My son has loved hockey since a very young age and he just finished his 2nd year of U11 hockey. The 2 years in the age group he was fortunate to have 2 very good head coaches. However in both years he had an assistant coach that had more desire to win than for kids to learn. These assistant coaches were responsible for line up changes in games and when the stakes became higher, you can see more kids being benched versus the kids whom had more skill. This was frustrating for both my kid and for myself. He told me after a game he felt he didn't have a place on the team. Registration has opened for the new season and he moves into the U13 age category and when I asked if he wants to play again, he was reluctant and feels like he doesn't want to. He's not the best or strongest player but he has talent and he used to have a love for the game but it seems to be gone after these experiences. My gut feeling is he still wants to play but is afraid for the same result. When is it right to follow what he wants to do versus trying to convince him to play another year even if he says doesn't want to play hockey anymore?
Thank you for writing to PCA. I’m sorry to hear that your son’s love of hockey is being affected by this current situation. We hope that coaches add to the enjoyment of the sport and create a positive sport experience where players feel they belong.
To answer your question - I’d suggest gathering more information from your son before you make a decision together on whether or not he should continue to play hockey. Have an honest, empathetic conversation with him. You can do so by:
- Listening to understanding his perspective and not just to respond. Validate what he shares with you and thank him for doing so.
- Approach this conversation with a calm tone and supportive body language. If you feel yourself disagreeing or wanting to push him to play, take a breath to remember to continue to listen to what he is sharing.
- Adopt a ‘tell-me-more’ attitude. Let him share what he is feeling and lead the conversation as opposed to the other way around.
- Ask open ended questions that require more than a one word answer, like “What would make playing hockey fun for you?” or “What else would you like to try if you don’t want to play hockey?”
I’d also try to find out if he doesn’t want to play hockey altogether, or if he doesn’t want to play hockey for this particular team and these assistant coaches. If this is the case, it may be worth having a conversation with the head coach - either led by your son with your support or by you alone. Your son deserves to play on a team where he feels he belongs. Research shows that when kids feel connected to supportive adults and peers, engaged, and that they belong, they are in a better position to grow and develop skills.
Wishing you and your son all the best with this.
To learn more about how to partner with PCA to create a positive youth sports experience, click here.