Part 3: The pressure to perform in minor hockey
This is part 3 of a 3-part series on issues surrounding minor hockey. For part 1 and 2, go to the archives
Kids love playing sports. It is a great way for them to have fun with friends while playing in a fun, competitive environment. On any given day during the winter, you’ll find kids spending all afternoon playing on the outdoor rinks until their parents call them home for dinner. Some children simply have a pure passion for sports, and a few of those may even have the skills to be quite successful in the future.
However, some parents feel that it is their responsibility to fuel their child’s passion. They sign their child up for summer camps, making sure that their child is playing hockey year-round. They make them do extra power skating, or play at the highest, most competitive level. These parents thinks that this will help the child fall in love with the game, and all the extra work will help them eventually go professional. The problem is that it’s not up to the parents to fuel the passion for the game; it’s the child who needs to love hockey in the first place. It happens too often that a child enjoys playing hockey, and the parents sign their child up for every known course, class and camp until the child is sick of the game. They are over-stimulated by too much hockey, and it kills the passion and love for the game.
It’s unfortunate that hockey has become an extremely competitive sport, especially at the minor league level. It starts off fun and relaxed, but it gets extremely competitive (and expensive) and an incredibly fast rate. The players need to make a very large commitment to their team. There are many more practices and games per week, and there is much more pressure on them to perform. I have had parents tell me that when their child was selected for a higher level team, the pressure of it all just sucked the enjoyment right out of the game. They were talented enough to play at a high level, but the amount of time spent practicing and playing hockey was simply too much. They were benched by the coach when they didn’t have a few good shifts, or if they weren’t “competing” as hard as the coach would like. In their defense, there is a lot of pressure on the coaches from other parents, and they are sometimes put in tough positions. The system isn’t perfect, but unfortunately a lot of the pressure falls on the kids.
There is also too much emphasis on having a winning team, therefore many players are taught to focus more on winning instead of simply having fun. The enjoyment of the game is taken out of the game extremely early, and all that is pumped into their minds it to compete as hard as they can so they can move up to the higher level, instead of simply playing for the enjoyment of the game. There is more and more pressure on the kids from the coaches, their parents, and in bad cases, other player’s parents. I’ve heard stories of parents telling other parents that they should take their kid off the team, because they’re not good enough to play at that level. Some people argue that the weaker players make the team look bad, and hinder the chances of the better players moving up. I am quite confident that scouts at any level do not simply look at the win-loss record of teams to look for players. If a player is good enough to advance, he will be noticed. So encourage the good players, encourage the players who are trying their hardest, and encourage the players who are simply having fun playing a great sport. Do not get upset with the players when they have a bad shift or game.
I’m not suggesting that we don’t keep score, so the kids aren’t disappointed by losing. I think that winning and losing are important for people to experience, because it helps them deal with it in the future. Failure is an important lesson, and it can usually be the best motivator. I’m simply saying that the over-emphasis on winning overshadows the other lessons that hockey can bring. Winning is fun, but I honestly believe that learning to deal with losing is just as important. As I mentioned in last week’s post, many lessons we learn in sports can be used in everyday life. That should be the focus of minor hockey, at least in the beginning. When the players have learned the ins and outs of the game and still want to compete at the highest level, that is the time to start putting pressure on them. Before that, the pressure can smother a kid’s love of the game.
Hockey is a great sport, one that many are fortunate enough to play from a young age. The problem is that it becomes very competitive extremely fast. The transition from learning the game to playing at a competitive level should be slowed down, so that the kids can truly enjoy the game and understand the finer points of the sport. Being forced to do too much of something can destroy what makes it special, and that is unfair for young athletes who are playing for the enjoyment of the sport. The age where hockey becomes a serious commitment is currently too young, and there should be more emphasis on enjoying and learning from the great game of hockey.