Opportunities in Hockey After High School

From a report by Al Bloomer… 

“When it comes to choosing options for their hockey future, I am continually troubled by how poorly prepared and uninformed many players and their parents are. Answers can be found if you know where to look. The challenge is to be realistic about your hockey abilities and pro-active when planning your hockey future. As your skills develop to the higher levels, you begin to think about your options. I believe parents and players should begin to think seriously about hockey opportunities when the player is 12 to 14 years old. This is not the forum to debate when a player’s hockey potential can be evaluated or predicted. Although there may be optimism concerning potential when players are 12 and under, their potential cannot be realistically evaluated until they reach the age of maturity. All have dreams and expectations – but players and parents need to make informed and realistic decisions.”

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The information here is useful to hockey players but much also applies to any kid looking to play sports past high school.

What to do When Your Child Doesn’t Hustle?

Sooner or later, every parent will have to face the perceived shame and humiliation caused by a child who didn’t “hustle” during a game. Most of the other parents will be polite and say things like “Is you child feeling okay?” or “Hope everything is okay at home.” Some parents will suggest private lessons or maybe even other teams to play on, but most will be quiet and avoid direct eye contact. When this happens, parents can either put on a brave face and laugh off the comments, or just pretend to be on their cell phone while quickly walking their five year old to the car. When confronted with too much shame and humiliation, parents quit youth sports and never return.

WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! – Parents aren’t quitting youth sports in record numbers, kids are. The last count was more than 70% by age 13. Shame and humiliation may have their place in a corporate financial scandal but they have no place in youth sports. Kids are not always going to play a good game and parents may want to talk with them about their “hustle”. But, before getting into that discussion, parents need to remember that a lack of hustle may actually be things that they cause or influence. For example:

  • Were there external distractions such as problems at school or with friends or siblings?
  • Were there physical influences such as an illness, lack of proper nutrition or insufficient rest?
  • Is there a diminished lack of interest in the sport caused by burnout or a lack of time for other activities?
  • Is physical conditioning in areas such as stamina or strength adequate for playing an entire game?
  • Does a lack of fundamental skills hinder more advanced play?
  • Is there a good understanding of strategy and positioning so that a young player knows how to react in specific situations?
  • Is the child playing at the right level of competition? Playing with kids who are much more or much less talented can be demoralizing and slow improvement.

These issues are also why it can be so harmful to yell “hustle” from the sidelines. Children can instantly understand if their parents are upset, but may not think through whether they were adequately prepared with things like rest, proper nutrition and instruction. Kids may even come to believe they are not “hustlers” and may slow down in other areas of their life due to lowered self-esteem.

Yelling “hustle” is a simple response to something that has many causes. If it is not clear what the problem is, parents should have a positive conversation with their child or with the coach to better identify the problem and the corrective actions necessary. Most of all, parents must be patient. Sports is a learned activity and requires time to master. The age of the player and the length of time between events give parents plenty of opportunity to get to the heart of a hustle problem.

Do I Actually Have to Talk to the Parents?

Youth coaches sometimes joke that the ideal youth team is a team of orphans. Though this approach is one solution to problem parents, there are other more practical solutions. One of the best is regular communication with parents.

Everything a coach does with the team is in parental view. In the absence of coaching guidance, parents form and communicate their own opinions of the status of the team and the steps necessary for improvement. Some parents may be objective and knowledgeable about the sport, but if they don’t speak up, then the overall team opinion may be shaped by others. For coaches, these parent-to-parent and parent-to-player communications can become distracting to their efforts to make team improvements.

Coaches should consider short and regular meetings with all parents to help shape these opinions and give parents better insight into what to watch for in games and practices. In a recent Sports Esteem survey of coaches and parents, over 60% thought that coaches should at least meet occasionally with parents after a game. In these meetings, coaches might cover:

  • Recent team performance giving parents insight into the progress the team is or is not making in various areas.
  • Approaches taken in practices that are attempting to shape game performance.
  • Reemphasis of team goals and objectives.
  • Realistic guidance concerning upcoming game and practice performance.
  • Positive comments concerning every player. Mentioning only a few players may raise more parent concerns.
  • Reminding parents to praise their children’s efforts and encourage their kids to have fun and develop a love for the game.

The overall test of a youth coach is whether his players have fun, learn new skills and want to play again next season. Yet, in the emotions of a game or issue, these goals can get lost or seem secondary. Coaches need to have the courage and conviction to keep their parents working toward these goals and this requires regular and consistent communication. The temptation to avoid parental contact only amplifies problems over time and lets small problems become large problems later in the season.

Parents help judge the success of coaches, teams and seasons. In the absence of information, their judgments will vary greatly based on their own experiences and knowledge. With information, parents gain better appreciation for the challenges coaches face and continue to learn how they can best support their child’s efforts.

Dealing With Fear

Fear is a natural instinct that once helped protect humans from being eaten. Though being eaten is no longer a daily problem, fear is still a large part of life. Fear is a combination of thoughts, emotions and physical responses that work together to help alert someone to danger and prepare the body to react. When a person feels fear, additional adrenaline and other chemicals are produced which increase strength and decrease reaction times.

