Goalie Dad, that was my original AOL screen name, and it was a distinction I was really proud of and excited to let everyone know….I was the father of a hockey goalie, how cool! It started when my son was just five years old, stuck in the net as the goalie in the neighborhood street hockey game (many of them played travel ice hockey at the time). As the old saying goes, boys will be boys, and they surely never held back. They skated fast and played with skill beyond his years, shot the puck as hard as they could. It never failed, everyday, my son would come home crying, upset that they were too rough, shot too hard, he was getting scored on, etc. We told Eric that he didn’t have to play, the older boys can’t help being competitive…. Much to our surprise, our little five year old goalie dried off his tears, ate his snack, and went right back to the net, taking his punishment like a man. This is how my son was transformed into a Goalie and how I became a goalie parent.
As a father I loved being the parent of a Goalie. I loved to see how my son played, I loved to see how he handled pressure, I loved to see him win, and more important, how he lost. That may sound odd, but as a father, I knew it was my job to teach him HOW to lose because everyone handles victory well, but very few handle adversity with class, and I knew that was what was going to separate him from other goalies. Those emotions are very powerful ones, and if harnessed correctly, it can be much more effective than positive emotions. Since I could not tell my son how to play the position, mainly because I never played the game…duh…but I thought I might be able to teach him how to become an “Athlete”.
My favorite memories are not the victories or the spectacular saves (even though I have to admit those bragging rights as a parent are wonderful…lol). My favorite memories were the car rides home after practices and especially games. It was those talks we had analyzing the game from his perspective that meant the most. Giving “fatherly” advice, I was always honest but considerate. When it came to the reality of the talks, I knew if I sugar coated the analysis, my son would never respect me in the end, and I certainly knew it was not helping him in any way at that time….With that said, I knew how far to push. I listened to his words. His interest at that moment dictated how far I could take it. It seemed the more I gave, the more he wanted. That is the best sign to me; that my son was dead serious about this game and wanted to get better and actually seeked my advice instead of running from it.
As a parent, the last thing you want to do is “be one of those parents”…..you know, the ones who push too hard, yelling too much and blame everybody else. The ones who criticize without a purpose or offer any positive reinforcement. I can personally remember (early on) watching a game when my son gave up a pretty weak goal at a critical juncture in the game. My emotions ran hot, I stood up from the stands and yelled something to him on the ice. Not that he did not feel bad enough, but to think he let me down as well…how horrible! If that sounds horrific to you as it just did to me typing it, that is how I felt as a parent immediately after doing it. That night I went to the library in search for a book to understand the game from both the parents’ perspective as well as the kids’ of what a parent yelling at them must have felt like. I wish I could remember the title but I don’t. I can only express how that book changed my life as an athlete’s parent. I’d like to think it also changed the path of my son. If I had not educated myself and changed the way I reacted in the stands, who knows what that type of mental abuse would do to such a young and impressionable goalie. I am sure you have probably experienced this feeling as well. Our Goalie would cry after giving up goals and take EVERY loss personally. I could see him take his glove off and try to get his little fingers between his mask to wipe away the tears. Yes when they are very young, that is acceptable, but as he got older I kind of wondered if this was showing a sign of weakness, something we both agreed was counterproductive (hindsight time and maturing aided in that process).
What we then did together when Eric was a Mite or Squirt was read the newspaper and go over all the scoreboxes. I did this to show him that every goalie gives up goals, they all lose games…yes even his favorite Patrick Roy. He had to understand that this was part of the game and it was OK. It was not about one goal, one game or one hot streak, it was about consistency and learning from mistakes to get better. Another thing we did was TiVo as many games as we could, then together go back and slow motion the plays that were important to see where the goalie was in certain situations. We just watched them move through the crease and take note at what made them so good…This gave both of us a real understanding at its most basic form of how this specialized position worked and what to expect. We use to also read Goalies World magazine, the most anticipated mail delivery of the month, and I can remember highlighting paragraphs or statements that I thought he would have the most interest in. Then we would spend hours analyzing what we both learned and what he could take out of it moving forward. If you stepped foot into Eric’s room you would see pages of this magazine cut out and arranged all over his walls, highlighted sections and all, there for him to read and reread every night.
The one thing I learned in my life about sports was this; anyone can practice what they are good at, that’s easy. But it’s REALLY hard to work on your weaknesses. It’s really hard for the child to want to do this due to the failure aspect attached to the learning curve, and most young goalies don’t want to and will not work on that aspect of their game. I remember for years, at the end of each season, we would sit at the kitchen table and review the past year. I had him make a list of what he accomplished from last year, what he did well this year and most important what he thought he needed to work on to get better for next season. Because of our “honest” talks he became very aware of his game and he knew what he needed to change to get better. He was never afraid to write it down, say it and then discuss it. I then asked him to put into order what was most important and why. It was at that point we had a plan for next season and what he needed to do in the off season to accomplish his mid-summer goals. I did everything in my power as a parent to give him the resources he needed to make all of this happen, as a parent that is what I could do for him. But key to this was I only had him work on one or two exercises each off season. Remember, there is a lot of hockey left for a young child, 8-14 years’ worth and a long time to accomplish the dream of seeing your Goalie go to college or playpro one day.
You do not and cannot accomplish all of this at once, the less failure you can show your goalie at a young age the more they will want to improve. You can lay out short term and long term goals and explain to them why one is more important than another. They need that guidance, mainly because they do not know any better. At the end of the day, the next 10-15 years is going to fly by, trust me. What does every parent say when the hockey season ends in March…OMG, that went by so quick, it seemed like just yesterday we were at tryouts! So imagine what you’re going to say when they get their Drivers License or they are off to college. It is going to happen, it is going to go by so fast and you will have withdrawals from no or little hockey. I am choked at just putting this on paper right now…excuse my language but it sucks. We are not trained for this, this has been our social life, our religion, our everything and it just ends!
I hope one day your Goalie can realize their dreams, and do not be surprised if that is not playing hockey. There are many obstacles in life that will get in the way, and sometimes, just sometimes hockey may not be at the top of the list. But what I am most proud of is not what our son has accomplished in hockey, but who he has become. A Goalie handles much more than many adults do in just 60 minutes on the ice, they become men at such a young age, and they mature so quickly. They learn what the bond of a teammate really means, and while it lasts, it is the greatest game in the world. Your kid is taking on the most difficult position in all of sports, but one that in my opinion, yields the greatest rewards on and off the ice!
A career will come to an end but who you are lasts a lifetime!