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The Car Ride Home Can Be a Reliable Barometer for a Player’s Enjoyment

By Greg Bates, 02/08/21, 1:30PM CST


Thoughts and feelings can come out right away and it’s important to be ready to listen


Practice has wrapped up and mom or dad comes to pick up their kid. The hockey gear is packed into the van and two are set to drive home. What happens next can be critical to know if the kid is having fun at the rink or he or she isn’t happy because of lack of playing time or other circumstances.

“The car ride home is going to be very telling of that,” Lake Forest Academy boys’ hockey assistant coach Rob Klein said. “Is the kid quiet? Is the kid talkative? If they are talkative, is it positive? Is it negative? So, a lot of that is going to be very telling for the coach to hear. Are the coaches doing a good job or not? Are they creating a fun learning environment for that player?”

Talking or not talking to a young hockey player on the way home from practice or a game is a major point of emphasis when AHAI Coach-in-Chief Jim Clare instructs Coaching Education Program classes. Coaches want to hear feedback if a player is having fun and enjoying practices and games or if there are other things on a player’s mind. And parents, who have invested plenty of time and money into their kid playing hockey, want to make sure kids are enjoying themselves.

When Clare would pick up his kids from hockey practice or game when they were younger, he wouldn’t say much to them about hockey. He would let them initiate the conversation. Clare would pose the question: “You want to talk about the game or not?”

Conversations should be casual, and most importantly, kept positive.

“As a parent, you can really alter their development path by how you handle those situations, especially when they’re younger, and also alter their love of the game,” Clare said. “If every time they get in the car, you’re having this in-depth conversation about things that went wrong, they’re not going to want to be in that car anymore.”

If a kid wants to talk, perfect. If not, the parent shouldn’t force it.

“I think most parents are well intended, and they’re bringing it up and talking when the kids really aren’t ready,” USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager Dan Jablonic said. “I think it’s important for us to understand that every child is an experiment of one and not all kids are the same. Some kids are going to want to talk about the game right after, and I think it’s our job as parents to really guide them. Just as we talk about as coaches, we guide them to their own solutions and support them and really be a good listener.”

The car ride home after a practice can be totally different than a ride following a game.

“Those can be even worse, because the emotions of the game for whatever reason, seem to get to the parents sometimes more than the kid,” Clare said. “So, a 12-, 13-year-old kid loses a game and will be upset, but as soon as you drive through McDonald’s and get him an ice cream or whatever, they’re probably over it. You as a parent, that’s a different story. My suggestion there is the same thing, which is even more restraint. You know if your kid had a bad game; you know if they’re down after a loss. There’s no need to pile on. Let them have a break. If you’re going to ask questions, keep them positive.”

If a conversation doesn’t take place in the car and the parent believes one needs to happen, Clare suggests waiting several hours until the dust settles. It could be after dinner when the kid is just sitting around, and the parent approaches the subject.

“Nobody knows your kid better than the mom and dad, so it’s not for me to say, ‘Hey, you should wait 30 minutes, or you should wait the next day,’” Jablonic said. “The biggest thing is, most of these kids, they go play a contest and they forget about it 10 minutes after the contest. They’re going to be a kid, they’re onto the next thing. Whereas parents, we’ll kind of dissect it a little bit more and maybe it’s eating at us more than the kid.”

If the kid is complaining about the coach, specific players or whatever it may be, the parent needs to relay that information to the coach. “As a coach, I would ask the parents what their kids are saying in the car ride home. That would help me gage the temperature of the player or the team” said Clare.

“The parents want to be involved, we all know that,” Klein said. “We hear from them all the time, so let’s be transparent in what we’re doing. That way, all parties are on the same page. People are prepared for practices, they know what to see and expect, they can tell that their kids are developing along the way. That coach needs to really have an open-door policy with these parents. The parents don’t want a shutoff coach. They don’t want someone that’s going to shy away from a conversation. I think that by taking these steps, it’s going to allow for an easier conversation.”

Those coach-parent conversations should happen on a frequent basis. Klein suggests setting up meetings on a minimum basis of once per month.

“I would really encourage coaches to think outside of the box on their ways of communicating,” Klein said. “I think setting up Zoom calls with their teams is a fantastic idea and include parents in those invites. I think that can create a very unique and a fun meeting environment.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.