 commitment or playing on a team that is better than theirs and they think, ‘I am better than that kid’ or ‘why haven’t I been noticed yet?’ That self-pressure and possibly pressure from their parents is such a big factor in making kids miserable. They look at the destination and it seems so far away from them. They internalize that instead of just enjoying going to the rink each day.”
It doesn’t help that the road to a college hockey opportunity is more twisted and confusing than any other sport and that families in many parts of the country simply are uninformed about the process and commitment – in terms of time, money and putting off college – involved. They see a bunch of kids from their high schools committing to play other sports at the Division I level and assume that their kids will just keep playing for their club teams, commit to a top hockey program, graduate and head to school.
“There is a lot of pressure from everyone, that includes parents, coaches and teammates,” said Vinnie Montalbano, general manager of the Connecticut Jr. Rangers of the NCDC and an NHL scout. “I find that parents invest a lot of money in the sport and expect certain results that may be unattainable. It’s almost like it is D1 scholarship or bust for some families. In turn, coaches face a lot of pressure as the players get older because they are now measured more by wins and losses. The stress to have a winning environment can take away from remembering that hockey is fun. Of course, we want our kids to have a competitive nature and have a drive to win, but we also want them to continue to have fun in the process. That is a very fine line.”
That lack of understanding can contribute to some of the pressure players start to put on themselves at the 15U and 16U levels. One of my personal goals has been to educate players as early as possible and drive home the fact that hockey is different. A 16-year-old male player most likely has five more years of hockey in front of him before stepping on the ice for an NCAA team.
A lot can change physically, emotionally and in terms of a player’s personal goals in five years, and unfortunately these days many young hockey players (and athletes in other sports) who verbally commit to D1 programs that early tend to decommit or get decommitted before they matriculate.
How many 15-year-olds know what they want out of a college, know what they want to study and have even visited more than one or two colleges when they are 15? Did their parents know what they wanted to study or where they wanted to go to college when they were 15?
What if the coach who is recruiting a player leaves the school or is fired, and the incoming coach doesn’t want to honor the commitment? If you want to talk about stress, think about relaxing for three years and assuming your college and hockey futures are set only to have to start the process over from scratch as a 19-year-old because of a coaching change.
In this era of instant gratification and big-time, big-money Division I athletics, the number of coaches who stay at the same place for five or more years is dwindling, and the reality is that they need to be there nine years if they are going to see an early commit through the entire recruitment and developmental process and actually coach him or her for four years.
The likelihood of that happening is dwindling, so while it’s a tremendous compliment to be pursued and receive a verbal offer at a young age, there are no guarantees in hockey and those situations often don’t end well. For parents, it’s important not to belittle other kids who receive these offers and to continually compare their kids to kids who have committed or are playing at higher levels or for better teams.
When these thoughts are verbalized by parents, even if well-meaning and accurate, they can increase the pressure that their own kids put on themselves, which can lead to self-doubt: “I know I’m as good as that kid, but he got an offer and I didn’t. What’s wrong with me?”
The potential implications of this type of thought process can be many-fold. A previously coachable player who put the team first might start trying to do too much on the ice in hopes of making an impression on scouts. This is likely to lead to mistakes, especially if the player is playing outside of the team framework. Mistakes can lead to criticism from the coach, reduced playing time and a strained player-coach relationship.
All of this can snowball into a dynamic in which the player goes from someone the coach really counts on and plays in all situations to just another person who gets a regular shift except at the end of close games and who receives little or no special-teams time. That may result in a loss of confidence and cause a player to take the ice hoping to just do something, anything at all, to impress the coach and move up the lineup.
This mentality may cause a player to play not to make a mistake or just to maintain his or her place in the lineup instead of being a player who goes with the flow, reads plays and reacts free and easily to game situations. Playing not to make mistakes won’t allow a player to develop and reach his or her full potential, and it certainly won’t help him or her stand out to higher-level coaches and scouts.
Playing not to makes mistakes tends to lead to more mistakes and a vicious cycle that spirals out of control and eventually can be hard for a player to overcome. Hockey history is littered with extremely talented players who didn’t reach their potential for one reason or another, and many times a simple loss of confidence is the culprit.
Confidence is King
Confidence is a key aspect of a player’s game for coaches and parents to monitor if they hope to ensure a player continues to enjoy the sport.
