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Developing the never-quit mentality

05/01/2017, 10:00am MDT
By Dave Pond

There’s a YouTube video of 12-year-old Aybatyr Myrzabae competing with teammates in a tug-of-war competition that has racked up an incredible number of worldwide views. Although the competition was of importance to those involved, it’s Aybatyr’s never-give-up attitude that’s inspirational.

Who wouldn’t want this kid on their team? How can we as parents and coaches nurture our children to develop these intangibles?

The comfort zone

“One of the great lessons of hockey is that competition and success don't come easily,” said Dan Saferstein, Ph.D, team psychologist for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. “We live in a culture where the goal seems to be make life as comfortable as possible; we try to get the most comfortable houses and the most comfortable cars. Parents go out of their way to make sure their kids have every need met and don't have to struggle in any way.”

But that comfort orientation doesn't bode well for athlete development. How can we push 10U players out of their comfort zones? Shrink the playing surface. Play small-area games. Set up stations where there’s constant chaos, puck touches, shooting, passing and stickhandling – all with limited time and space.

But perhaps most importantly for a 10-year-old: It has to be fun. Why put so much effort and determination into an activity unless you’re having fun?

Motivation and mental toughness

Parenting young hockey players can be intoxicating, meaning there’s real danger in allowing your kid’s successes and failures to become your drug of choice.

The reality is that some players are more talented and some are more determined, and that's not always something you can control as a parent. Take a step back and allow them to figure it out on their own.

“It’s a myth that you need to be tough on kids to make them mentally tough athletes,” Saferstein said. “Do that, and kids usually end up fearful and nervous. True mental toughness isn't about being angry; it’s about being calm inside and being able to do in big games what you do in practice every day.  

“As a parent, your job is not to motivate your children. If they're not motivated to play hockey, they need to begin the search to find what else might motivate them.”

Give them space

Saferstein recommends a different parenting approach: Think about hockey as you do your kids’ academic education.

“Most parents are pretty good math parents. They trust their child's teachers and give them the space to learn and figure things out on their own,” he said. “You rarely hear of a parent screaming at their child to ‘carry the zero’ or something like that.”

When given space to develop their own love for hockey, your kids will take the ice with internal confidence, ready to face the ups and downs that come with the game. Think back to the tug-of-war video.

“I love that video. What a big heart in such a little person,” Saferstein said. “Aybatyr didn’t seem worried about losing or that something was ‘wrong’ because he had a very tough challenge on his hands.

“He embraced the tough challenge and accepted it without getting down on himself, feeling sorry for himself, or comparing himself to other kids who seemed to have easier challenges. I think that captures the essence of perseverance. It’s a love of challenges, a love of life, and competition – when it's hard and also when it's easy.”

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