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12U: Respect, Character & Being a Good Teammate

04/14/2021, 2:15pm MDT
By Michael Rand

Respect can be built through hockey – particularly at the 12U level

Stop by any rink and you might find a brochure suggesting that hockey builds character.

It’s true, says Heather Mannix, a manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatic or simply inherent in the sport itself.

“It has to be fostered intentionally by parents and coaches,” Mannix said. “That’s part of development – creating connections between not only teammates and coaches, but also the local association. The overall game and culture of the sport starts and is founded with respect.”

Respect Is Learned

Thinking about it that way, we can quickly see how respect is built through hockey – particularly at the 12U level. It can be within a game itself or it can be something as simple as how you treat the Zamboni driver at the rink.

Much of that behavior is taught and modeled by adults and passed along to the kids who are watching them.

“I think respect is a learned quality. I think our players look to those that they admire as role models to see how they should act and react to certain situations,” Mannix said. “So it’s one of those things when you think of our role as parents, coaches, it’s really one of those responsibilities that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We need to be in that position for kids.”

Mannix says it’s incumbent upon associations for setting a tone and culture for what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable. It’s important that adults, particularly those in high-visibility roles, model good behavior to show 12U players how it’s done – and conversely how it isn’t done.

“I think one of the biggest examples is a coach that thinks it’s acceptable to argue a call by berating a ref. It’s best to leave Bobby Knight in 1985. I’ve never seen a ref reverse a decision, especially after being berated,” said Mannix, referring to the longtime college basketball coach whose antics generated more scrutiny as time went on. “More importantly players are watching how you deal with adversity. It’s easy to dehumanize officials or an opponent in the heat of the moment, but how we act as adults is what kids will see as acceptable.”

Disrespecting the game in that way has consequences. Among the most tangible: it leads to low retention rates for officials. And without referees, there’s no game.

Never Too Early

Ideally, these lessons would be instilled before 12U, but at the very least, they should be reinforced at that level.

“I don’t think it’s ever too early. At 12U, they’re trying to figure out who they are, longing for independence, dealing with hormonal changes. Things start to matter more, there’s more investment and we see the biggest jumps and lack of respect is demonstrated with behavior,” Mannix said. “It’s something that should be instilled before 12U, but it’s really important to reinforce it at that age. If you don’t build on the foundation at 12U, you are asking for more issues at 12U, then 14U and beyond.”

The Bigger Picture

Mannix says it’s important to correct bad behavior among young players because it often can be a symptom of a larger problem. She is reminded of a quote: “Hurt people hurt people,” which can explain (though not excuse) disrespectful behavior.

“I think when kids are acting out, when they are exhibiting those behaviors of anger or disrespect in general, it’s typically something bigger than what they are reacting to in that moment,” Mannix said. “In the 11-12 age group, those situations are teachable moments.”

Being able to use them to teach lessons requires some work to understand what’s going on “at the core of behavior,” Mannix says, plus being willing to become an ally for that player if and when a root problem is established.

“I think it’s important to understand there may be other things going on, but you have to have what’s acceptable vs. unacceptable and clear/consistent guidelines to guide that behavior,” Mannix said. “That’s where building respect is key – it doesn’t just magically happen because you play hockey. It’s the culture we create around the sport.”

A Lifetime Achievement

The payoff, Mannix says, doesn’t just last the length of a season or even just for a hockey career. It can last a lifetime. Two things she learned at a young age have stuck with her even until adulthood: if you meet someone for the first time, shake their hand and look them in the eye; and if a teammate is having a tough time, help them.

“In adulthood, we are in situations all the time where we need to be a good teammate. It all goes back to respect being the foundation of any functioning relationship,” she said. “Whether that’s a coworker,  your boss or the person working the front desk. That sort of behavior really dictates the character and level of respect you have.”

Those lessons can be taught through hockey.

“When it comes to team sports, it’s such a fertile ground for building these long-lasting traits with successful adults all over,” Mannix said. “At the end of the day, almost everything we do in our adult lives is reliant on other people. Learning how to be a good teammate is going to carry lasting effects into adult life. I know it has for me, but this doesn’t just magically happen. It takes work and intention.”

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