By Richard Monette
Research shows that when kids are asked why they play sports like hockey, two reasons top the list: to have fun and to improve their skills.
But fun means more than just enjoying the jokes the coach cracks during practice. In hockey, true pleasure comes from the enjoyment of the game itself; the joy of skating fast, of completing an amazing pass, and the feeling of “being in sync” with teammates.
And though it is often obvious if your child is having fun, there are some easy ways to tell if you are in any doubt.
1. Ask your child
A great gauge of how much fun they are having is to ask your child to rate their experience on a scale of 1 (no fun) to 10 (great fun). Last season, when my son rated his hockey program a 5.5, I knew something was wrong, as this was the lowest he had ever rated a sport program.
2. Do kids play and practice with energy and enthusiasm?
Kids that enjoy hockey won’t need to be pushed to give their best effort. They keep going hard whether they are winning or losing. Energy levels and enthusiasm should be high and constant.
3. Are kids eager to go to practices and games?
Kids that are having fun want to be where the action is and will happily go to all practices. Kids that aren’t having much fun won't hesitate to miss a practice or a game.
It’s equally simple to determine whether your child is developing their hockey skills, which is also important. We often overlook the fact that children enjoy becoming better at hockey. Simply put, when kids develop their skills, the game becomes easier and their enjoyment and love of hockey grows.
These three questions can help you make that assessment:
1. Are practices age-appropriate?
Practices should match a child’s level of physical, mental, and emotional development. Age-appropriate practices challenge kids to develop their skills while being successful at least 70% of the time. Drills that are too complex, with a high failure rate, are discouraging. They also prohibit skill development.
2. Are kids developing their individual technical skills?
Hockey is a very technical sport. Improving individual technical skills like passing, puck handling, and skating are essential to enjoying the game. Some coaches emphasize team tactics over developing individual technical skills because they believe it will lead to more victories. That’s a mistake.
Hockey Canada outlines clear recommendations when it comes to the amount of time kids should spent developing individual technical skills during practices: 85% in initiation, 75% in Novice, 50% in Atom, 45% in Peewee, and 40% in Bantam and 35% in Midget. How does your kid’s team fare in this department?
3. Are kids moving and on task?
One of the key factors to developing skills is for kids to be actively engaged in core skills. This may sound like a no-brainer, but practices where kids stand still in line for their turn are not uncommon.
Well-designed practices will engage all kids as much as possible. Station-based practices, where kids go from one station to another, are a good way to make sure kids are engaged in core skills. As an example, in a well-designed station-based practice, kids get to touch the puck 10 times more than they do during a game.
The key fact to remember is that increased skills lead to increased confidence and enjoyment. The more kids enjoy being good at hockey the more their love of the game will grow.
Hopefully your child’s hockey experience is a fun one where they are happily developing skills. If this isn’t the case, consider respectfully talking to your coaches to work together to improve the situation.
Richard Monette leads Active for Life, a national initiative about physical literacy that targets parents who want to raise active and successful kids. Active for Life provides expert advice, inspirational tips, and activity ideas. For more, visit ActiveforLife.com.