For many minor hockey players — and their parents, too — the hockey tryout process can be both exciting and unnerving. When players are working hard to make a top team, the added pressure to play their best can often lead to jitters and, worse, self-doubt — a combination that ironically leads to underperformance.
Add the fact that tryouts generally fall in line with the start of the new school year (new routines, new schedules, new teachers and impending homework) and it’s clear that aspiring rep-level hockey players have a lot on their plates — and their minds. However, according to Dr. Alan Goldberg, founder of Competitive Advantage, and one of the world’s top sports psychologists, there could be more going on than meets the eye.
To help alleviate the pressure of hockey tryouts and ensure your player comes away from the process with a positive experience — no matter what team he or she lands on — Dr. “G” shares the following nine hockey tryout tips that are sure to keep players (and parents) on top of their game.
1. Keep things in perspective
According to Dr. G, kids are hard-wired to make their parents proud, and if they feel in any way they’ve disappointed them, they end up feeling unworthy of their parents’ affection. It’s important, he said, that parents make sure the process stays fun and that they communicate the idea that no matter what happens, “we are still going to love you.”
“Kids don’t have a [whole] perspective, they are too young,” he says. “What happens is they end up at tryouts with a lot more at stake than just making the team. What’s now at stake is ‘am I lovable?’ Some parents get angry and frustrated by how their kids play as a result of all the money and time they have invested, but this is really damaging to their child’s self worth. What their child then experiences is that ‘hockey is more important than who I am as family.’ ”
2. Have fun
No matter what the age, the fear of failure can be paralyzing and can affect the way your child performs on the ice, says Dr. G, who recommends that parents try to make sure their son or daughter has fun, just like they would at a regular game or practice.
“Encourage the best he or she can do and to just have fun no matter what happens,” said Dr. G, who notes that most people play their best when they are enjoying themselves. “If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t going to play well. If you want any chance of making the team, you have to be having fun.”
3. Have a healthy attitude
According to Dr. G, it’s important to teach children to have a healthy attitude toward failure because failing is an important learning process. If your child experiences being cut from a team, he says parents should try to create an environment where the message is: “If you do fail, this is a positive learning opportunity and a chance to figure out what went wrong and how to make it better for the next time.” No matter what the outcome, Dr. G points out that players are going to learn “some good stuff” so he recommends parents “keep from focusing on the outcomes of the tryouts, which is everyone’s focus, but not what it’s about.”
4. Avoid comparing your child to other players
“You don’t want to get your kid thinking about the competition — that they are much better than Billy or Sam. Don’t [say] ‘Bob is really good, maybe if you played like him you’d be at his level.’ Keep your child focused on himself and his experience. Comparisons are just really damaging. While parents may think they’re being encouraging, what they don’t realize [is that] it has the opposite effect. It does not make your child more confident, it sets them up to fail. Keep them focused on themselves, not others.”
5. Stay focused
First, Dr. G recommends that players focus on their own performance on the ice, not what’s going on around them. “Focus on yourself, not on what the coaches are doing, or whether they saw you miss that shot or blow that pass.” Secondly, he says that in competition, it’s important to keep focused on the present, and not waste time and energy worrying about the future or the outcome of the tryouts. By keeping your concentration on the here and now, rather than filling your mind with “what ifs” that may or may not happen down the road, he says athletes play better, allow their minds to wander less and enjoy the game more.
6. Don’t fear failure
Young minor hockey players have only just begun their hockey career, and there will be a lot of ups and downs along the way, no matter what level of the sport they ultimately reach. Failure is simply part of the process — even Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby have missed their share of easy goals. And in basketball, Michael Jordan — considered the greatest player in the history of the sport — was cut twice from his high school hoops team. Dr. G encourages players to use failure as a learning tool. Go down to the next team, work hard, have fun and come back even stronger next time. There are always more tryouts and more years of hockey ahead.
7. Gather facts and advice
If your young hockey player is cut from a team, try to mask any disappointment or anger towards the coach or others, and instead — if your son or daughter is serious about making the team next year — seek out development advice from a professional. Talk to the coach about where your child needs to improve, and relay that message in a positive way to your son or daughter, so they’ll not only be able to get over the sting of being cut, but will learn which areas of their game to work on for next time. If a player is really committed to reaching the goal of making a rep-level hockey team, the more information you gather, the better.
8. Leave the coaching to the coach
With the youngest hockey players, parents are often the main givers of advice, tips and encouragement, but as the player grows and advances, they almost always end up with highly knowledgeable, trained coaches — especially at the competitive levels. And as such, according to Dr. G, parents should leave the technical aspects of the game — and the tips and advice that go along with it — to them. Be there for your child emotionally and keep them motivated and having a good time, but leave coaching to the coach, says Dr. G. The advice will be accepted easier coming from them, he says.
9. Treat tryouts as a regular practice
No matter how to prepare, how positive you are or how many of the above tips you follow, the fact of the matter is that tryouts are — for many players — simply a stressful endeavour. There’s no getting around it.
So try getting your child to play a little mind trick: pretend tryouts are just a regular hockey practice. The drills and scrimmages are largely the same between the two, but the importance put on tryouts often causes players to change their behaviour, which doesn’t leave them with the best opportunity to perform.
By pretending it’s just another day at the rink, it keeps the game fun, light and enjoyable — even when it’s time for those tough drills.
By Kristyl Clark — Lifestyle Writer