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'Did You Have Fun?'

By Jamie MacDonald , 10/14/21, 1:45PM EDT

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ADM regional manager Roger Grillo reminds parents to appreciate the car rides to and from hockey instead of coaching

There are only so many hours in a day, and only a fraction of those during the week in the life of a kid are beyond the reach of schoolwork, social lives, and screen time. One of the few times where they may be least distracted from everything life is throwing at a kid these days would be in the car to and from hockey.

 

And why ruin a perfectly good car ride with a captive audience by something like coaching him or her on the way?

 

There’s probably enough coaching these days in the lives of kids – at school, in their social lives and on screens – that a car ride sets up as a grace note in their day. Either that, or it could be a time to add something more to their plates.

 

But why not treat them as a kid rather than a hockey player?

 

“I think what happens, especially with people who have an understanding of the game, or think they have an understanding of the game, is we’re fighting that tug-of-war within us of helping solve our kids’ problems,” says Roger Grillo, USA Hockey’s Regional Manager of the American Development Model for New England. “And it’s really difficult.   

 

In the long run, that may wind up having the opposite effect.

 

“It lessens their ability to problem-solve and deal with failure, and it puts the parent in the position of being a crutch,” Grillo says. “And it can zap the passion and love for the game – that, and the special bond between parents and kids. There are a lot of moving pieces in this discussion.”

“I think there’s one really safe question that could be asked every time,” Grillo says. “And that is, ‘Did you enjoy today?’ ‘Did you have fun today?’ With that answer, you can ask specific questions after that. ‘What was it that you liked today?’ I think that’s OK because then it’s almost a reflection and a learning point – not only for the athlete but for the adult on what makes your kid tick.”

There are, of course, times when a parent should not pass on an opportunity for a teaching moment. But it has less to do with coaching than it does with parenting.

 

“There are some non-negotiables,” says Grillo. “For me, the non-negotiables when you’re dealing with kids through sport is their behavior – and how it might affect others. It’s how behavior has an effect on other people. The problem with some parents is that the bucket of non-negotiables is pretty big and pretty deep. There are too many topics in there. For me, it’s really about just behavior, your effect on other kids and how you treat people.” 

 

There’s also a difference between, say, taking a bad penalty along the lines of a hook in the offensive zone, and a dangerous one along the lines of a two-hander to the back of an opponent’s leg or a targeted check from behind. 

 

“That has to be discussed,” Grillo says. “You don’t want that to happen to your child, so you can’t let your child do it to somebody else. I think of those things, those are hard and fast lines you can’t cross. And, if you do, then there are consequences. Those have to be handled the same way you would at school or in the backyard with other kids.”

 

It’s not as if the topic of hockey has to be off limits. 

“(Car coaching) lessens their ability to problem-solve and deal with failure, and it puts the parent in the position of being a crutch,” Grillo says. “And it can zap the passion and love for the game – that, and the special bond between parents and kids. There are a lot of moving pieces in this discussion.”

Obviously, so many kids love the game. Of course, hockey might be on their minds on the way to or from the rink. And of course hockey might come up. Just as kids may want to talk about hockey wherever they go, the car is no reason to stop talking hockey. But to what end is that conversation about a power play relevant to an 8-year-old on the way to the drive-thru?

 

“I think the discussions should always centered around what the ultimate goal is,” says Grillo. “Asking the child, ‘Where do you want to be?’ ‘What is your goal?’ And your discussions can be based off that. If the goal is to make the high school team, play college hockey, or make a national team, the discussion needs to be centered not necessarily on what or how, but more about their commitment.”

 

Even when the stakes rise – for disappointments ranging from a drill-killer in practice to a giveaway in the defensive zone to having do deal with being cut from a team after dedicating a summer to making that team – it’s helpful to remember the ride-share is with a person first and hockey player second. Coaching would seem more suited to the secondary audience, particularly when, at some point, the next steps may have less to do with coaching. At some point, it’s up to the kids.

 

“I tell parents that at about the age of 13 or 14, we go from being the dictators of what happens to now kind of getting out of the way and handing the responsibility for player development to the athlete,” Grillo says of that young player eyeing anything from small steps to giant leaps. “’It’s kind of yours now. I’m more than happy to support you, but the responsibility for how hard you work and how committed you are is on your shoulders.’ Because, at that point, there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t a lot of fun. That leap can be harder than a lot of people think.”

 

Even less fun is aiming for that giant leap and coming up short. The ride home after being cut or not making a team can sting for a long time. The car ride doesn’t have to be a place to relive the experience.  

 

“I’ve dealt with it as a player and I’ve dealt with it as a parent,” says Grillo. “And I think it’s just pure support. But, I will tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever been around somebody who has been successful, certainly in our sport, who didn’t have a setback somewhere. It was just how they reacted to it and how the people around them reacted to it. I think that’s why it’s most important to just be supportive and listen.”

 

All in all, the car ride can be pleasant or not, and a parent can have a lot to do with the temperature on that ride.

 

“I think there’s one really safe question that could be asked every time,” Grillo says. “And that is, ‘Did you enjoy today?’ ‘Did you have fun today?’ With that answer, you can ask specific questions after that. ‘What was it that you liked today?’ I think that’s OK because then it’s almost a reflection and a learning point – not only for the athlete but for the adult on what makes your kid tick.”

 

Trying to force that ticking, in pace or direction, is where things can get dangerous for player and personal development.  

 

“When you get them at six or eight or even 10, they want to play,” says Grillo. “They love our sport. I think the challenge for the adults who are in control of that stage is not to overfeed that monster, that when it is time to pass the responsibility for development over at 13 or 14, they’re not burned out. I see that time and time again. I haven’t met too many kids who are 8 to 12 and don’t love the game, but I’ve seen a lot of kids who are 14 to 16 who don’t want to go to the rink every day. They don’t want to do the extra and they don’t want to work at it. It’s their choice, but could they be in a better spot and have a little bit more love for the game if it was managed better as a younger player?”