“Helping a kid get out of a funk is tricky,” said Sean Walsh, head coach at NCAA Division II Southern New Hampshire University. “We try to meet with the player and see if something is going on away from the rink, maybe with his family, a girlfriend, being homesick or school. If it’s one of those things, we try to get them the help they need or lay off them, whichever is appropriate. If it’s not one of those things, we try to do video work first. Next, we would try some individual work before or after practice.
“We pull out all the stops,” Walsh continued. “The line I like to use is, ‘When we commit to a kid, I’m hoping it’s for four years.’ If we made a mistake in evaluating a player talent-wise, that’s on us; it’s our problem. Are we going to cry and complain or try to help solve the problem? Let’s try to make it better and find a solution. Sometimes it’s just really hard when the guys ahead of you are just better players.”
Hockey is the fastest sport and requires quicker decision-making than probably any other game. Players are asked to do many of the things athletes in other sports are required to do except for one minor difference: they are doing those things while balancing on narrow skate blades.
It’s hard. Really hard.
And the degree of difficulty increases exponentially with each step up the developmental ladder. Combine that with the craziness and unpredictability of the process, and you have a recipe for an experience that will test any young person’s mental toughness and fortitude. Many hopefuls decide it’s just too much to stomach and give up on the dream.
“We talk to our kids at all ages about being goldfish,” Erikson said, “forgetting things quickly and moving on. But we tell them to forget the great and the bad. Just because you had a great shift doesn't mean the next one will be great, so focus on what you did well and move on from it. The same goes for bad shifts or a goal scoring slump; just keep playing hard and smart. Don't overcomplicate the game.”
Eventually, even the most talented players are going to plateau and reach the highest level at which they can compete effectively. Anyone who is in a player’s corner – coaches, parents, advisors, counselors, etc. – is going to want to do everything possible to maximize a player’s chances of not only achieving his or her goals, but also ascending to the highest level he or she can.
Whether a player has NCAA dreams or just wants to be on a team and compete with his or her friends, finding a level and a team that will provide an opportunity and environment that will be enjoyable should be the top priority for all players and families.
“At some point in every player’s career, the next level isn’t for them,” Kilcoyne said. “Whether it’s the NHL or 16U AAA, I think parents need to evaluate their son or daughter and do their homework as far as what team they want to play on. If it doesn’t fit their child’s path, they shouldn’t go in that direction. If he can be the No. 12 forward on Team A but the No. 6 forward on Team B, he would be counted on to be an offensive contributor on Team B, so that would be better. But too many people pick Team A and then are mad at the coach.
“If you want to play on a top-ranked team in the country, do it, but understand where your son or daughter fits on that team,” he continued. “Are you going to be happy if he or she is playing fourth-line minutes? Will your child be willing to do that and be happy? If the answer is no, don’t do it.”
Playing on a great team and winning certainly can be more fun than playing on a bad team and losing. But is that more about player and parent ego, and does it come at the expense of enjoyment and development?
Let the Player Lead the Way
One way for parents to ensure their children are having fun playing any sport is to let them lead the decision-making process. Players have to fall in love with a sport if they want to realize big dreams, and even if they don’t get there, the goal should be for them to enjoy whatever they are doing and soak in everything that sports participation has to offer.
My son never played above “A” level hockey until he was 15. He then played three years on a very good AA team before jumping to AAA for his final year of 18U. When he started as a mite, he was a mid-level player on his “A” team.
Devin developed a deep love for the sport, especially his teammates. He wasn’t playing 75 pressure-packed games at a young age and was on the ice two or three times a week plus games. When we asked him what types of summer camps he wanted to attend, he usually chose hockey.
Whether it was power skating, stickhandling, regular day camps or battle camps, he loved being on the ice. And each fall when we got back to practicing he had progressed in terms of his skill level until one day he was clearly the best player on his team.
He had fallen in love with the sport, being around his hockey buddies, the process of getting better and being really good. Devin probably should have moved up a level one year earlier than he did, but he couldn’t leave his teammates. That year he scored over 100 points and served as a captain for the first time. He was named the club’s player of the year and knew it was time to move on.
We let him drive the boat, and with parental guidance he would make every final decision along his road to NCAA Division III hockey. I would have had him play AAA a year earlier than he did, but he was a dominant player at the AA level, went to Nationals three times and served as captain twice. And he loved his team.
When he heard from enough coaches at the levels he wanted to get to that they needed to see what he could do as a AAA player, he knew it was time to move up. He was named captain of his 18U AAA team, led the league in scoring, was an all-star and ended up being drafted by teams in both the Tier 2 NAHL and the NCDC.
