Hockey Must Be Fun At All Costs

I'm at an age where many of the adults I socialize with are knee deep in minor hockey, as both parents and coaches. It is absolutely astonishing to hear how much drama goes on in competitive hockey, both boys and girls. I hear and witness crazy stories all the time. With playoffs looming, I thought it was worth re-posting a terrific old speech by former University of Minnesota mens' hockey coach Don Lucia. He puts it all in perspective.

Along the same lines, here's a great open letter to hockey coaches, which parents can learn from too. It comes from Jay Bylsma, father of former Penguins and Bruins head coach Dan Bylsma.

So You’re Going to Coach My Grandchild? A message to coaches from Jay M. Bylsma

I’m so grateful that you’ve volunteered to be the coach of my grandson Bryan's hockey team. I don’t really care if you know much about hockey, or whether you have a winning record. I don’t know or care if you’ve ever coached a kid that made it the NHL, or Division I college hockey, or even high school. But I know that every one of the kids you coach will have a life to lead after hockey. You will coach far more doctors and lawyers than professional hockey players.

So I’m more interested in what kind of a role model you are and your ability to teach Bryan life lessons than whether you can teach him the left wing lock or backwards crossovers.

Let me explain why I don’t care if you have a winning record. Think back over all the games you played in organized sports as a kid - any and all the sports. Can you remember any of the scores of any of those games or even if you won or lost? If you’re like me you can’t remember many - if even one. But I can remember every coach I ever had. Mr. Sterkenberg, Mr. Naerebout, Mr. VanderMey, and others. I can even picture them in my mind. Images of good men who taught me (whether they knew it or not) sportsmanship, integrity, to play by the rules, and to have fun. They made a lasting impression on me, just as you will have a lasting impression on my little Bryan.

What kind of a lasting impression will you have? For example, if you pick your team based on talent and ability, you will show Bryan that talent and ability are the criteria that a person needs to be successful. If you pick your team based on the associations you have – that is, your GM’s kid gets to play, your brother-in-law’s kid is on the power play - each regardless of ability – you will show Bryan that you get ahead in life by who you know, accomplishment and achievement don’t count for as much as connections.

If you tell the kids, “Every one plays equally, everyone plays equally” and then only some kids get on the power play and play in the third period, you influence kids about the meaning of honesty and deception.

If you say disparaging remarks about the other team, the other coach, or the officials, you demean the game and and you teach Bryan that it’s okay - perhaps even manly - to be disrespectful and pejorative.

If you need to put ringers on your team to be competitive in an out-of-town tournament, you are influencing your players about your standard of honesty and the importance of winning at the cost of your integrity.

Sadly, some coaches have taken the fun out of the game for the children by exerting too much pressure, being too critical, being demeaning, and being too vocal in an inappropriate way. Their life lessons are less than wholesome and sometimes destructive.

If my grandson is a good player, I hope you won’t aggrandize him or over use him but help him be a team player. If he’s a poor player, I hope you won’t demean him but give him his fair share of ice time and help him become a better player. I hope you will remember he’s just a child and your career as a coach isn’t riding on his back. I hope you will remember that a word of encouragement after a mistake is worth more than a pile of praise after a success.

Jay M. Bylsma

It's high time that more coaches and parents took this kind of attitude to the rink every night.

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