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Out to lunch


Some weeks ago, I read the following question from a parent on the Our Game sports help line, sponsored by CBC, " Playoffs have started and my son has barely seen the ice. What should I do?" Chosen to answer this question was an Our Game expert, a sports psychologist from the University of Manitoba. In supplying the answer, as written by the expert, I want you keep in mind all youth sports, not just hockey, and visualize the implications for our children as they seek to find a place in sport. Here's what the expert had to say:

Some weeks ago, I read the following question from a parent on the Our Game sports help line, sponsored by CBC, " Playoffs have started and my son has barely seen the ice. What should I do?" Chosen to answer this question was an Our Game expert, a sports psychologist from the University of Manitoba.

In supplying the answer, as written by the expert, I want you keep in mind all youth sports, not just hockey, and visualize the implications for our children as they seek to find a place in sport. Here's what the expert had to say:

"This is a tough situation for the parent, but unless there has been discussion about "playing time" ahead of time, I believe the best response is to help your child be a great "support player." Support players play a critical role on championship teams. They should prepare as if they are playing, and mentally play the game on the bench in the skates of the player in their position. This can help your child stay ready if needed, and keep them developing as a player and a person.

Playing this role effectively can be an important experience for your child, and it can make a big difference to the team. Players on the team feel their teammates seeing/feeling solutions, being ready and encouraging them. These are important skills in sport, and in life. These skills have helped players and people go on to greatness.

In fairness to parents and kids, everyone should know the philosophy and plan at the start of the season. Most importantly, be there for your child. To help them cope, feel part of things, and grow."

Wow! Tie me up with a twist tie and leave me on the curb for pick-up. Doesn't that go against everything the mandate from Hockey Canada stands for? Don't they advocate minor hockey to be fun first, followed by skill development? I always thought so.

If, as the sports psychologist suggests, this question is tough for the parent, just think how tough it is for the child. The expert also feels that support players play a critical role on championship teams. While this is a pile of hogwash, the writer unknowingly hit the nail on the head - championship teams. But, at what price to the child does the championship come? I'll tell you. It creates a lack of self-respect, a lack of self-worth, and a terrible lowering of self-esteem - all factors leading to an early retirement from minor hockey.

Some parents are seduced by the prestige of their child playing some form of an elite level of minor hockey. But when the ice-time shrinks, elite hockey starts to lose its shine. It's a well-known truth, sitting on the bench watching your teammates play isn't fun for anyone - parent or child.

Yes, fun and skill development is the watchword for minor hockey, but when it comes to representative teams, winning is a top priority. I have no problem with that. When parents buy into this type of program for their child, they know, or should know, exactly what is taking place. They accept the program, the good, the bad, the travel and the cost. The problem arises when house league parents and coaches start shortening their benches.

I just can't get my head around somebody suggesting that a parent should prepare a child to sit on the bench, in a cold arena, for over an hour, and mentally play the game. Then, after thawing out, the child has developed as a player and as a person, with newfound skills that will help him/her go on to greatness.

Would it not be better to teach all the children to be a team and to support each other in improving their skills and help the team compete? By supporting the weaker players, you wind up ensuring that the entire team is playing as a unit and stronger because of it. This will ensure that the team spirit will lead to a more productive life.

We have too many of our children becoming professional spectators. Children, whose parents have paid thousands of dollars. Benching young children is counter productive for minor hockey and can damage a child's esteem if the coach uses negative reinforcement, and segregates them from the rest of the team. By coaches not playing some kids they are only stunting their development. This leads to a constant struggle to catch up, year after year, resulting in many children quitting the game altogether.

Timeout and overtime

I made a boo-boo, and thus owe an apology to the players, parents, coaches and administrators of the Triple A Central Ice Pack. In last week's column, I referred to the teams that were in the dust-up in Lewisporte, in which the young lad was seriously injured from a punch, as being AAA players. I realized my mistake prior to the column going to press, but it was too late to make the change. Sorry guys, there was no malice intended, an honest mistake. This was not a research issue, more like a senior's moment - not bad since sending more than 1,300 columns to print.

That's 30 for this week.

Remember, "it's easier to build a child than mend an adult, and an ounce of pluck is worth a ton of luck."Until next week.

Don Winsor is a former recreation administrator now living in Happy Adventure. He can be reached at (709) 677-2422 (voice/fax); or by mail at Box 26, Site 6, Happy Adventure, NL, A0G 1Z0, or by e-mail at djwinsor@eastlink.ca

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