In my Debate Dad post, I mentioned how I was once a bad hockey and basketball dad. Long story short, I couldn't keep my mouth shut, trying to coach from the stands to my older son, now 19.
My eight-year-old is playing hockey, as is his six-year-old brother. I don't ever have to get on the younger of the two as far as effort is concerned. He's more competitive in team contact sports.
The eight-year-old, however, needs to be reminded to put out full effort when he's in a game, even though at that age, they still aren't keeping score. I remind him that his team still wants to do well, so they need his help, and that it's more fun playing hard because it makes better things happen for you.
He enjoys playing goalie more than other positions, and today got to play two games of it in the season-ending jamboree. Whether playing goalie or as a skater, he has a similar tendency as his older brother: he looks at me regularly throughout the game. As I told his older brother when he was playing hockey, and then basketball, I tell him to focus on the game and don't look at me.
His younger brother only occasionally looks my way, and it's typically a short "thumbs-up" or something similar, before continuing straight back to the action. Eight-year-old gets the thumbs-up quite often, too, but you can tell there is a difference in his glances my way. It's a sort of look for approval, and this is where Bad Hockey Dad comes in.
Whereas I should just always be giving him the thumbs-up when he looks my way, and save the "don't look at me so much" talk for after practice, I far-too-often use those moments as coaching moments. I'm not yelling out like I did with my older son, but try to use hand gestures, like pointing at the puck, or cranking my arm, to get him to focus on the action and pick up the pace a bit.
Even that doesn't sound so bad, but today, with him playing goalie, I made a fool of myself by trying to show him goalie positions after one goal was scored on him. He was struggling just a bit, and there was one series where he had the opportunity to drop on his pads and perhaps smother the puck, but he stayed on his feet and eventually the other team batted the puck in.
I often forget that he's an eight-year-old, and thus incapable of remembering every piece of advice I throw his way prior to a game or practice. While I'm not actually angry with him, when I'm trying to show him these things during play, I'm sure I come across as being upset or disappointed.
My antics today moved him to tears, even yelling audibly back to me, "Daddy, stop!" While he was yelling that in my direction, the other team scored another goal, with him looking my way instead of at the action on the ice.
I felt like I was Vic Morrow's character in The Bad News Bears.
So here I sit, contemplating how I'm going to be a better hockey dad, coach (even though I'm not one of his hockey coaches, I do coach him in baseball), role model, and just plain father. Right now, among all of the thoughts in my head at 3:48 am, I think the key is to make sure I allow sports to be fun for him, be there to play with him, and use the positive moments to coach with.
Duh, right? It's absolutely humiliating to know that it took being called out by my tearful child in the middle of a hockey rink to finally figure it out.
3 weeks ago