One Tank Of Gas At A Time: Parent Survival Tips

A Parent’s Guide To Surviving The Hockey Season

What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick. Remember that line from elections past?

If it were only that simple. A hockey mom is so much more, from chauffeur to cheerleader, confidant to counselor. (And that’s just at the rink.)

There is no shortage of attributes used to describe the indispensible and invaluable contributions that moms make to the hockey world. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a small army hockey moms (and dads) to raise a hockey player.

Along the way, they all start at the same place, as a rank beginner full of apprehension and uncertainty, unaware of the difference between a Mite and Midget, and a greenhorn when it comes to which piece of gear goes on what body part.

And just about the time they have the hang of it all, their child’s youth hockey days are over, a distant memory packed with mental snapshots of past teams and holiday tournaments, fundraisers and awards banquets.

As we dive head first into another hockey season, we’ve enlisted the help of a few veteran hockey parents to share a few pointers for saving time, money and most importantly sanity over the course of the year.


You’re All In This Together

Remember the first time you walked into the rink, or stepped foot in the local pro shop? It can be pretty intimidating. For those who have been around the rink a time or two, it’s important to help new parents feel welcome and to encourage them to ask any question, even the one where they ask where the athletic support goes.

“My husband Dave and I had no prior hockey experience before my son started playing. All I knew about hockey was my friends were never home during hockey season and when they were home they all talked about how early their games were,” recalls Annemarie McLaughlin, whose son Ryan plays for the Lysander Lightning in Baldwinsville, N.Y.

“I am not a typical hockey mom: I hate being cold and getting up early on the weekends. Truth be told, after seeing how much my son enjoyed the sport I had no choice but to embrace it.

“My advice to new parents coming into the sport, stay warm and get ready to make some lifelong friends and memories.”


Communicate With Coaches

Most youth hockey coaches employ a preseason meeting to discuss what they expect from their players and parents over the course of the season. This is also your time to ask your coach about his or her philosophy and make sure it matches your expectations for your child.

“We have had coaches over the years that didn’t speak much about goal setting,” says Amy Colclough, a hockey mom from Phoenix, N.Y.

“We have always tried to have our sons set goals for themselves on things they feel they need to work on … and to achieve those goals, regardless of whether the team and/or coaching staff is doing this. This can help them be the best they can be and feel good about it.”

Communication is a two-way street, and the best way to get the season off to a good start.


Don’t Get Sucked Into The Drama

Whether it’s a hockey rink or the work place, there are those who thrive on drama. Then there are those people who can suck the fun out of a child’s birthday party. Or a hockey season. Don’t let them.

“I try very hard to stay out of the drama. I don’t want people to think I’m snotty but I just want to watch the game,” says Christien Connell Skowron, a hockey mom and administrator from Pittsburgh.
One way to have a positive and enjoyable season is to associate with positive and enjoyable people who share common interests with you.

“Trust me on this one,” McLaughlin says. “It can become an even longer hockey season if you aren’t paired up with the right people.”


Keep It In Perspective

We’ve heard it time and again that nobody remembers how many games he won when he was a Peewee or how many goals she scored as a Squirt. What they do remember are the good times they had and the friends they made. There’s an old adage that says, “Don’t judge success by the scoreboard.” Parents who treat a house league game in November like the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals are in for a bumpy ride.

“I would remind parents to stay focused on the big picture,” says New York hockey dad and coach Frank Colabufo. “Don’t live and die with every shift. Try your best to not let your happiness be determined by how well a bunch of 10-year-olds pass the puck on a Saturday morning.”


Happiness Is A Good Team Mom

You can usually spot them the minute your child is a mini-Mite. And they tend to be the same person year after year. A good team mom is as valuable as a 50-goal scorer. They have a knack for juggling all of life’s challenges, from a full-time job to family responsibilities to planning fundraisers and potluck dinners.

“My role as a hockey mom, team manager and scheduler has always centered around having a good experience for the players, and it has always worked out great,” Colclough says. “Happy players, happy coaches, happy parents help keep the sanity intact over the long haul.”

Whether you step in to help ease her burden or not, remember to appreciate and thank your team mom. One day it may be you who wears that hat.


