By Gerald A. Dinkel
Running a sports photography business means spending most of the winter season in hockey arenas across the province of Ontario. Thus, we’ve come to experience all the colors of the hockey-parent spectrum first hand. A spectrum that ranges from violent fanatics ruining the game to the most uplifting, hardworking, dedicated mentors our country has to offer. Of course, as with most pools of people, the curve features small populations at the extremes with a vast sea of hockey parents in the middle trying to find their place in our magnificent country’s national sport. That’s where Theresa Dostaler of Canadian Hockey Moms comes in.
Here’s what she had to say:
“It’s difficult for new hockey parents to jump right into hockey culture. I chuckle in the tyke dressing room watching moms (and dads) new to the sport trying to figure out how to put equipment on. I think parents new to the sport can be shocked by the intensity of it all. The commitment expected and required, the attitudes of parents who really want to win, the never-ending debate about ice time and ‘shortening the bench.’ Those issues can start pretty early.
“Off the ice, I get a lot of questions from moms new to managing teams or helping with teams around fundraising. That’s probably our number one question: What are good fundraising ideas? I get questions about feeding kids on the road, activities for team building, and questions specific to incidents that can occur for players on teams. I try to cover all of this on the website.”
Theresa is of course discussing Canadian Hockey Moms, a website that she created during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Theresa was just entering her novice and tyke children into competitive hockey and quickly realized there was no solid resource to help hockey moms through all the aforementioned obstacles.
“If I had questions, so must other moms, and it would be interesting to hear from them,” she says.
Theresa had no social media experience upon starting this altruistic endeavor, but undeterred she auto-didactically huddled a throng of dedicated readers and contributors in the tens of thousands. She is driven by two goals: To develop a better understanding of the social media age in which her young children were growing up, and to help other hockey parents in her position.
“The single best resource I had was the book Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk,” she says. I’ve done a few social media classes locally for businesses, and I always recommend that book. It helped me, and everything that he predicted would happen did.”
Theresa is a shining example of the uplifting, hardworking, dedicated mentors I mentioned earlier. I had the opportunity to interview her earlier this month and was utterly refreshed. I’m the type of person that has a tendency to isolate and emphasize the negative experiences and mitigate the positive ones. Lately, I’ve been finding myself disenchanted with the whole minor hockey experience due to some unfavorable exchanges with parents and coaches. I carry much of the blame, though, due to my lack of compassion and understanding toward the plight of a hockey parent. Thus, I reached out to Theresa to help expand my perspective.
Theresa grew up in the rink starting with figure skating at the age of two. Her brother played hockey, her father coached, and both parents were minor hockey execs. “Hockey is in my DNA,” she says.
I asked Theresa if she could identify a concept that she’s taken from her education that best applies to the Canadian Hockey Moms project:
“Probably the shift from the traditional expert-focused paradigm to an empowerment- or consumer-focused paradigm. In other words, I am not sure it would be worthwhile to claim there is one expert in all-things-hockey-mom or have any one opinion valued as the golden opinion. You are going to get some fantastic solutions to problems by asking people’s opinions on issues of interest and not just telling them what the answer is. That approach has helped to build our community.
“Another thing that I’ve learned from all the work I did afterwards within communities, including homeless shelters, boards of education, psychiatric hospitals, public health, etc., is that there is unlimited value in being authentic, a good listener, and kind. I actually care about what people say. I rarely remove comments on the page, but you will see that overall our discussions are candid but respectful. I’m happy to hear people’s opinions even if I disagree with them. I think that was something I learned very early on—to be comfortable with being challenged. That has served me well in many areas, including all-things Canadian Hockey Moms. “There are a lot of moms (and dads) out there with a lot of knowledge, and they are happy to share it. I have always known that people are happy to share what they’ve learned, I’ve just given them a venue to share.”
Dealing with Troublesome Hockey Parents
I looked to Theresa for advice on how to deal with the hockey bad apples that have been causing me so much turmoil as of late, to which she had the following to say: “I think that we tend to find the extreme examples and try to make lessons out of them. Do those people exist? They sure do. I’ve seen it on my kids’ teams. Are they everywhere? Maybe more than I would like, but hockey is just a microcosm of the real world.
There are unsavory situations and characters everywhere, and whether you’re a parent or a child you have to learn to deal with them in hockey and in life. Initially in hockey but now everywhere, I ask myself, ‘Is this about me, or is this about my kid?’ If it’s about myself, then I sit on it for a while. Make it more about the well-being of the players, and less about our own egos. “With negative forces, I try to avoid them. I avoid the people with the dark cloud over them at the rink, and I do my best to try to avoid being that person. I try not to complain to other parents. I try to be open-minded to more than my own opinion on a subject. I also try to use differences in coaching and personality styles to teach my children that they are going to have to deal with all different types of people in life—through hockey, as bosses, etc. Even the coaches who are difficult, we talk about what you learn about dealing with people through those experiences. “A good sense of humor also helps, and my website is a good place to go to be reassured knowing that I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way/experienced this.”
Advice to Hockey Parents on Avoiding Bad Behavior
Lastly, I asked Theresa for advice for parents in similar situations: “Well, there is no end to the drama that high-drama parents can create. I have also heard at higher levels, even in juniors, that scouts and coaches want to meet the parents, which can make or break a decision about a player. I think that this is not just in hockey, but in life. Parents who can keep their cool and teach their children to work with others—not against them, but towards their own benefits—will come out ahead. “I like to see my kids win, but when they don’t win there are lessons they can pull from the experience. In overall development, losses are important and can be more important than wins. I think the best coaches, and hopefully most parents, have some other criteria to evaluate growth and progress besides winning.
Most of us are in sports and/or put our kids in sports because we appreciate the challenge of competition. Winning and losing are part of that challenge. “I think my advice to parents would be just to stop and savor those moments of our kids’ pure joy playing hockey. Their smile and waves into the crowd in the tyke years, the strength of their stride, the friendships they build as they get older. Being a hockey parent can be exhausting, but if we find joy in those moments and remember it’s our kids’ love of the game that keeps us there, we’ll all be a lot better for it.”
Minor Hockey Hero
Theresa Dostaler is a hockey hero. She manages two teams. She helps thousands of parents by compiling important advice in one convenient place in the precious free time around being a busy hockey mom and entrepreneur. And most importantly, she exhibits the attitudes that we rink-goers should aspire to.
“Last week, I was acting as trainer and also running the forward door on my son’s team,” Theresa says. “I have run the door before, but always defense. The coach thought it would be fun for me to run my son [who plays center]’s door. I was paranoid about getting a penalty for too many men; we were joking about it. During the second period, I had this moment as my son stepped on the ice for a change. As I watched him take off down the ice I looked up, and noticed my older son was smiling with a friend and playing music in the sound room, and my daughter was laying across the bleachers with a friend in front of my mother across the rink. I stopped and just savored the moment. I just took it all in and thought: This is what it’s all about.”
Theresa is making the sport better by being a part of it, and we all owe her for it. I know I owe her a debt of gratitude for helping me develop a better mindset toward the arena where my very livelihood as a business owner resides. Thank you, Theresa.
Gerald A. Dinkel is an award-winning author and poet. This article originally appears at juliewhelanphotography.com. Published with permission of Julie Whelan.