Love and Accept Your Young Athletes (Regardless of Performance)

Welcome back to the Ten Rules series where we examine Lloyd Percival’s list of How to Establish Rapport with Your Athletic Child. In the first post, we looked at the background of Percival and his involvement in developing The Hockey Handbook. Now we look at each of his ten rules and how they may (or may not) pertain to you and your young hockey player. 

Rule # 1. Make sure that your child knows that – win or lose; scared or heroic – you love them, appreciate their efforts and are not disappointed in them.

This will allow them to do their best, to avoid developing a fear of failure based on the spectre of disapproval and family disappointment if they do mess up. Be the person in their life they can look up to for constant positive enforcement. Learn to hide your feelings if they disappoint you.

This is Percival’s first rule because it underpins all of the rest. If we cannot assure our children that they are loved, that we support them in all of their endeavours and will not judge them based on their success or failure, then what is the point of engaging in sport at all? It is a precept, which seems obvious and simple; however, in our highly pressurized world of sport, it can become complex and is too often overlooked, even when we are dealing with children under the age of ten.

When our children approach their teenage years their athletic aspirations – and all too often ours – causes many parents to lose site of this simple rule. The young hockey player wants to succeed, perhaps even play in the NHL, and we want to help them. The pressure to succeed, the pressure to win can become onerous, even debilitating. It can inhibit athletic performance and, most importantly, take the joy out of hockey. Your children may not be aware of it at the time, but instead of hockey being one of the most positive aspects of childhood, it can become a painful adult memory.

Lloyd Percival coached athletes of all ages and all abilities, from children seeking only recreation to adults striving to be world and Olympic champions. Winning was always the goal, but he tried to help them understand that losing was not only inevitable, it was an essential part of any sport. Percival coined a term for his ideal athlete: “the Happy Warrior” and he frequently criticized hockey coaches – especially NHL coaches – for not worrying about the psychological well being of their charges. In an interview with the CBC only months before he died in 1974, Percival lamented that “competition” was becoming a “dirty word.” He talked about how winning and losing were both important experiences in life and how the job of the coach was to teach athletes how to compete, how to win and how to lose, how to prepare for both and how to learn from both.

Immediately after Canada’s junior hockey team finished out of the medals at the World Junior Hockey Championships for the second year in a row, respected hockey analyst, Bob McKenzie, opined that the Canadians had played like they were “afraid of losing” instead of being a team that was “determined to win.” The following day, Head Coach Brent Sutter offered his analysis, which included a statement that Canadian hockey placed “too much emphasis on winning and losing at such a young age.” The fact that the expectations of an entire nation sits upon the shoulders of these young men each Christmas is grossly unfair, but it is not out of line with the pressure faced by teenage athletes in hockey and other sports throughout the world. Winning and losing are part of sport; they are part of life. It must be our goal as parents to make all of our young athletes Happy Warriors. Whether they play house league or Triple A, it makes no difference. They are playing a game. Love them and support. Show them that the old adage, “its not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that counts”, is something to live by. Your young hockey player will not only enjoy their hockey more, they will play better under pressure and will be more likely to realize their potential; they will have fond adult memories of their hockey career and they will carry positive lessons learned through sport into their adult lives.

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About The Author

Gary Mossman is a freelance writer living in Toronto, Ontario. He is member of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR) who has appeared in The Hockey News. CONTINUE

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