Could we have packed up his things and sent him away to play at a prep school at age 15? Absolutely. There were offers.
Could that have helped him become a Division I player? Possibly, but there are no guarantees in this sport. He didn’t want to leave home at that point, and the reality is that he wasn’t emotionally ready – and as parents we weren’t ready for him to go, either.
Devin told me when he was 15 that he wanted to play college hockey, and while as a young teen he wasn’t particularly decisive when it came to most decisions, he was clear that he wanted to stay home and graduate with the friends he had been in school with since age 4. Then he wanted to play two years of juniors and go on to play NCAA hockey.
From that point on it was on me – we didn’t have an advisor – to learn as much as I possibly could about the various pathways available and to provide him with as much information as possible for him to make good decisions. I wasn’t going to try to change his mind or his path. Being from Maryland, a non-traditional hockey market, his high-level hockey options were limited, and all I tried to do was figure out how to maximize the odds that he could make it.
His love for the game, however, was deeply ingrained, as was the love for his teammates and school friends. It was that love for the sport that made all the hard work and commitment necessary to get where he is that much easier.
Also, because we allowed him to make the decisions and didn't force him do things he didn’t want to, he was more willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve his goals than he might have been if he had been given little or no input in the process.
If hockey wasn’t fun for him when he was young, he likely would have pursued another sport he was good at like baseball or soccer more seriously. If he didn’t enjoy the sport entering his teen years when a whole new world of opportunities present themselves, hockey may have taken a back seat. And if he didn’t truly love the game, when it got time to really put in the work on and off the ice and he had to miss out on social time with his friends, he probably would have moved on from it.
Even if he did move on, the memories he had made through hockey and life lessons he had learned along the way would have been with him forever. Competing in sports shouldn’t solely be about players advancing to the highest levels. It should be about enjoying something enough that it has a positive overall impact on their lives in terms of their physical fitness, overall health and their mental well-being. And if it turns into a lifetime activity that keeps them active and healthy throughout their lives, even better.
So, in addition to allowing kids to play a big role in deciding their level of play and the teams they play for, what else can parents, coaches and others who influence their lives make sure that players are enjoying their hockey experience?
Put the Players First - All of Them
A key consideration should be a young person’s mental health. I was coached by old-school coaches, and that rubbed off on me during my coaching days. As an athlete and a parent, I had no issue with a coach who was a stern disciplinarian, held kids accountable and who practiced tough love.
In general, this was the approach I took when I got into coaching, but over time I realized that my approach needed to evolve. Parents were spending more money than ever to help their kids pursue that ever-elusive college athletic scholarship, and young athletes were playing in more intense, high-pressure games than ever before.
When I was a kid, I played on the top baseball teams in my area. Our seasons lasted about 20-25 games and concluded by July 4. But during the season and throughout the summer, hardly a day went by that we weren’t playing sandlot ball, whiffle ball or some other form of the sport. While we played a ton of baseball, we weren’t playing only with coaches yelling at us, spectators screaming encouragement and yelling at the umpires and our parents dissecting every play and discussing it on the way home.
We never thought that being benched for part of a game or having a bad day was the end of our careers back then. Pretty much everyone got yelled at and benched, and nobody gave it a second thought. We got home from practices and games, changed our clothes and went looking for another game somewhere.
The longer I coached, the more I realized that to get the most out of my players – and to minimize parental intrusions – I had to alter my approach and figure out how to handle each individual personality.
I wasn’t always successful.
Some kids wanted nothing to do with truly being coached or held accountable, and some parents didn’t want their kids to be challenged to the point of having to win – and maintain – their positions on the team or in the lineup.
Even when I coached at pretty high levels or in more serious leagues, I wanted players to develop and enjoy the experience – even as I held them accountable, challenged them, and yes, sometimes yelled at them. It was always my goal to get every kid in the lineup and give them a chance. It was the only way they would figure out their strengths and weaknesses and ultimately develop.
We took our lumps at times because of that approach. Being extremely competitive by nature, that took its toll on me, but if I had decided that a kid was good enough to play on my team and he was meeting all of the required team commitments, I was going to get him in the lineup in situations that hopefully allowed him to succeed.
When this approach caused us to lose it angered the better players’ parents. The parents of the less-skilled players who didn’t get as much time were never going to be happy, even when it was obvious that our team wasn’t nearly as good when their kids were in the game.