Take It One Day At A Time

Like many hockey moms, Skowron’s day planner is just about as easy to read as a full-scale mass transit map for a major metropolitan city. She’s got each of her children’s activities color coded, but that doesn’t make it any easier to cram everything into a 24-hour day.

In addition to serving as the registrar for 375 youth teams in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, she spends most days playing the role of taxi driver to her twin 14-year-old sons, Nick and Noah.

“I never look at my schedule more than a day in advance, or else I’d drive myself crazy,” she says. “If you start looking too far ahead, you’ll be overwhelmed by everything you have on your plate.”


Remember, You Can Take It With You

Forget your child’s left skate one time on a long road trip and you’ll never do it again. Bill Huba, a hockey dad from Skaneateles, N.Y.,  learned long ago to go over the entire contents of his child’s hockey bag, making sure he has all the right equipment. At the beginning of the season, he also makes sure that everything still fits and is in good condition.

In addition, it’s not a bad idea to travel with a few extra items, such as spare laces and mouth guard, a helmet repair kit, rolls of tapes, towel, stick and jersey. He also brings an entire set of extra clothes, including socks, sneakers and a sweatshirt.


Crockpot Commandos

It’s not the military, but hockey moms know all about MREs, as in Meals Ready to Eat. For many moms, mastering the art of crockpot cooking has been both a time and money saver. That way you can prepare delicious and nutritious meals that will be ready by the time the family comes home from the rink.

Veteran parents also know the virtues of packing a cooler with snacks that not only provide kids with nutritious snacks, but it also saves a lot of money over the course of the long season by providing an alternative to the drive-through window.

“When we have a long car ride, we try to pack a meal in a cooler because it’s healthier than stopping roadside and buying junk food or spending that extra money,” Colclough says.


Slay The Monster In The Bag

A smelly equipment bag is the bane of every hockey parent’s existence. The key to a sweet-smelling season lies in the airing out of gear after each use.

Skowron is happy to tackle her sons’ sweat-soaked undergarments, but she steers clear of their hockey bags. That’s why she has carved out a small space in her basement where her twin 14-year-old sons can hang their gear on an equipment tree.

While it can’t replace proper drying and disinfecting, McLaughlin employs air fresheners, such as Febreze, into her battle of the stinky gear.

“If you have a hockey player in your home it is a no brainer,” she says.

The smell is bad enough, but the potential germs can pose serious health problems for young athletes.


Go Easy On The Advice

The last thing your child wants when he or she is feeling down after a tough loss is to hear you talk for the whole car ride home about what he or she did wrong or could have done better.

Think about how you feel when things haven’t gone your way. Do you want someone to list all of your failures or rehash what is already a bad memory? Don’t make the drive home from the rink the longest 30 minutes of your child’s life.


Teamwork Off The Ice

Just as we applaud teamwork on the ice, teamwork between parents can make the challenges of the season a lot easier to handle. One big way is through carpooling.

“Try to carpool with people around you,” says Skowron, a hockey mom and administrator from Pittsburgh. “Share the task with you. So you don’t have to go it alone.”
When it comes to carpooling, it’s important to remember that in the minivan of life, there is no room for freeloaders.

“Be thoughtful,” says Bill Huba, a hockey dad from upstate New York. “Clean out the car before the trip if you’re driving. If you’re the passenger, offer to chip in for gas or pay for a meal. Be a good guest and a considerate host because it’s a loooong season.”


The Only Constant Is That Things Change

From practice times to game locations, things have a way of changing over the course of a long season. As Huba has discovered, “Stay informed and check your email, voicemail and texts on a frequent basis. Know where you are supposed to go, when you are supposed to be there and give yourself enough time to get there. Having to drive two hours is bad enough, don’t stress everyone even further by having to do a NASCAR race in a blizzard.”

We all know that hockey is the greatest game there is, and the memories and the friendships we make during our time involved in the game will last a lifetime. It’s important to not look too far down the road, past the next tournament, the next tryout or the next level. Live in the moment. It will help you appreciate the little things that happen during the course of a season that will make up the memories for down the road. Let’s face it, one day we’ll all wake up and wonder where the time went.

As Colclough puts it, “Let’s face it, if you are not having fun somewhere on this journey, it’ll be a long one.”



Photo by Tom Kimmell; Illustrations by Mike Curti


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