The car ride home: Words of wisdom for the hockey parent
By Rick Traugott
Believe it or not, one of the toughest things for a coach to overcome is the car ride home. By that I mean the things that are said to a player outside of the rink from their support system. That support system usually consists of parents and family, but can also include scouts, advisers and, at the older ages, agents (for the purposes of this article I will just refer to all these as parents).
A coach needs to make sure their players are on the same page as the team and not on someone else’s page. I would hope that all coaches are concerned with the development of their players and not just winning hockey games—and I don’t think that is different at any level, right up to the NHL. Teams will always win more hockey games when all of their players are improving. Players need to know in their hearts that their coach cares about their development, cares about their well-being, and cares about them as people.
One way to foster that is for the coach to connect with all of their players individually, every time they are together with their players. I like to make a point of greeting each of my players as they enter the rink, on their way to our locker room. This way, I get a chance to look each of them in the eye and say hello before we hit the ice for games and practices.
It should be noted that parents must realize that their son or daughter is important to the coach, and that they are just as concerned about their development as athletes.
I have been working with a very talented minor bantam player on his skill set for the past few months. I was very impressed that his coach for next season sent home a note as to what he saw as the skills that needed to be worked on. There were only three, and he carefully explained what those skills were and why they needed to be improved. The message was delivered to the player at a skills session and sent home to his parents in an email, so that everyone could be on the same page. Not only was the player able to work on some specifics, but his parents were brought into the loop and allowed to see that the coach was genuinely interested in the player’s development and improvement.
Parental buy-in is so crucial to team success that I would recommend a coach takes the time to write report cards for players frequently during the season. This can be a living document that gets updated for each player as the season progresses. Things that should be included are skills, game play, discipline, and work ethic/attitude. These reports should look like a school report card, and should include comments on what has improved, what needs to be improved, and how to make those improvements. This report card needs to be made available to the player’s support system, and a coach needs to be available to discuss the report with parents if they so desire.
As for the car ride home, I learned in one coaching webinar I participated in that parents should only ask two questions on the way home: “Water, Gatorade or chocolate milk?” and “What do you want to eat?”
Clearly, typically for most athletes, there will be more that they want to talk about. To truly help ease any awkwardness in the car ride home, the coach should have a group discussion with parents at the beginning of the year to specifically address this sensitive subject. The discussion should not be about how to parent, but about how parents can help to develop their player during the car ride home.
Here are three key points I would like to stress to parents regarding that discussion with their child:
1) Don’t force a conversation about the game if your player isn’t interested in talking about it. Get a feel for their mental space. And remember, the parent’s mental space is not important to a player’s development.
2) Ask what Coach said after the game. Not only will this give a parent a good indication of what a player might also think about the game; it allows for parents to help support the coach, as well as the development of the players and the team.
3) Don’t allow your child to blame others for a poor game. It’s not the goalie’s fault; it’s not the referee’s fault. Parents should focus on the things that their son or daughter can control.
Finally, if a coach gets the feeling that there is conflicting messaging from parents to some of their players, they must address that head on. It’s crucial that parents are on the same side as the coach when it comes to the development of their athlete. Make sure you can have a one-on-one conversation about this and find some middle ground. If middle ground can’t be found, then maybe your child is not a good fit for that team community.
A coach should make it clear that they are responsible for the entire team and not just one athlete. Their decisions are based solely on improving each player and the team as a whole, and being the best the team can be at season’s end.
Rick Traugott is a veteran coach who has served with Hockey Canada as a camp coach, with both the National Women’s U18 and U22/Development teams. His teams have won numerous championships and medals in international competitions. For more information visit his website, www.ricktraugott.com. Reproduced with permission of Rick Traugott.