Most of what I have learned recently about teamwork I learned from an individual sport. Not only am I a hockey mom, but I also have a dedicated gymnast living under my roof. She began her journey into the world of flips and turns about the time my son began travel hockey and began competing in the Junior Olympic category of USA Gymnastics about 3 years ago. I know even less about gymnastics than I did about hockey and I can not say that it appeals to me. What is will say is, my daughter, her teammates and especially her coaches could teach most in hockey a thing or two about teamwork.
Sounds crazy, right? How could a sport, judged individually (judged brutally, I might add), teach team sport participants about team work? Honestly, I don’t have an answer. I don’t know what they do to teach these girls the importance of supporting each other, because we are not involved. As gymnast parents, we drop our athletes off at the back door of the gym and 4 hours later, we pick them back up at the back door. We attend meets and we cheer…for everyone. We are only allowed to say positive things and it is against the rules to yell directions to our athletes. No “stick it”, no “point your toes”, no “smile.” Maybe this is part of the key?
When the girls get their scores, they hug each other! They smile bigger for their team mate who just received her personal best than they do for themselves. If they are on the podium together, the 2nd place girl grabs the 1st place girls hand to raise them together.
I know you are thinking “they must not be competitive” and you are absolutely wrong. They challenge each other in practice and they learn from every point deducted. They give feedback, both positive and constructive and they USE it to push themselves further. The end result…their TEAM is undefeated and it’s not always the same girls getting the 1st place honors individually!
There are no “one man shows” in this individual sport and I wish I could say the same about hockey. This past weekend, I watched my son play a particular team twice. Both games ended with my son’s team winning. They won because the other team was a “one man show”.
Now, I have heard quite a bit of ruckus about “the” player on the team. “He is the best on the team.” “He is the best in his age group.” “He is going AAA.” “He is getting paid to go AAA.” I don’t know that I believe any of those statements, but what I will say is that he stands out. He stands out because he doesn’t leave the ice. He stands out because he doesn’t pass. He stands out because it is obvious the other kids on his “team” have been trained to always get the puck to him.
I do not blame the child…he is 11 or 12. I actually feel very sorry for him. It is the adults who are letting him down. It is the adults who are also letting his teammates down. While this kid is getting over-played (not just additional ice time, literally physiologically, over-played), he and his teammates are not able to learn the right way to play the game. While he is holding on to the puck and taking it end to end, he is being rewarded for selfishness and his teammates miss out. Not only that, but they do not understand why it is not OK for THEM to play that way. When they finally get the chance to get the puck, they want to do the same thing. Why should they get off the ice if so-and-so doesn’t have to?
What can be done to prevent this damage? Well, first off, as parents we can stop putting so much pressure on the kids and the coaches for the “win at all costs”. Now, I truly believe that there are times that the best players should be out on the ice and that not all players should be getting equal playing time when on a travel team. That does not mean that one particular player is given 15 second rests, and then thrown back on the ice.
Secondly, avoiding the “Daddy Coach”. I will definitely discuss this topic in more depth in the future and this was actually not the scenario in the situation from the past weekend, but in my experience, the Daddy Coach tends to break his own rules when it comes to his kid. I have seen it from Mites through AAA Pee Wee and I am sure it will continue. Some of them were excellent coaches….IF they were not coaching their own child. One instance in particular, I saw a kid give up the tying goal and the game winner in OT during the same game. Both were because he had been on the ice for over 3 minutes each time.
Lastly, reward teamwork. Put more emphasis on the defensive play, the assists, and supporting your teammates. These are all skills that will not only make the “individual” a better all-around hockey player, but will also pay off more in the real world. Some day their co-workers and bosses will appreciate the skills your kid learned in hockey, but only if they learned them!