I wish I had known that sooner. We have all said that at some point in our life. As pucks drop on another hockey season, I have an important message for all the parents. And in case you have been living in a hermetically sealed information bubble for years, I am imploring you to enjoy this journey and allow the shower of life lessons to wash over your child.
Here is how you can do it.
Take the dream of your child becoming a professional at whatever sport and place it deep inside your brain. Put it in the same place where you envision winning the lottery because the odds are surprisingly similar. Fantasize and daydream about it, but keep it out of your serious conversations. Set a different goal for your child, one that sees them recognizing an amazing save by an opposing goaltender or standing first in the handshake line after a heart-breaking season ending defeat. Dream about them maintaining a 3.8 GPA thru high school or being recognized for their character in elementary school.
While you may have convinced yourself you have a great influence on them achieving the athletic lottery, the truth is for many you will turn this experience into a 365 day a year job and in the end they will hate either you or the sport itself. When you become their agent, their trainer and their boss you lose sight that what they really need is a mom or a dad. And as a parent your influence on their athletic ability was determined at birth. However, their character is your work in progress and will be profound and visible to all.
Talk to your coach about the weather or Aaron Rodgers, but don’t talk about your coach unless you are singing their praises. Don’t turn every sad face your child brings home into an email, phone call, text or dirty look. Unless the coach is doing something illegal or immoral, whatever your child is going through will make them a better person in the long run. Didn’t make the right team or not getting enough ice time, being benched or firmly coached are part of the athletic checklist. Life will be infinitely tougher and equally unfair and the sooner your child understands that the better. Contrary to your emotions these hurdles will teach your child valuable lessons, not scar them for life. You can be mad, upset and frustrated, but not in front of your child. The minute you contradict the coach in front of your child, you put your child in a terrible dilemma. And if they decide to listen to you and not the coach they will quickly earn the label as “uncoachable”. You can lump that tag with lazy, selfish and undisciplined as the terms you don’t want to hear in connection with your child. Never forget that athletics are a voluntary activity, not a requirement to graduate.
Are all coaches wonderful and never make any mistakes, absolutely not. Like every other walk of life there is a wide spectrum in the quality of coaches. In spite of our efforts to screen and educate coaches there are still some who cross the lines of common sense. When it happens to your child it is tough to maintain your composure and contain your knee jerk over-reactions. Commit yourself to the 36 hour rule (24 isn’t enough) and step back. Things often look different through the lens of a new day.
Negatively criticizing teammates or second guessing your child’s coach in front of them is immature and irresponsible and will cripple your child’s ability to be a team player and good teammate. Please, please for the sake of all the reasonable parents and your child, stop yelling during games. Screaming “go” or “skate” or “shoot” are annoying and obvious prompts that your child does not need. Learning to play the game requires being able to think on the ice and not just wait for someone to tell them what to do. If you are that parent who has no filter or decorum, consider standing somewhere away from everyone else or watch it on Live Barn in your car. Let those parents that can watch civilly and cheer for the entire team stand together. And if that parent won’t leave or stop yelling, bring them an unsolicited cup of coffee. Like gum or holding a pencil for a smoker trying to quit, when tempted to yell something stupid, they can insert coffee into their loud and insufferable mouth.
Don’t fret the new wave of recognition awards, certificates and medals. While they might look great in your child’s wall of fame, they will one day be packed up in a box, put in the closet, only to be tossed away at a later day. The points they accumulated, the all-tournament-conference-state, best teammate, MVP and most improved awards will pale in comparison to the memories of their teammates and all the crazy things they did that had nothing to do with the game itself. As for college coaches and future bosses, they will be much more concerned with your child’s character than their trophy collection.
Be as concerned with your child’s “play time” as their playing time. The first is most often curtailed by parents in their attempt to camp and clinic their kids to death and the second is earned from their coach. One you actually have control over, debating the other with the coach should be as forbidden as yelling fire in a crowded theater. Falling in love with the puck, ball or racquet happens during “play time” and leads to playing time down the road.
My wife and I recently went on a journey to Waco, Texas. Like any journey, including your child’s season, there were highs and lows. Detours, roads under construction, bad weather and crazy drivers along with great restaurants, beautiful warm weather and law abiding sane drivers. We mostly learn to roll with the good and bad, except when it comes to our kids’ athletic encounters. With absurdly unrealistic logic we envision that perfect season, that journey without a bump in the road. Your chances are better to win the aforementioned lottery, than have a season like that. The mountains athletics provides are simply a required part of the process of learning how to climb.
This is now your child’s journey and they get to drive the car. Sometimes they might get lost or pulled over by the state patrol. The earlier you allow them to figure things out with your support, not your interference, the more valuable this experience will become. Consider games like postcards, enjoy them, but convince yourself they are too far away to solve the journey’s glitches. Each season will provide the beauty of a Grand Canyon sunset, the fear of a freeway pileup and the challenges of detours and unfavorable weather. Expect adversity and use your Google Maps to find the silver lining.
Someday, and sooner than you think, all of this will be over for both you and your child. If you have truly enjoyed the journey and excused yourself from being a pilot and tour guide, the result will be a young adult with a reference book of life lessons ready to step into the real world. Still a work in progress they won’t crumble when adversity strikes, won’t balk at hard work and will seek out their life goals like a Patriot Missile. And if they were lucky enough to learn early to love the game, whatever that game is, they might still be playing it and you will get to step back in time and watch them one more time.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, Wisconsin.
You can contact him at email@example.com