There is a lot of talk out there about parents being the “problem” in hockey, but I think that no matter how many articles are written, no matter how many times it is brought up in a team meeting, the people to whom it applies aren’t going to believe it actually applies to them. I propose a different approach.
Yes, sometimes Jimmy’s dad is trying to live vicariously through his son and thinks his son is the next Connor McDavid even though he skates like a bag of milk, but I think for the most part, it comes down to a lack of communication, setting boundaries and expectations, and sticking to them. These parents continue the bad behavior because to them, it works. No one ever tells them the truth. No one wants to have those hard conversations. Jimmy is riding the pine because he screws around in practice, Jimmy is a healthy scratch because he hasn’t been on time for practice once this week. Jimmy knows, but chances are pretty good mom and dad are getting another story, right?
Here’s the thing. With no communication from the coach to the parents setting expectations for the season, parents are left to make things up in their head or listen only to one side of the story. From my observations, most coaches are pretty good about communication with their players, but I can count on one hand how many coaches my son has had over the years where the coach set parent expectations. My son has even had coaches that I have never spoken to and who have never spoken to me. Now, I know…..part of junior hockey is supposed to be when the player takes the reins himself, but these are teenage boys, often leaving home for the first time, but I don’t think this should be parents versus coaches. I think we need to present a united front.
By that I mean coaches need to communicate with parents at the start and set the tone. It could be an email or a Google Hangout or Zoom meeting, but set the expectations for communication. We’ve all heard about the 24-hour rule. State it and enforce it. Tell everyone if they send an email before those 24 hours are up, it will be deleted without reading, or tell them if they call you, their call will be sent to voicemail or ignored. Tell them how you prefer to communicate. Tell them how you award playing time. Tell them how you decide who is a healthy scratch or who gets benched. Then stick to it. Go ahead and walk out through the lobby instead of hiding in the locker room until the parking lot is empty, and if a parent stops you to ask why Jimmy didn’t play more, walk away. They can’t have a tug of war with you if you drop the rope and walk away. Offer a meeting or phone call on a later day with the player present if they feel the need after 24 hours, but stick to your guns here.
The thing about giving the problem parents attention is that it reinforces that behavior. They keep doing it because they got a little attention, and maybe next time they get what they want. You become like a casino to them when you really want to be a broken vending machine. People give up feeding a broken vending machine, but playing the slots teases you and makes you think you are close to winning something, even if you aren’t, so you keep plugging the machine hoping for a jackpot. Don’t give them that jackpot.
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