The curtain is about to open on a new hockey season, and as your family’s director you hope for a good show with no drama. While you can’t control the actions of the entire cast of characters, you can take some cues from veteran hockey parents to produce a season that will draw rave reviews.
Setting the Stage
Get organized. Find a place in your house for all things hockey. The area needs to be functional with room for all your players’ gear. A good drying rack, along with hooks to hang bags and sticks will help reduce clutter. Get your kids into a routine of hanging up the gear as soon as they get home from a game. If you want to cut down on the hockey bag stench, don’t allow the equipment to sit in the bag. Ever.
Marking your schedule on a big calendar, placed in a strategic spot in your house, will let everyone know when it’s showtime and avoid conflicts with main events.
The Dress Rehearsal
Have your hockey player try on all the gear before the season starts, from head to toe. Don’t jeopardize your child’s ability to play or their safety with equipment that is too small or not in good condition.
“When kids are younger, ill-fitting equipment can be traumatic,” says Michigan hockey dad Mark Gilman, editor of the hockey parent blog MiHockeykid.com.
“I’ve witnessed over the years with many a mini-Mite, Mite and even Squirt players coming to the bench crying because their shin guards, shoulder pads or gloves were either hurting them or rubbing the wrong way.”
Syracuse, N.Y., sports shop owner and coach Dave McKie says girls typically stop growing out of their skates at age 13, and boys at 15.
“After those years, check for skates that are worn out. Skates should normally last two seasons and at least 50 games a season. Check skate blades often. When bent or worn down by sharpening, they can negatively affect skating,” says McKie. He also suggests replacing the steel as a less expensive option to buying new skates.
Gilman adds that every parent wants to save money, but the helmet is the last thing you need to skimp on.
“I’ve seen parents spend a lot of money on the top of the line shin guards, gloves and sticks,” he says. “But after watching one of my sons suffer a concussion a few seasons ago, I realized very quickly that the most important investment I could make was to purchase the best [most protective] helmet I could find.”
We all know that hockey can be an expensive production. Budget and set aside money for the unexpected. When the registration email lands in the inbox for Skaneateles, N.Y., hockey dad Bill Huba, his first thought is to get out the checkbook.
“First, the bite of registration, then the sting of new equipment,” he says. “Then you look forward to an extra 5,000 miles on the minivan driving to practices and games, plus hotels, meals, tourney fees, etc. It’s part of the landscape of suffering we endure as hockey parents hoping for a few seconds of absolute joy when your kid touches the puck and does something great.”
Gilman, who has watched his three sons play hockey over the past 17 years, says parents should be given a complete budget before the season starts.
“It’s impossible to budget without one, and it brings accountability to your team. It also cuts down on surprises later,” he says. “Some parents feel it’s not their role to ask for these, and I’ve never understood that. It’s your money and you should have a very clear and succinct written budget showing you how that money is being spent and what the season’s financial expectations are.”
Taking the Show on the Road
Pittsburgh Frugal Mom Dana Vento, mother of two hockey players, knows how travel and tournaments can really ice the budget.
Before they hit the road, Vento plans ahead by packing appropriate snacks, sandwiches and drinks. It’s the kind of planning that helps her family avoid the lure of the drive thru.
“Google the areas around you before you travel there, check for apps that save you money for anything from food purchases to shopping,” Vento says.
“Don’t forget to check with AAA for discounted, clean lodging and consider a credit card that will earn you cash back every time you spend. These small steps save hundreds of dollars a year, enough to pay for gas or new skates.”
Team potluck dinners at the hotel can also be a cheaper alternative and a great way to bond as a team.
School comes first. With the right guidance, your children will become pros at balancing a busy school schedule with sports, other extracurricular activities and family obligations. But set rules and stick to them.
“One of the balancing acts for us has always been scheduling homework around practices,” says Gilman. “Our kids know that if it’s not done before, they don’t go and may suffer the consequences with their coaches.
“Allowing them to do homework after practice or a game is a bad idea. They’re tired and don’t put their full effort into it. Also, many times they plead to get up early and do it in the morning. This doesn’t work either.”
The guilt trip kicks in when my kids miss school for tournaments. Gilman says sharing your hockey schedule with teachers is a good way to recruit a valuable ally.
“It’s imperative to get the teachers your kid’s tournament schedule at the beginning of the school year so they can plan accordingly,” he says. “Also remind them by email a week ahead. Teachers understand these commitments and will, in almost all cases, make sure necessary homework or tests that might be missed are rescheduled earlier or when they return. They are less than cooperative if you tell them at the last minute.”
Carve out time in your busy schedule for family time.
Oswego, N.Y. youth hockey coach and parent Bill Cahill says, “When I am the head coach, I always give the week of Christmas off and I try not to schedule long trips around Thanksgiving or New Years as well.
“I also feel it is the parents’ obligation to say no, when asked for input by coaches, or their own kids request to go to an extra tournament with some other team. Staying home on a Sunday and having a home cooked meal around a kitchen table is always a good thing.”
The Cast and Crew (Find Your Role)
It takes a team to run a team. From volunteering to serve as team mom, to offering to organize the team’s fundraisers, to being the dad who oversees locker room snacks, you don’t have to take on a starring role, but the coach will certainly appreciate any and all assists from parents. The preseason meeting can help set the tone for team obligations, explore coaching philosophy, and share input if the season’s early draft needs revisions.
“In all the years I’ve been involved in youth hockey, the one thing I can point to with certainty each year is that the parents who complain the most during the season are usually the ones who fail to volunteer for anything,” Gilman says.
“Your perspective changes greatly when you’re helping with fundraisers, scheduling, team trips, etc.”
Selflessness and sacrifice should be recurring themes. Impress upon your children the importance of passing the puck with the reminder, a real star makes everyone shine. If at the end of the show your star makes it through the season injury-free, sees personal development and most of all has fun, roll the credits, take a bow and hope for an encore next season.
Christie Casciano Burns is a hockey mom in Syracuse, N.Y. She is also the author of two books, “The Puck Hog” and “Haunted Hockey in Lake Placid.”