Being in a position to work in player development has allowed me to focus on what’s best for a particular player at a specific time. In this role, I often get questioned by parents about my thoughts on development. Here is a common one:
My kid doesn’t seem as interested in hockey anymore. What can I do to increase their engagement?
To answer this question, you have to take inventory. Ask yourself the following questions:
1) Are they playing too much hockey?
With everyone and their dog running clinics, schools and camps all year long, sometimes it’s important to step back and realize that sometimes less is more. Desire and passion can often be negatively affected by burnout. Don’t become wrapped up in keeping up with the Joneses. I often see kids in the sessions that I run that are ragged, tired and going through the motions, while their parents shell out thousands of dollars thinking that the more their kid is on the ice, the better they will become. This is one of the biggest reasons that kids lose interest in sports, today.
2) Are they playing at the right level?
Kids develop at different stages, both mentally and physically. Some kids reach their peaks earlier than others. This doesn’t mean that Sammy Superstar at 10-years-old is going to still be Sammy Superstar at 18-years-old. Understanding that kids develop at different stages allows parents to take a step back, assess what level their kid will have the best opportunity to get ice time, gain confidence, and have fun. In the end, this will be better for their overall development and will help them become better, happier players faster.
One of the best stories I ever heard about finding the right fit at the right time came from a former Clarkson University teammate of mine, Mike Sullivan. At 15-years-old, Mike was at a crossroads. He didn’t have a strong desire to play hockey anymore and decided to drop down from AAA to play A-level hockey. During that season, Mike regained some passion for the game and decided to try out for the local junior C team in Uxbridge the next season. After a successful year in Uxbridge, Mike starred for the Stouffville Spirit junior A team and was selected by the L.A. Kings in the 8th round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and accepted a full-scholarship at Clarkson University. Mike Sullivan’s story is both inspirational and educational.
3) Are they playing with their friends?
Sometimes desire to play hockey is directly linked to surroundings. Kids feel more comfortable when they are surrounded by their friends and will exude attitudes that are more conducive for development. The turning point in my own career came when I was cut from my local AAA team. Up until that point, I always played nervous, had zero confidence, and felt like an outcast in the dressing room. Being cut and going down to play A-level hockey, allowed me to play with my friends and feel valued. In turn, this increased my confidence and desire, and accelerated my development.
4) Are they playing for a coach that best develops their talents?
In hockey, there are varying coaching styles from one side of the spectrum to the other. There are drill sergeant types, coddling types and everywhere in between. With motivation being key for young players, finding out what best motivates your kid and trying to find a situation that is the best fit can make a world of difference in development.
This isn’t to say that you should always pick and choose situations based on coaches. Sometimes coaching has nothing to do with a sudden decrease in desire. If it is determined that this is the reason, it may be beneficial to have a discussion with the coach or possibly find a better fitting situation.
5) Do they really want to play hockey anymore?
Kids often hold back how they truly feel about something from their parents out of fear. It’s a fear of disappointing the ones they love. Knowing this, as a parent, it is important to also understand that your desire isn’t always reflective of your kid’s. You may have a strong desire for hockey or for your kid to excel in the sport, but your kid may have other passions or interests they would like to pursue.
Remember, for 99.9% of hockey players, hockey is simply recreation. If it isn’t fun anymore, there is no use playing, no matter how much you have invested into their development. Don’t block out this possibility if you see sudden changes in your kid. Sometimes, simply taking a year off from hockey can do wonders for regaining desire.