Hockey’s lighter side: No apple juice, please

The youth hockey season may be behind us, but the lessons it teaches are always relevant. Steve Simmons, youth hockey coach and Toronto Sun sports columnist, shares one such lesson: kids’ hockey should stay fun.

In his article “I hope they didn’t bring apple juice”, Simmons recalls coaching in a kids’ playoff game. His team was up by a goal with two minutes to go. He was anxious, pacing, staring at the clock, barking instructions.

Then one of the boys tugged on his jacket. He asked Simmons about the day’s snacks.

An exasperated Simmons shrugged off the question and turned back to the ice, trying to focus on the game. Then he heard the boy say, “I hope they didn’t bring apple juice. I don’t like apple juice.”

That moment opened Simmons’s eyes: apple juice represented the snack, the routine, the ritual.

For the kids, the little things mattered the most. “It’s all part of the culture of hockey. Not who wins, not who scores goals, not which team accomplished what on any given night, but whether Mom and Dad are there, whether their grandparents are in the stands watching, whether their best friend was on their team and they got a shift on the power play, and yes, about what they ate.”

Simmon’s story may be about hockey, but the message relates to every youth sport across this country: keep it in perspective. Specifically, keep it in a child’s perspective. Keep it fun and let the kids play.

Kids will do their best, but they won’t be attached to winning and losing as much as the parents.

One more thing: with summertime upon us, Simmons advises against summer hockey. After all, early specialization can be harmful to young athletes. Give your kids a chance to do other activities. It’s the best way for them to develop physical literacy. And if you give them a couple of months away from the rink, your kids will likely be fresh and more excited come next September.

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