There was about two minutes to play in the
playoff game and I was
anxiously pacing behind the bench, barking out whatever
at that very moment. You watch the game and you watch the clock
final seconds, sometimes precisely at the very same time.
We were up by a goal, poised to advance
to the next round of the
playoffs, when I felt a tug on my jacket.
"Ah coach," one of my players said on the
"Yea," I answered, concentrating more on
the game and the clock than on
him at that instance.
"Whaaaat?" I barked exasperated.
"Did anyone bring snacks today?"
"I hope they didn't bring apple juice."
The young boy said. "I don't
like apple juice."
The moment froze me in all the playoff
excitement, the way all special
and meaningful moments should. If somehow, I could have
on tape, I would have had one of those special sporting moments
everywhere, the kind you need to play for coaches and executive
and trainers and managers and all of us who take kids
hockey way too
seriously. It isn't life or death, as we like to think it is. It
isn't do or
die as often as we pretend it to be. In one tiny moment in one
game minor hockey was reduced to what it really is about.
OK, so it's not apple juice. But what
apple juice happens to represent
in all of this. The snack. The routine. The ritual. Kids
can win and
lose and not even give a second's thought about either, but don't forget
the post-game drinks. If anything will spoil a good
time, that will.
You see, it's all part of the culture of
hockey. Not who wins, not who
scores goals, not which team accomplished what on which
night, but about
whether mom and dad are there, whether their grandparents are in
watching, whether their best friend was on their team and they
got a shift on the power play, and yes, about what they
When you get involved in hockey, when you
truly put your heart into the
game and into the environment and into everything, it can
be when it's
at its best, the game is only part of the package. It becomes a social
outing for parents. It becomes a social outing for
children. It should
never be about who is going for extra power skating and who is
straight from minor tyke to the Philadelphia Flyers but about building
that kind of environment - the kind of memories kids and
families will have forever.
Sometimes, when I stand around the arenas
I can't believe the tone of
the conversations I hear. The visions are so
conversations are almost always about today and who won and who
lost and who
scored. Not enough people use the word fun and not enough sell it
that way either. Hard as we try to think like kids, we're
not kids. Hard
as we try to remember what we were when we were young, our vision
is clouded by
perspective and logic - something not always evident with
Ask any parent whether they would rather
win or lose and without a
doubt they would say win. But ask most children what they
would prefer -
playing a regular shift, with power play time and penalty killing
time on a
losing team rather playing sparingly on a winning team - and the
answer has already come out in two different studies.
kids would rather play a lot than win and play a little. Like we
said, it is
about apple juice. It is, after all, about the experience.
You can't know what's in a kid's mind. I
was coaching a team a few
years ago when I got a call from the goaltender's father.
It was the day
before the championship game. The father told me his son didn't
want to play
"Anymore after tomorrow." I asked.
"No," the father said. "He just doesn't
want to play anymore."
"Did something happen?" I asked.
"He won't tell me," the father said.
I hung up the phone and began to wonder
how this happened and who would
play goal the next day when I decided to call back.
"Can I talk to him?" I asked the father.
The goalie came on the phone. "I don't
want to play anymore.
"But you know what tomorrow is, don't you?
Are you nervous?"
"Then what? You can tell me."
"I don't like it anymore."
"Don't like playing goal?"
"Our guys. They jump on me after the game.
It hurts me and scares me."
"What if I told you they won't jump on you
and hurt you anymore. Would
you play then?"
And that was the end of the goalie crisis.
The kid was scared and
wouldn't tell his parents. The kid loved playing but
didn't love being
jumped on after winning games. You can't anticipate anything like
that as a
coach. You can't anticipate what's in their minds.
It's their game, we have to remember. Not
our game. They don't think
like we do or look at the sport like we do. They don't
have to adjust to
us, we have to adjust to them. We have to make certain we're not
spoiling their experience. Our experience is important
too, but the game
is for the children and not for the adults. We can say that over
again, but the message seems to get lost every year.
Lost in too many coaches who lose
perspective and who think nothing of
blaming and yelling and bullying. Lost by parents who
think their son or
daughter is the next this or the next that and they are already
millions their little one will be earning by the time they finish
hockey in the winter, 3-on-3 in the summer, power skating
break, special lessons over March break, pre-tryout camp before the AAA
tryouts in May and a couple weeks of hockey school, just
to make certain
they don't go rusty.
I have asked many NHL players how they
grew up in the game. My
favourite answer came from Trevor Lindon, who has
captained more than
one team. He said he played hockey until April and then put his
He played baseball all summer until the last week of August. He
went to hockey camp for one week then began his season
September with tryouts.
No summer hockey. No special schools. No
skating 12 months a year. "I
didn't even see my skates for about five months a year. I
think the kids
today are playing way too much hockey and all you have to do is
look at the
development to see it really isn't producing any better players. "We
have to let the kids be kids."
When, I asked Gary Roberts recently, did
he think he had a future in
hockey. "When I got a call from an agent before the OHL
draft," he said.
"Before that, it was just a game we played."
Do me a favour: Until the agent comes
knocking on your teenager's door,
let's keep it that way. A game for kids. And one reminder,
I don't care
what the age: Don't forget the snacks."