We’ve all seen them at the rink, or heard about them from other parents; we might even be one or have been one of them in the past. They yell at the players from the stands, besmirch the good name of the referee and loudly question the decisions of the coach. Some of them are less conspicuous, sitting off by themselves, intently making mental notes in preparation for the post-game conversation with their son or daughter. They might seem like the hockey parent from hell or they might pass for any other hockey parent, but they are one in the same. They are the parent who is depriving the young hockey player in their family of the most important aspect of their athletic experience: fun. Naturally, there are degrees and, to be fare, it is rare that these parents are not motivated by good intention. However, whether it be to relive a past hockey life, to make the youngster the ‘star’ they never were – perhaps even play in the NHL, or simply due to the misguided belief that the more they push and prod, the better the hockey player their child will become and the better their athletic experience will be, these parents are not acting in the best interests of their children.
Canadian health and fitness guru, Lloyd Percival was behind the bench of a hockey team for only one season, even though he wrote the best hockey instruction book ever written – The Hockey Handbook (1951) which the Russians used when learning how to play hockey, trained hundreds of NHL hockey players and advised numerous professional and amateur hockey coaches. However, the hockey rink is not the only place to find parents who are over involved in the performance of their athletic child. Percival met many such parents during his years coaching young track and field athletes in the 1950’s and 1960’s, many of whom became national champions and Olympians. During the 20 years (1944 -1964) he coached athletes over the radio through his CBC radio program, Sports College, Percival exchanged letters with thousands more parents, coaches and young athletes. Percival was still hearing from frustrated coaches and athletes in the 1970’s when he was operating the first modern health and fitness club in the world, The Fitness Institute in Toronto, and helping to train many of Canada’s greatest amateur and professional athletes. Through his numerous and varied enterprises, Percival profoundly changed the culture of sport in the 20th century. He also tried to equip parents with tools that would assist them in becoming a positive influence on the lives of their athletic children.
In the May and June 1974 editions of The Fitness Institute’s monthly journal, The Sport and Fitness Instructor (SFI) Percival set out ten rules for, How to Establish Rapport with Your Athletic Child. Percival credited his wife, Dorothy, for the genesis of the list, but it was Percival’s relentless search for solutions, while others were busy complaining about problems, that bore fruit in these articles. He discussed the issue with a number of young athletes, called on his years of experience and drew from his wife’s wisdom, for a list that would assist parents, the majority of whom he believed wanted to do the right thing but lacked the tools. In the years preceding the Internet, Percival’s list migrated all over North America, was reprinted countless times and modified to suit particular client groups. By the time that the Internet had become a part of our daily lives, Percival’s list found itself on countless websites, as diverse as: the Des Moines Register (newspaper); the (American) National Association of Golf Coaches and Educators Association; and the Luxemburg – Casco School District Basketball Booster Club of Wisconsin. It is usually referred to under the title, Ten Rules (or Ten Commandments )for Parents of an Athletic Child, and Percival is sometimes credited as the author. More often the list is unaccredited or appears to be written by someone associated with the website. There are also numerous examples of Percival’s list, or a very slightly modified version, being credited to another author, including repeated references to someone named, “Bill Burgess”
The continued popularity of Percival’s list , forty years after it was written, is a testament to his unique insight into the world of the young athlete and to the fact that the this world has changed little over the past four decades. Next month we will look at the list in its original form. In subsequent months we will examine each of the Ten Rules to see how they can help today’s hockey parent to navigate the minefield that is raising an athletic child.