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Life skills – Hockey Parenting

Chris Johnston is a model hockey parent. He's served as a coach, tournament organizer, fill-in goalie, and volunteer team organizer. He’s also an artist, sharing homemade videos about the things he loves on his YouTube channel. Every winter he builds an amazing outdoor rink complete with LED lighting for lines so his kids and their friends (watch for that in a future Bolt Sports story) can play.  Chris also has been known to seek out frozen ponds so they can enjoy skating and playing non-organized hockey in surrounded by nature.

Born & raised in London, Ontario, Chris learned to skate with the help of his mom and dad on a frozen pond in a farmer's field; He started playing minor hockey when he was eight-years-old, relatively late for a Canadian. His dad was his assistant coach and mentor during his entire minor hockey career. Chris took a break from hockey while attending college, but afterwards started playing recreational hockey two-to-three times a week. He married the love of his life and the couple has two children, Benjamin and Ella, who both play minor hockey. Chris continues to play hockey once or twice a week and he coaches both his children in organized hockey five-to-six times a week. Below he gives us his thoughts on being a good hockey parent.

A.) How much pressure should you put on your child to play the game?

We review our children's commitment twice a year: once in the late winter to see what they want to do in the off-season (spring and summer), and again in the summer, when registration opens for the fall and winter. A rule in our house is they must do one fall/winter activity/sport to get them out of the house and active a few times a week. With that being said, once they choose, they have to try their best every time and they can't quit part way through the season. As far as pressure, I think they should play a level of hockey where they will be pushed to improve, but not struggling to keep up. It's a balance of teaching them to push themselves to get better and succeed, while also enjoying themselves. Constantly trying to keep up with other players on their team and opponents on the ice is not fun. The big thing parents need to remember is that pushing their kids too hard will lead them to physically and mentally burn out. They will not like hockey and likely quit the sport, which is the opposite of what most parents want. The main point, let the children lead, then put a reasonable amount of pressure on them to try hard. 

B.) How can you spot when a child is no longer having fun? 

They aren't smiling and laughing. Things like slowly leaving the dressing room to get on the ice; a constant lack of effort and attention to the coach; and acting out while on the ice. As well as constantly complaining that they don't want to go or asking when the time is over. I say constant, because all of these reactions can happen, but when it's noticed all the time, it's a red flag that they aren't enjoying themselves anymore. Hockey should not feel like a chore or a job.

C.) How can you be the most supportive of your child when they are playing the game?  

Let them know of the good things they do on the ice.  It's okay to give them tips about how to improve the things they are doing wrong, but keep things positive.  If you want to give them advice on improving something, have at least two other things you compliment them on in the same conversation. 

D.) How do you handle abusive parents if you come across them?

This is a tough one, because it's the job of the minor hockey coach to provide a safe and welcoming environment for kids to learn and play hockey all while having fun. It's tough to get involved in the parent/child relationship with other families. As a coach, if I came across this with a parent, I would have a conversation with the parent along with another coaching staff member or parent representative present and explain that their behavior has no place on our team.  Including another member of the coaching staff ensures they know this isn't my personal opinion, but an issue that affects the team and their child. 

E.) How do you use the game to teach life lessons?

 The entire game of hockey is a constant string of life lessons. Teaching kids that hard work pays off in the improvement of their skill-set. Learning the feeling of winning and losing. Learning that sometimes things aren't fair on the ice, but you need to push past that and keep focused on playing the game. It teaches them how to work with authority figures like coaches, other parents, referees, team managers, other team's coaches, etc. If done right, you can teach them the value of community. Every team that my son has played on has sponsors that help pay for additional hockey training and tournaments.  We talked to them about that. We also ensure that they are involved in supporting the community as well, whether it be putting together shoe boxes with items for the women's shelter and food drive, or filling boxes with food at a food bank. They need to know that as good members of society, they can graciously accept help from others but they must also pass along help to others themselves.  

F.) How much practice should a child have?

Children should be practicing with their team 1-2 times a week during the season. The occasional extra ice time for practice is okay too. Hockey is played during the school year and parents need to remember that school is important too. Even if it doesn't directly impact their school time, kids should not be over-scheduled in the evenings and weekends or it can lead to mental burnout. Adults and kids both need downtime. 

G.) Should they play in the summer? 

This is a good question and one that every parent is faced with every spring. It's my personal opinion and the opinion of Hockey Canada that kids and their families need time off of ice hockey in the spring and summer. Playing in summer hockey leagues all summer never gives kids or their families a chance off of hockey. This might work for some kids and they may have a desire to improve and make a better skilled team in the fall, but the vast majority of kids don't need to play hockey 12 months of the year.  The summer can be a great time to find a love for different sports and have a mental break from ice hockey.  Studies have found that people become better athletes when they develop skills in many different sports, rather than focusing on one sport. Playing different sports can also prevent overuse injuries. Life from September to April is a very busy time with school and hockey being so 'scheduled' all the time and that puts a lot of pressure on families. Our family takes a break from fulltime hockey in the spring and summer. We enjoy less scheduled activities and sports that give us the flexibility to just live life on a whim. Camping, hiking, canoeing, fishing, mountain biking, street basketball, street hockey, swimming and other less scheduled sports and activities are very important to the body and mind. With that being said, my son enjoys hockey a lot and likes playing on a competitive team and there is a certain level of commitment outside of the regular team to improving his skills. We do practice hockey shooting in our garage and rollerblading to keep the skating muscles in good shape. I do sign my son up for summer hockey camps or spring training sessions, but this is not all spring and summer, it simply allows him to keep up, or even improve his skills a little over the summer. 

H.) How do you discuss things like proper diet, sleep etc with your child so they can be the best they can be?

Leading by example: many adults don't even have a proper diet or sleep pattern.  Parents need to first and foremost lead by example. Secondly, and arguably most importantly, they need to discuss food choices. Tell them what is in the meals you are preparing and why you are choosing certain foods. A balanced diet is important, but ensuring they have extra carbohydrates and protein in the days leading up to and the days of games or tournament weeks can help them understand the importance of fueling their body for activities. Setting bedtimes not just for the sake of setting a bedtime but rather a bedtime that allows children to get the correct amount of sleep is important. Some kids are up at 6:30am to get ready for school to catch a bus or maybe go to a before school care program or even a morning hockey skills session. These kids need to go to bed earlier than kids who wake up at 8am to simply walk to school. This needs to be verbally communicated to their child so they know why they need to go to bed at a certain time. When to go to bed isn’t important, it’s how much sleep they get that is important. Telling them that is just as important as actually putting them to bed on time. 

Contact - cascar28@hotmail.com (@Johnston_191). His Youtube channel is: CJ Entertainment Canada (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm_xPJomCUX6OjSjysclFsQ).