How to help your child transform their anxiety into better youth hockey performance
By Michael P. Orlotti
Youth hockey performance depends on several factors.
With all the news regarding NHL coaches amidst allegations of inappropriate comments or controversial motivation tactics, I felt compelled to write this article not as a coach/trainer involved in minor hockey, but as a parent with a son playing his third year and a daughter that will soon be starting her journey in hockey.
As hockey parents, we can have a major impact on our children and it is important to know how they are really doing. We all have the best of intentions in mind and want to see our children be successful. We want them to have fun on the ice, working hard in developing new skills and creating new friendships with their teammates. Unfortunately, along with all the fun come stress factors to watch out for that our children may fall into, which will affect youth hockey performance.
There are four questions I always ask my players’ parents (or hockey parents in general):
- Do you know how your child is doing in hockey?
- Your child may look strong on the “outside,” but what about on the inside?
- What are they thinking or feeling about hockey, either playing it or the game itself?
- Lastly, do you really think you know how your child is doing?
Research has shown a great number of youth hockey players—not to mention the recent news of professional players—are struggling. The negative impact that results indicates these players often hide their difficulties inside that are overwhelming them both on and off the ice.
The main struggles affecting these hockey players can be:
- Fear of making a mistake
- Terrified of disappointing coaches or teammates
- Distracted by their coaches, friends, and family
- Inconsistent efforts
- Slow to recover
- Overly self-critical and stuck in an endless loop of negative self-talk
- Perfectionism and unrealistically high self-imposed expectations
Your child is confronting many things on the ice—even on a daily basis outside of the hockey environment. These things can be overwhelming and hamper their ability to perform to their full potential, placing their goals and dreams out of reach.
The situation may get worse, because these on-ice problems are just symptoms that can manifest themselves off the ice in a number of ways, such as:
- Inability to fall asleep
- Feeling disconnected
- Excessive worry about the future
- Anger about their past performance
- The discounting of anything positive
It goes without saying that these feelings of inadequacy can have a negative effect on your child’s ability to perform in school. For the vast majority of minor hockey players, it all adds up to a hidden—or not so hidden—fear of failure that stands as a significant barrier to their ability to find success, on and off the ice.
You can help your child use their anxiety to transform into high youth hockey performance and thrive on adversity, on and off the ice
I have learned that many youth hockey players are reluctant to acknowledge stress or anxiety-related issues, particularly when it comes to their parents. I have trained many minor hockey players on a daily basis, and even my own son will not listen to me at times.
But there is good news for youth hockey players. They have a unique opportunity in their drive to learn and to be better.
The majority of minor hockey players may not be motivated to address or talk about their general fear and anxiety with Mom or Dad. Nevertheless, as competitive athletes they are highly motivated to improve their on-ice performance. This is a great motivation tool! Therefore, when they have mastered a new set of hockey skills their mindset and mental game will start to silence their inner critic. The results will take the form of overall improved confidence; no fear of failure to perform on-ice; a noticeable increase in improved skills sets; communication and engagement growth; and most importantly, having fun on the ice and with their teammates.
When implementing a proper plan and with the help of your child, in a matter of weeks you will begin to see your high-performing, fun-loving, less anxious and fearful child back to normal again. On track to achieve their goals and live their dreams—both on and off the ice.
Michael Orlotti is the co-founder & director of Hockeyneeds.com. Along with co-founder Leon Pierre, they bring their passion for hockey with the goal of helping others achieve their hockey needs. Published with permission of Hockeyneeds.com.