A special feature by Robert Kirwan


I want to thank a lady by the name of Susan Loughrey for a comment she sent to After The Whistle about an editorial we have in another section of this web site. The editorial was written by Marty Kirwan, entitled "Why I Quit Hockey". You can read it here if you wish.


Susan wrote:
"Our 8 year old plays in-house hockey and has for almost five years. We've thought about travel hockey but the parents scare us. He loves it so much I wouldn't want to expose him to something like that and make him loose his love of the game. I sent this letter on to the other parents on our in-house team. It's a sad commentary on what parents do to their kids, supposedly in their best interest. Great article!!"
After I thanked Susan for her kind words, I pointed out to her that all of my sons played rep hockey. I also indicated that even though there were days we would like to forget, it wasn't all that bad. It is very much like going to school. Sometimes you get good teachers and sometimes you don't. Some years are good, and some just don't work out well.

The interesting think about Susan's first letter is that she stated that her son was 8 years old and had already been playing for five years. As a former coach, I could just see her son's own coaches drooling with anticipation at having an 8 year old with five years experience on their club.

In my answer to Susan, I pointed out that it may be difficult for her to keep him out of Rep or Travel hockey if he has that much experience at such a young age. Her son must have some pretty well developed skills and must surely stand out from most of the other players on the ice.

Susan replied to my response with the following:

This is the first year he's mentioned travel. Unfortunately we don't have enough interest at the Squirt level at our rink but hopefully when he's a peewee. I can see travel in our future because he already wants to play with kids who want to play and aren't there because of their parents. Even a kid can pick up on that. Even at this age their heart needs to be in it.
Let me repeat the last sentence of Susan's letter. "Even at this age their heart needs to be in it."

Young children want to have fun. To have fun, they must be challenged and feel good about what they have accomplished. If a child is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, he will not feel satisfied. It is like being on a team that is so much stronger than everyone else that you win all of the time. It is fun for a while, but in time it gets boring. You need to be challenged. Winning isn't that important if it is all that you know. In order to experience the thrill and joy of winning, you must experience the feeling of defeat. Only then will you appreciate the victory.

And so, each year, parents must face the ordeal of trying out for the travelling teams. I can recall the first year my son tried out for the travelling team. He was one of the last ones cut from the team and had to go "down" to house league. It was devastating for him to be told by the coach that he wasn't good enough to make it. Some of his close friends made the team and he felt embarrassed. That year on the house league team was his best ever. He was made captain of the team and was the leading scorer. His teammates looked up to him and he became a real leader. Around the middle of the season the travelling team coach called me and said that he would like to "bring up my son and another child from another team" to finish off the season on the travelling team.

I spoke to my son about it and he decided that he wanted to stay on his house league team. He felt that it would be letting them down if he left half way through the season and besides, he was having fun. He finished the season with his house league team. They won the championship game when he scored the only goal of the game late in the third period. To see him hold the trophy above his head and feel that he had really contributed to the victory gave me a feeling that only a parent could understand. 

After that year, he played on the travelling team for the rest of his minor hockey. He eventually stopped playing competitive hockey after PeeWees so that he could play high school sports and devote his time to refereeing, but I still think getting cut from the travelling team the first time he tried out was the best thing that has ever happened to him.

Susan's son wants to play at a higher level. She senses it. He is asking for it. He is competitive and wants to play were the competition is. Regardless of what Susan feels about parents of travelling kids, she is going to have to go along and allow her son to play or he is going to lose his interest in hockey. 

Hockey can be fun - at any level - if we keep our priorities straight. It is only a game and it is supposed to be fun for everyone. If your child has what it takes to go on and make a professional career out of hockey, so be it. Then it will become work. Then it will become a job. Until then, do what you can to keep it just a game.

Great write-up !
I am a head coach this year.
We have 4 teams in Bantam.
We ALL worked together to do our best to ensure teams would start out as even as possible.
We rated players as players and also as defence .
We gave the weakest goalie to what may be the best looking defensive team, mine !
Who knows, right?
Anyway, i too would like to get the kids to practice basics like pass taking, skating with puck and in my case i also believe at this level that defensive zone coverage and breakouts allow the kids to get the most out of their year.
I know drills we have used last few years that have allowed our teams to develop and actually win championships ( not a necessity for sure )
But i am looking to make sure now, after reading your column, that i have the proper drills.
Any suggestions?  :o)
I always strive to get the kids to enjoy first, not worry about winning, concentrate on only a few choice drills all year and let happen what may.
Your input would be appreciated,





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