Q&A: How Do I Deal With Out of Control Hockey Parents?

obnoxious_parent_postOne of the important elements of team sports are the relationships that form between the parents. Often times the camaraderie of parents in the bleachers is just as strong as that of the players. However, sometimes a few unruly parents can make it difficult for the rest. In this article, Former NHL player and founder of SweetHockey and OnlineStickhandling.com, Lance Pitlick, offers advice on how to control the out of control parent.

Sean asks: It amazes me how parents will sit there and bad mouth a kid’s performance on the ice not knowing the parent of that child is sitting near them. I constantly wonder what happened to playing a sport for fun, for learning what it is to be a teammate and to learn how to win and lose with dignity and respect. My son plays hockey because it is fun for him. We have no grand plans for him to play hockey in college or the NHL. I am sure he will want to continue play at the high school level. I just need to isolate myself from some of the obnoxious parents who ruin the whole game experience for me. Is there some other way to deal with this type of parent, and how do we keep this from affecting the general attitude and tenor of the team dynamic?

Answer: I’m always puzzled by how some parents act at a hockey rink. I wonder why they can’t see how ridiculous they look. I’ve often wondered if there is a medical term that explains this disorder?  Something like “I’mafreakshowhockeyparentsyndrome” With noticeable symptoms that include: uncontrollable inappropriate verbal outbursts directed towards hockey players, coaches or referees. The behavior is only exhibited at a hockey rink and mysteriously disappears upon exiting the building.

All kidding aside, this is a serious problem and needs to be addressed immediately. From what I’ve learned as a coach thus far, communication is the most important factor, both with the players and their parents. The more transparent I am regarding my coaching philosophy, goals for the year and expectations of players and parents, the more informed everyone is.  This eliminates any uncertainty and having to answer questions throughout the season.

I start every season with a player/parent meeting. This is where I lay out everything that will happen throughout the year. Players know exactly what is expected of them both on and off the ice, but more importantly, they understand the consequences if these expectations are not met. Parents have a similar set of rules or code of conduct. I leave some time at the end of the meeting to answer any questions. When we walk out of that meeting, there is a clear plan regarding the goals for the team, rules that need to be followed and the consequences for behavioral misconduct. This takes some preparation, but a little sweat equity early in the year will pay big dividends as the season progresses. Players and parents need structure and this is an easy way to set the tone for the season.

My last suggestion would be the use of video. Roughly 60% of the population is visual when learning. What this means is that visual learners don’t absorb information when told verbally. They need to see it for them to fully understand. I’ve used video footage of practice or games as a teaching tool when coaching players. I can explain to a player what they should do differently and nothing changes, however, once they see it on the big screen, the effectiveness is very powerful. I’d suggest this as a teaching tool for one of those goof-ball parents. A video showing the parent in action may be enough to eliminate the unwanted behavior.

Hockey is the player’s game, not the parent’s. Let’s focus on all the life lessons it teaches and the personal growth potential it provides.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Lance Pitlick for his valuable advice.  For more information about Lance please visit www.sweethockey.com or www.onlinestickhandling.com.
The Colorado Avalanche and coloradoavalanche.com are trademarks of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Team, Inc. NHL and the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup are registered trademarks and the NHL Shield and NHL Conference logos are trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 2008 Colorado Avalanche and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.