Time goes by so fast; one minute your child is taking their first tentative steps on skates, the next they’re leaping into the arms of their teammates after scoring a big goal in the GTHL.
Play Now. Win Forever. The mantra of the GTHL rings true for every child who has suited up for a game over the years, the vast majority of whom won’t ever skate across your HD TV screen on a Saturday night. They will, however, be the bankers, teachers, engineers and health care workers of our future (to name a few options). Future community leaders are being shaped now in rinks across the GTA, and time spent navigating the ups and downs of competitive hockey is part of the learning curve of growing up.
Not only the kids learn from their time in the GTHL; so do the parents. After four years in the league, with a son currently playing Peewee A, here are some lessons my wife and I have learned along the way:
First, remember it is supposed to be fun for your child. Of course, it won’t always be that way, given the nature of sport. There will be challenges and at least one valley for every peak, but never lose sight of the fact that hockey is a game, and not everyone can win. Hopefully every child will experience a moment when they score the big goal or win the big game, but there are no guarantees.
Second, wins don’t matter. Not really. We keep track of the Ws and there’s nothing wrong with that, just don’t fixate on them. If you truly believe that your child is blessed with hockey talents that will take him or her farther than most, focus on development – at this stage it’s much more important than wins. After all, that precious wins column will re-set to zero in time for next season.
Third, wins do matter. Okay, so a bit of a contradiction here, but let’s be real – nobody likes to lose all the time. Our son Alex played on a team that went through 33 losses, buffered by only three ties. The kids can count. They knew they hadn’t won. So while we preach skill development and hockey IQ, the score is kept and kids take notice. Be there for your child when the losses mount, and help restore their faith in the game they love.
Fourth, be gentle. To everyone and everything around you in this game. I have admittedly failed at doing this time after time, but I keep trying. It is difficult to stand by and watch another adult pass judgement on your child, but it comes with the territory in competitive sport. Be gentle to other parents, who are going through similar trials and tribulations as you are faced with. Remember, our kids are watching.
Fifth, if you want your child to improve their skating, shooting, and stick-handling skills, seek out other programs. The GTA is chock-full of hockey schools, where you can pay by the hour for focused coaching. Your son or daughter will benefit from the time invested.
Sixth, accept that there are things in life we simply cannot change. Of course the parent-coach is going to have a soft spot for their own little Johnny or little Julie. You would most likely do the same thing; it’s in our nature as parents. It often happens without the coach being cognizant of it, but even if you feel it’s intentional, keep in mind that the majority of parents behind the bench are trying their best.
While we’re on that note, let’s cut the coaches some slack. The time it takes to run a team is considerable and most of these men and women won’t coach their children forever. These are special moments for them (and for us too, as parents in the stands). Granted, each kid on the team should matter equally – regardless of the level of hockey – so find balance and handle the situation like the adults our kids are looking up to.
I’ll speak last of money. We all spend a fair amount of green on fees, equipment and travel. Budget accordingly. Begin saving in January for next season, if possible. When friends who don’t have kids in organized sport ask whether it’s worth the time and money, the answer is easy – it’s worth it.
Every precious second is worth it. Watching your child grow and bond with other kids. Sitting in a cold arena, clutching a warm drink for dear life. Fighting rush-hour traffic to get to some far flung arena, only to watch the team lose 10-1. It all matters. Your child, and you, learn so much from these experiences, and you’ll both look back with fondness at your time in the G.