In my previous blog I highlighted the four strategies that we are using in my family to develop our young hockey players. The first and most important strategy is building a love for the game and creating a strong hockey culture at home. We want our players to love the game of hockey at an early age, while making them feel like hockey is just something we do around here, in our family we play hockey. There is no choice if we want to do it or not, we just know it is something we love to do.

Why is this one of our strategies?

Most hockey peoples will tell you that at a young age one of the primary focuses for youth player development is building a love for the game and having fun. This is central to the USA Hockey American Development Model, especially at the 8U & 10U levels. This is why you see so many drills that are more games or competitions vs lining kids up on the goalie line to do edge work for 45 minutes. A love of the game keeps kids coming back, and as they mature, opens the door to work on more advanced concepts and refine the skills they have developed.

In our family we 100% agree that building a love for the game is critical and have decided to take it one step further than just building a love of the game while on the ice, and that is why we decided to really focus on integrating hockey and a love of hockey into our culture at home. Most professionals in the workforce understand the importance of culture in a company or organizational setting, so we decided to apply the same approach in our house. As the famous business consultant Peter Drucker once said “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast!” (On a side note, I have often heard it debated if Peter Drucker actually said this, and there are many that believe this quote is attributed to him but he never actually said it!).

What are we doing to bring this to life?

Here are the top five tactics we are using to build a love of the game with a strong hockey culture:

  • Make the game fun at home: In our house nearly all the toys and games we have are hockey related, of course we have non-hockey toys, but the ones that get the most usage by the entire family (parents included) are hockey toys and games. For outdoor activities we play sauce toss as a family, in the basement we play SuperDeker and see who can get the highest score, we have knee hockey nets and sticks for impromptu shootouts, we have a backyard rink each winter where we play shinny, the children’s books we read are hockey related (e.g. the Brady Brady series or Lucy joue au hockey). The point to all of this is that we help our kids see many different fun sides of hockey outside of what they they do at practice or in games.
  • Watch hockey as a family affair: Our family watches a lot of hockey across many different levels (NHL = Minnesota Wild, College = Minnesota Women’s and Men’s Programs, Local High School Girls Varsity Team, etc.). One benefits of the pandemic has been the availability of live streaming of hockey games. When we watch a game we try to make it a family affair and event for the evening, so if we have to eat dinner early for the start of the game or go to bed a little late that is ok. We want our players to feel as though the game is special and when you watch it you should be excited.
  • Support hockey friendships: Making friends at school is fundamentally easier than at hockey. Most school friends live close by and many times in the same neighborhood. The kids also spend 7-8 hours a day together, five days a week. Hockey friends can be from all over your region and they only see each other for a few hours a week. We make sure to find ways to nurture hockey friendships by volunteering to drive to play dates, engaging with parents to see how we can let the girls connect more often, or linking non-hockey events around practice or games. We also encourage our daughter to find friends at school that are also hockey players by asking her questions that we hope guide her behavior (e.g. Does anyone else in your class play hockey? Did you see Jane (a teammate) at school today? Have you asked Tom where he is playing hockey this year?). The jackpot is when she can find a few hockey player friends in her class! Luckily in Minnesota that is a pretty simple and have a large field to choose from most school years!
  • Create hockey experiences: Outside of talking, watching, and playing the game of hockey, we try to create small hockey experiences for the girls. One can’t miss experience is attending college hockey games. Going to watch the University of Minnesota Women’s hockey team is an amazing event. First of all it is super high-end hockey! Additionally, the rink feels huge to a little kid, but it is still intimate enough to help the kids have lots of fun (e.g. interact with players before warm-ups, find a puck in the stands, or dance with the mascot). It is also a great value, unlike many NHL games. Another tactic we use is to host skating or hockey parties on our backyard rink or at our local neighborhood ice rinks for our players’ hockey friends. This lets the players connect and have fun on the ice without the pressure of a practice or a game, we give them activities to do that are not hockey related but tons of fun that they will remember for years to come!
  • Ensure it is a family event: You can see in the examples above we try to make everything a family event if we can, but it is important to reinforce this idea, we try not to only focus on the oldest hockey player but also the entire family as we design these events or experiences. It can be tough, and with three kids under seven years old in our house takes some preparation and brainstorming, but we have seen the our three year old is already bought into the culture, to the point where she knows nothing else. She asks us all the time “When will I go to hockey?” or “Dad play hockey with me now?” Bringing the entire family along for the ride helps normalize the mindsets and behaviors to truly engrain the culture we are looking for in our players.

I know these tactics may not be applicable to all Hockey Parents, and that living in Minnesota gives us unique opportunities, but hope this has given you a few ideas that you can apply or utilize.

This is just one of many strategies we are utilizing for our young players, in my next blog I will discuss how we are creating well rounded athletes.

-North Star Hockey Dad

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