But in my mind, that was the right approach. My proudest accomplishment as a coach was taking a baseball team that started a season 2-13 playing in the best league in our area, with some kids quitting because their parents didn’t want them to be coached or challenged, and guiding it to 35 wins in about 55 games and a trip to the quarterfinals at Cooperstown.
When we were in Cooperstown, it was just the coaches and players living in the dorms. The parents only came to the games. Our players asked to take batting practice two or three times a day even though we played at least one game each day. They played catch or shagged balls all day long. They loved being together and having nothing to do but practice and play baseball. I joked that it was like we were a professional baseball team for a week. We hit 21 home runs to lead the tournament, and everyone was talking about the team that no one had heard of and had come out of nowhere.
It was an amazing, eye-opening experience for me. At the end when we were eliminated by an outstanding left-handed pitcher there were tears from players and coaches – not because we lost, but because it was over. We had played nearly 60 games and did nothing but eat, drink and sleep baseball for those seven days, but those kids didn’t want it to end. Neither did I.
That season and that week are etched in my mind forever.
I learned so much from those kids. I discovered that even in pressure-filled situations sports could be fun for kids of any age. Playing those games wasn’t pressure to them. Dealing with the car rides home after games and hearing the parental critiques of how they played, the comments about bad coaching and bad teammates, the over-emphasis on winning and losing and all the other stuff we sometimes subject young athletes to plays a huge role in causing young athletes to sour on sports.
“I think these kids get sport-specific way too soon and burn out,” Walsh said. “I also think players get sick of mom and dad being all over them. They have a ton of pressure on them, and it just doesn't become fun. These kids are in the car too often being criticized or criticizing someone else too much.”
Let the Coaches Coach
All parents mean well and want the best for their kids, but like coaches it’s important for parents to be supportive and emphasize the positives over the negatives and let the coaches do the coaching. You’ll never see a young athlete feel more pressure than when he or she is in the middle of a game trying to figure out if whether to do whatever mom or dad wants or what they’ve been coached to do in certain situations.
When this happens, in a best-case scenario, the player follows the coach’s lead and is either successful or at least applauded for the effort. The worst-case scenario is that he or she chooses to go against the will or the coach and is not successful or is too slow to react as a result of being confused and is benched or scolded. Acting against what has been coached and being successful also isn’t a great scenario, because at some point that isn’t going to work out and the coach is going to be upset.
If a player is deemed not coachable – even if it’s not his or her fault and is a result of parental interference – it’s likely that playing time will be reduced or a starting role will be taken away. That is going to lead to an unhappy player and an unhappy parent, which is a recipe for parent-coach friction and a bad ending for everyone involved.
Remember that every child spends a lot more time with his or her parents than with a coach. Ensuring that the car ride home and all the time spent at home dissecting every game and every mistake is less stressful may be more appealing to a young person than trying to make a coach happy. The problem with that is the coach is who makes decisions about playing time.
Less playing time and a smaller role likely will lead to less development. For a young player, feeling like a key member of the team is important and makes the experience fun. Getting better is fun. If those things aren’t happening and the enjoyment is diminished, ultimately the player won’t reach his or her potential and probably will become unhappy and either give up the sport or just go through the motions.
Parents can and should have a role in their kids’ development in all areas. Throughout our lives we all have to live with authority figures, coaches and superiors with whom we don’t always agree. It’s fine for parents to talk about games and player performance, but first give them some time to unwind and decompress, start with the positives, focus on effort and other things they control and let the coaches do the coaching.
For coaches, it’s important to understand the potential parent-player dynamic and how it can affect a young athlete. If a player suddenly stops listening or seems unwilling or unable to follow directions, don’t immediately label him or her as “uncoachable” or a bad kid. It’s easy to give up on a player or only want to deal with the kids who completely buy in and don’t require a lot of time or energy.
Just as my most rewarding team experience in coaching was helping a struggling group of kids find their way, the best coaches are teachers at heart who find the greatest joy in helping young athletes find themselves on and off the field and learn what it takes to be successful in whatever they pursue.
Show Them That You Care
Coaches and teachers often are intimidating figures to young people, so it can be a life-altering experience for kids to develop an understanding that those people are on their side and truly want the best for them. Once that is accomplished, trust is built and a relationship that transcends what happens on the field is developed, a player is more likely to buy in to what a coach is teaching and to accept constructive criticism more readily because he or she knows the coach cares and is trying to make the player better rather than tearing the player down.
