You might have seen one of these signs online or at your local rink:
Every year, we see a handful of stories about youth sports parents overstepping their bounds. These parents’ actions are equal parts shocking and troublesome. Unfortunately, youth hockey is frequently the setting for these disturbing situations.
It's not easy for a parent to sit back and remain silent during any activity involving their son or daughter – nor is silence the expectation – but if the comments aren’t positive, then they aren’t appropriate.
Remember, it’s just a game.
Let the Coaches Coach
Please don’t coach from the stands. Allow the coaches to do their job. Be positive, supportive and encouraging. Let the child have fun, enjoy the game and play with their friends.
Brian Copeland, hockey director for the Junior Tigers of Colorado Springs, Colo., says one issue he frequently sees is young players constantly looking to the stands to seek approval from their parents. A disapproving look or gesture from mom or dad can remove a lot of the enjoyment for a child.
Moreover, it makes it difficult for a coach to do his or her job.
"The biggest problem you see is parents trying to coach from the stands," Copeland says. "You'll see this when kids start looking for their mom or dad in the stands while they're on the ice. The issue here is that it undermines the coaching staff. We want the kids to focus on the game while they're out there. It's hard to do that if they're constantly worried about what mom or dad think."
Parents also might be tempted to do some “car coaching.” Many kids fear the car ride home after games and practices because their parents want to dissect their performance. It’s good to be supportive and listen, but silence is okay, too. There will be good games and there will be bad games, but let them know that their performance does not mean you love them any more or any less.
Chances are, the parents are more riled up about a loss than a 10-year-old kid. Don’t be that parent.
Have an issue? Talk to the coaches privately and respectfully.
Rob Blake, a 20-year veteran of the National Hockey League and current assistant coach with the Junior Kings in Los Angeles, believes communicating and involving parents helps them understand expectations.
"Something as simple as having a meeting with parents before the season to discuss what's expected of them can benefit everyone," Blake says. "No matter which youth sports you're working in, this can be issue. Just communicating expectations and the goals of your staff can help build the type of culture you want."
Ice time is one thing that frequently leads to these problems in the course of a season. Blake believes that keeping the lines of communication open during the season is the only way to avoid the type of behavior that discourages kids.
"Parents have a tendency to only watch their son or daughter," Blake says. "The thing that people are most likely to complain about is ice time. Again, communicating with parents throughout the season to express concerns or just talk about the season helps develop a good environment."
Establishing a Positive Environment
The trick for coaches is to develop an environment that creates a positive culture of encouragement and education for young hockey players to develop skills and foster a love for the game.
The work, however, can't just come during the games or practices. According to Copeland, working with parents before a season clarifies their role within the organization. Additionally, explaining that these games are for kids, not parents or coaches, can prevent a lot of these issues.
"The biggest thing we're trying to do is create a culture where kids have fun playing hockey," Copeland says. "Kids quit when they're not enjoying it anymore. You see a lot of parents who are former players or athletes in any sport, and sometimes they have a hard time letting go of their playing days. My 8-year-old daughter is playing her first year of hockey, so I get it. But I just enjoy going to the games and cheering her on. That's what's most important to remember. The games are for the kids, not the parents."
Copeland says he distributes literature from USA Hockey and other organizations discussing how parents can positively contribute to their local youth hockey community. As important as this is before the season, reminders during the year or as problems arise, help to reiterate the message.
Hockey is a team game. The players on the ice, and their friends on the bench, aren't the only people on the team. The coaches behind the bench and the parents in the stands all have roles and responsibilities for helping the team succeed. For parents, their role is to reinforce the messages and lessons taught by coaches while fostering a love for sport in their children. Please let the coaches coach and the players play.
Sit back. Cheer. Enjoy the season. Enjoy the ride.
USA Hockey has zero tolerance for misconduct and abuse. Read more about USA Hockey’s SafeSport Program, which explains the systems in place to ensure your child’s safety on and off the ice.