Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Working with Hockey Parents-Understanding Anxiety

       In the days of Soviet hockey, one of the biggest criticisms (spoken in secret of course) was that going to a Soviet league game was just like going to the ballet.  No cheering, clapping, or loudness was permitted.  For those of you old enough to remember the 72'  Summit Series, you might recall that 3,000 Canadian fans totally out cheered the 16,000 Soviet fans in attendance.  No small secret, but you were simply not allowed to cheer wildly for your team in Soviet hockey.  Add to this fact that one team, Central Red Army, totally dominated the league through shrewd underhanded dealings that would Sam Pollock look like a straight-laced accountant, and you get a product that may not have been worth cheering for or even watching.  There is a reason for the quietness at the ballet though; the moves made by the dancers requires absolute mental concentration, even after years of training and practice.

      Lets move forward a few years and a few thousand kilometers to the west.  Something magical happens when you enter any rink where kids play hockey.  The volume increases tenfold and for many, the louder the better.  Most people have voices that are tolerable, but to the idiots who bring in air horns and blow them repeatedly, know this; you are annoying beyond belief.  Maybe no one has told you that lately or ever, but secretly we all want to take that air horn and run it over with the Zamboni.  Ok, enough of my rant.  Save those air horns for the yacht.  It is quite acceptable to cheer for your child, but always keep it positive and let the coaches coach.  Nothing damages a child or a team quicker than a parent who coaches from the stands.  It creates conflict in a child who is trying to please two people who may mean the world to them, and believe me the other kids will make your child a social pariah if you do such a thing.  There is also the issue of creating too much anxiety in your child, and you sometimes may do it without even knowing it.  Keep the kids at the centre of the program and you will never go wrong.  Some times the best thing we can do is simply sit back and let the kids have fun and perform at their best.  Keep your cheering positive and let the kids play for the reasons they want to play, none of which is to entertain you.

      If you want a great exercise to explain this idea to parents, you can use this in your next parent meeting.  I learned this from one of the best coaching mentors a coach can have, Chris Johnston, who taught me my first coaching course over 25 years ago.  Chris has taught over 5,000 coaches in his lifetime and he speaks from years of experience.  Get yourself a 2X6 plank about 4 feet long.  Lay it on the floor.  Ask for parent volunteer and then just simply demonstrate that you want them to walk the plank from one end to the next.  Increase the skill level by having them do it blindfolded, then place the plank across a couple of cinder blocks which adds difficulty to the skill.  Most people can do this skill even when the plank is placed on the cinder blocks.  Now, ask your volunteer and the rest of the parents if they could do the same skill (walking the plank) if you placed it 20 feet above the ground.  Most will say that they couldn't, to which you should reply, "Why not?  It's the same plank that you walked across on the floor"  What is the difference?

     Well the difference of course, is that when you place the plank at a higher height, you are creating an environment that can create anxiety and nervousness in anyone.  With practice and the right environment, you could do the skill very easily.  As a coach, you will need to work on your players mental skills to help them perform in situations that are anxious and nerve-wracking.  You must also teach your parents to help in creating the right environment for the kids to learn and perform.  We all have those kids on our team, who can execute the skills perfectly in practice but cannot do it in a game. You owe it to your players to teach them mental skills and to work with your parents on creating the right environment for them to learn in.

Any comments, questions?

Have fun and keep your stick on the ice.

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