Regardless of whether you travel five minutes or a few hours from a hockey rink back to your destination, it can be described as the longest car ride home.
Parents who have viewed a game or practice through one lens are often eager to discuss it. Young players might just want to decompress – and not relive, in particular, losses or misplays.
“I think parents call that the worst 30 minutes in sports, the car ride home,” says Heather Mannix, a manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “I think this is one of those things we see and struggle with.”
Mannix has some tips for parents and 10U players to help navigate those moments.
Mannix says she has a 9-year-old niece who plays hockey, giving her the occasion to see what works best and what her niece responds to after games.
Mannix has found that putting an emphasis on love and joy pays dividends.
“One thing to say off the field or ice is, ‘I love watching you play. It’s so much fun to watch you play.’ That sets the tone for any kind of discussion or feedback,” Mannix says. “At least for me, that’s my go-to line. As soon as I see her and she’s done, ‘I loved watching you play.’”
Mannix also tries to stress the importance of having fun, but it doesn’t always appear in the most predictable ways.
“Because of my background with fun, I like to say, ‘Did you find a way to have fun working hard today?’ Or, ‘What was the thing you found to be the most fun today?’” Mannix says. “It’s kind of cool to hear the things they come up with.”
Indeed. Mannix says adults tend to think kids associate fun with silly play, but 10U players will often surprise by circling back to something that has more to do with learning a new skill.
“We come back to common misconceptions adults have of fun,” Mannix says. “We think they’re going to talk about goofing off in line or playing tag, but a lot of times it’s a game that they played or an opportunity that they got to try something new. That catches us by surprise sometimes.”
Instead of focusing on love and fun, parents often turn the conversation on the car ride home to more serious topics: wins and losses, good and bad moments.
This comes from a place of good intentions, but it also often misses the mark.
“Parents are always looking for return on investment. I don’t fault the parents for this, but they’re looking for how to judge the experience and is it worth the money, time, logistical resources invested,” Mannix says. “Wins and losses become the very easy and simple indicator. That translates into pressure coaches feel and kids feel. The more money, the more time and resources that are tied up in any experience, there’s more pressure involved.”
Mannix instead encourages parents to steer conversations in a more constructive direction.
“My dad was my coach for most of my youth career. We would dissect the game on the way home and I actually loved that,” Mannix says. “But he did that in a way that, the majority of the time, it was ‘what did you see?’ ‘What could you have done differently?’ ‘Would you do the same thing again if you had the opportunity?’ If your kid likes that, it can be beneficial, but it comes down to the tone and the underlying feel of the conversation. If it’s coming from a tone of criticism it’s going to be a different conversation.”
That last sentiment points to perhaps the most important thing to remember: While there are guidelines, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach – certainly not to parenting and specifically to approaching the card ride home from games.
Mannix says she has a friend that helps their young child set goals before a practice or game, and then they review the goals on the way home.
“What that does is it allows you to take the emotion out of the conversation and allows the child, the player, to set their own goal,” Mannix says. “It lets them decide to reflect back on the things that went well when they were trying to achieve it – and where did things not go well and change that going forward. It puts accountability back on the player and gives them more ownership of that whole process.”
If that works for you, great. If not? Keep trying to find that sweet spot.
“It comes down to having a feel for where your kid is at. Not pushing them into a place where they don’t want to be,” Mannix says. “There are so many things kids can learn from youth sports. We steal a lot of the love. Most of the time it’s unintentional and we’re just trying to do best for kids, but it can have unintended consequences.”
Tag(s): ADM Features