Have a non-threatening conversation with the player and try to determine if he or she might not be understanding something or might be dealing with some external issue that is impacting the player’s attitude or performance. In recent years we have developed a better understanding of how prevalent mental-health issues are in our society, especially among young people, and the ongoing pandemic hasn’t helped.
These types of conversations may help a coach discover that a player isn’t unhappy or doesn’t have a less-than-ideal approach or attitude because of the sport or disliking the coach. They may uncover parental pressures or some sort of anxiety being caused by other aspects of the player’s life that may be far more serious and concerning.
“We talk all the time about putting family first,” Walsh said. “If something’s going on, go home. Kids have way too many distractions. Sometimes they just need time and a break.”
Having positive, friendly and safe interactions with players can help coaches create an environment in which young athletes view time spent practicing and playing with their teams as an escape and a safe haven from whatever outside forces are having a negative impact on their lives. If a kid feels like the walls are closing in and the ice rink is a place where he or she can go to feel appreciated by coaches and teammates, that player might decide that working even harder and improving even more can only lead to being a bigger contributor to the team’s success and a feeling of even greater acceptance and satisfaction.
Just like that, the rink becomes a place the player wants to go instead of a place he or she has to go. The game is fun. The process is fun. Mission accomplished.
Kids will go to great lengths to please someone they know cares for them and has their best interest at heart. Increased effort, improved attitude and a thirst for improvement all lead to a vicious cycle of development and success that can make the sport even more enjoyable. It’s an opposite cycle from the one that occurs when athletes lose their confidence but is just as powerful.
Put the Fun Back in Practice
I learned another important lesson from my favorite team. If kids are having fun at whatever they are doing, they have no issue putting in the time and work necessary to be successful. Practice can become drudgery, especially when the results during games aren’t living up to what the players and coaches expect.
An emphasis on fundamentals, systems and team concepts is essential for any group to be successful. But it’s important for coaches to be observant and aware when practice is becoming stale and when the messages aren’t getting through. While there are aspects of the game that must be mastered by every team, an unhappy team that is not having fun is less apt to hear the complete message, absorb the information and put in the necessary time and effort to see positive results.
There’s no reason that portions of every practice – and sometimes full practices – can’t be turned into something that is fun and productive at the same time. Competition practices in which teams are split into two or more teams and try to win every drill or contest can lead to a level of energy, effort and attention to detail that can be both physically and mentally beneficial to a team.
“Make practice more fun with battle drills and compete drills,” Erikson said. “I think I have put my team ‘on the line’ maybe once this year. I like to condition in high-tempo drills. Negativity usually stems from the top down, so talk to your captains and your players one on one and ask what you can do to make it more fun. You will be surprised at how good some of the answers will be.”
Athletes love to compete and test themselves, so the more competitive and creative coaches can make a practice or workout session, the more beneficial it can be for the group in terms of both the level of enjoyment and overall development.
Build the Relationship
Of course, from a player’s perspective, if things have gotten to the point where he or she is not happy, expressing that to the coach in hopes of either clearing the air or figuring out exactly what needs to be done for the situation to improve is always an option. It’s best to do this before the situation becomes so bad that there may not be a solution, so it is recommended that players maintain an open line of communication and start to build a relationship with their coach from the start.
“A good coach will regularly meet with his players,” said Tony Dalessio, a former Tier 2 junior coach who now is the director of scouting for the Northern Cyclones of the NCDC. “My advice to players is to not sit with your coach and compare yourself to other players or tell him that you think you are better than specific players who are playing above you. And before you meet with your your coach about your standing, ask yourself if are you doing everything that he is asking of you? Are you putting in extra work on and off ice? Are you really focusing on the things he is asking you to work on? Are you always on time? Do you understand the systems and drills? Do you go hard every rep in practice and in the gym? Does you standing on the team and your unhappiness show to the other players and give off negativity?”
There are many steps those of us who are involved in the hockey or who have kids playing the sport can take to make sure they enjoy the experience. For some players that may help them achieve their goal of playing at the highest level they can achieve, while for others hockey can teach valuable life lessons, provide an activity that keeps them fit and healthy for the rest of their lives, help develop lifetime friendships and create memories they will never forget.
No matter how you slice it, though, making hockey fun again is a win for everyone.