Managing The Bench – Raising Our Kids Right

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This season, the nasty parents (the overly competitive ones who think their nine year olds will make the NHL next season) are gone from house league hockey. In their place are parents who want their kids to have fun while learning the game. We cheer from the sidelines and try not to focus on the losses. We have just as much fun in the stands as the kids have on the ice. 

So this weekend shouldn’t have been a surprise when a lesson turned into something even more magical. 

Coaches are coaches – they have a certain way of doing things and they’re mostly understanding and supportive of the kids. But when the kids complaining gets to be too much too often, even the best of coaches can get annoyed. Which is exactly what happened this weekend. 

A few of the kids were complaining about their positions on ice. The defense was complaining because they wanted a chance at offense and vice versa. The coaches tried to explain that each position is important and they try to put the kids in the position that is best suited to them. The kids didn’t understand because, until this season, they have always had the chance to try new positions. They didn’t understand that in their fifth year they find their positions permanently. So they kept on complaining. Some of them even whined about it. 

Naturally, the head coach had had enough and decided to teach them a lesson. In the third period, with a close score in the game, the coach switched up every kid’s position. All the defensive players were put in forward positions and vice versa. The coach was hoping to show the kids that they were in their positions for a reason, that they were the most productive because of where the coach placed them on ice. 

The kids lost the game by a score of 17-5. To us parents in the stands, the lesson was learned. But to the kids on the bench, something else happened. 

The kids didn’t see what the parents and coaches saw. They didn’t see the score of 17-5. They didn’t see that their transition to different positions was hard. They didn’t see the forwards hanging back at the blue line and the defense attacking the oppositions zone. They didn’t see the lesson that was being taught. 

Instead of learning what the coach was trying to prove, they taught the parents that it’s okay to switch things up and try a change once in a while. And they did it with grace and dignity. 

After the first horrendous shift, one of the girls who was playing defense turned to one of the boys who was placed on wing and said, “you did awesome when you shot that puck at their net from the blue line! Maybe next time I’ll pass it to you if you stand in front of the net and wait for it. I’m sure you’ll get the goal if you’re closer to the net.” 

One of the boys who ended up in the penalty box for slashing was feeling awful about himself, but another player said, “don’t feel bad because I did the same thing the first time I played defense. Next time, instead of slashing the other players stick, just use your stick to hold his stick on the ice, then they can’t call you for slashing.” 

Our kids, who didn’t see that the coach was trying to show the importance of their own positions, didn’t complain about the game. Instead, they encouraged each other and helped each other to do better because they were happy to get what they asked for. Instead of being angry over a blowout loss, they were happy to have had a change. 

That’s what I love about house league hockey – it’s not always about winning. It’s about supporting each other, learning new things, and encouraging everyone to do their best. 

Even though they lost the game by a big margin, the moral victory still stands. And that’s not something you would ever find at tier II hockey, where they’re expected to be NHL-ready at age 10. 

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