At normal levels, fear can be helpful. At excessive levels, the chemicals and emotions triggered by fear can easily cloud judgements, create a feeling of nausea and sickness and actually decrease performance. In athletics, fear is common when players are trying something new, playing in a big game or attending team tryouts. To cope with fear, players can try these techniques:

  • Admit That You Are Afraid – Recognizing that fear is a factor is the first step in correcting it.
  • Learn and Prepare – Nothing minimizes fear more than being over prepared. The higher the confidence level players have in their ability, the less likely they are to become afraid of the outcome.
  • Focus on Positive Images – There are many images that players can visualize when motivating themselves. If the images are positive then the outcomes are more likely to be positive. Michael Jordan often visualized making free throws in his back yard when making high-pressure free throws in games.
  • Listen to Experience – When going into a new situation, seek advice from people who have been there before. Older siblings or players can help less-experienced players better understand the situation.
  • Stay Busy – Withdrawing into oneself provides even more time for negative thoughts. Staying busy with friends and family is an easy way to relax and minimize the opportunity for fear.
  • Talk it Over With Parents – Fear is normal and players’ parents have had many opportunities to experience fear in their own lives. Parents have the unique advantage of helping players see a broader perspective.

Fear can help players. The fear of being scored against can make the defense try harder to block a shot. The fear of losing can make the offense work harder to score. However, when players keep dwelling on these fears before or after the immediate event, they need to quickly work to regain control of their emotions and stay focused on playing well rather than playing afraid.

Five Easy Ways to Feed the Fear of Your Players

Coaches can have a big impact on the way players deal with the fears that can arise from sporting competitions. Every competition has an outcome. But, focusing on an outcome before the competition is over means that players are not focused on the immediate challenges of game play. Coaches can improve team performance and increase the chances of a win by keeping their players focused. However, there are five easy ways to help players lose this focus and start focusing on the fear of failure. These include:

  • Make a Game’s Outcome Do or Die – Every game is going to have a winner and a loser. If players are thinking about the end of the game, they are not thinking about playing the game.
  • Sharply Punish Failures – When players know that their mistakes will bring about a harsh penalty, their performances will often be motivated by images of failure rather than by images of success. Unfortunately, outcomes often follow these images.
  • Don’t Acknowledge Player Concerns – Players know when they are playing in a big game. If coaches don’t help shape the way that players think about these games, then players will shape their own thoughts and often with an excessive fear of failure.
  • Overemphasize Opponents – All teams are capable of being beaten. But, some are much more difficult than others. Elevating the stature of opponents can give players additional fears of embarrassment and humiliation beyond the normal fear of defeat.
  • Give Players a Larger Purpose – When audiences for games include more than just family members, it is easy to remind players that they are playing for their school, their organization or for some more significant purpose than the game itself. This takes a player’s attention outside the boundaries of the game and into the stands.

Though most coaches have often played in big games, it is easy to forget that most youth players have not. When coaches help keep players focused on the game, they are giving them the best chances of success and the best tools for minimizing fear.

The Fear of Failure is Often Worse than Failure Itself

Whether parents put pressure on their kids or not, kids will put pressure on themselves. This pressure can lead to fears that if not handled properly will lead to poor performances and potentially a greater fear of failure. Helping young players understand and deal with fear and anxiety assists kids not only in sports but also in all areas of life.

Failure and fear do not have to go together. Failure is result of trying something and not succeeding. Fear comes from dreading the consequences of failure. Helping kids separate these concepts assists kids in keeping fear in perspective. Some ways that parents can help kids deal with fear include:

  • Guarantee Love – Make sure that kids know that parental pride comes from the attempt and not from the outcome. If kids know they will have parental support regardless of the outcome, they are more likely to take chances and risk failure.
  • Explain that Failure is a Result of Trying – When kids do not try, they do not fail. If parents are going to encourage their children to try new things, they are also encouraging them to fail. Not all new things will result in first time success.
  • Remind that Failure and Success are not Permanent – Failing or being successful today do not guarantee like outcomes in the future. In fact, many future successes start with today’s failures.

Kids are often fearful because they lack experience and dread the unknown of failure. When parents help their kids think through these unknowns, they are equipping them with the understanding to overcome this lack of experience.

Breaking Bad Habits in 21 Days

Habit – A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.
— The American Heritage® Dictionary
Each activity in sports has a correct way to perform and a way that only gets by. Whether throwing a ball, shooting a basket or passing a puck, there are techniques that provide better accuracy, distance and success. Excelling and playing at advanced levels requires the mastery of these better techniques.

Replacing old techniques with new ones is not easy. The ability of the human body to walk and move without much thought also makes it difficult to change techniques. Many experts estimate that it takes approximately 21 days to break old habits and create new ones. For players, this means that learning new skills may require weeks of consistent thought and effort until these new skills are mastered. Like many things in life, consistency and patience are the keys to success.