“Teamwork” is a term so often associated with what’s happening on the ice between players. But, particularly at the younger youth levels when it comes to the greater good of their well-being, the term might more effectively be applied if parents and coaches were working from the same playbook.
Granted, this isn’t always easy. Occasionally, there is a tension between the parties when, even if well-intentioned, they’re plotting out paths for the players in their charge as a player or as a coach.
Few understand this better than coaches at the kinds of elite hockey colleges that set up as the endgame in a dream shared by parents and young athletes aspiring to reach such heights; Coaches such as Greg Brown.
For the past 14 years, Brown served on the staff at Boston College before being hired in July as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers.
As a student of the game, and as someone who values the development of both the player and the person through the game, Brown understands that while there are many ways for parents and coaches to strike a balance, both parties share a singular priority.
“The No. 1 goal for parents and coaches at the mite and squirt levels is to help the kids fall in love with hockey,” says Brown, who was born in Southborough and starred at BC before playing parts of four seasons in the National Hockey League. “It’s important for the coaches to develop a strong foundation of skating and skills, but not at the expense of the kids losing their joy of going to the rink.”
Joy. Love. Hockey. Certainly, parents and coaches can agree on that much. And that may come through talking out some of the perceived differences.
“Youth coaches and parents should communicate whenever possible so that they are aware of, or hopefully aligned in, the team goals,” Brown says.
And while the two-time Olympian understands that the source of any tension between parents, who so often have nothing but the best intentions, and coaches, who also so often have nothing but the best intentions, it’s up to both sides to create an environment that first honors the young people in their lives.
Parents may have to resist some temptation to become territorial over their youth hockey player’s on-ice development.
“With the understanding that youth hockey is a large commitment of both time and money,” Brown says, “the parents have to be careful not to lose sight of the big picture. Is their child learning to be a good teammate? Are they listening? Are they accepting responsibility or blaming others? The life skills that kids learn on a team are the most valuable part, no matter how far up the ladder they go.”
For their part, coaches may have to resist some temptation to coach their young players like adults.
“The relationship between development and winning can be very tricky,” says Brown. “For instance, are the kids encouraged to try to make plays that may lead to turnovers when they don’t succeed or will they be taught high percentage hockey so the likelihood of winning increases? It can be frustrating for both sides if their visions are far apart.”
And while there are boundaries that develop from the youngest ages through a time when stakes are higher, parents and coaches are in it — the development of a person — together. Neither is necessarily charged with building the next great hockey player.
“The goal of youth parents should not be for their child to make pro, or get a scholarship to college,” Brown says. “It’s OK to help them and encourage them to see how good they can become, but don’t set a goal that they will feel like a failure if they don’t reach it.”