Contributed by Andrew Snook (Ottawa, ON)
IN EVERY ARENA WHERE THERE’S A RINK, you will hear the swishing sounds of skates tearing up and down the ice. You can hear the sound of a whistle echoing throughout the rink. You will see parents sitting on the edge of cold, unforgiving seats as they watch their child performs drills for their coach. The child has worked hard for months, on and off the ice. They have expended all their energy in hopes of making to the next level of competition. The child is dreaming of playing in the NHL, the parent shares that dream. The parent drives their child to practice every morning, shoots pucks with them in their backyard and even puts on twenty-year-old goaltending equipment so their child can pelt them relentlessly with bright orange balls and hockey pucks. And then in an instant that dream is shattered. The unthinkable has happened. Their child has been cut.
The parent pauses for a moment. They are trying to process a wave of powerful emotions, shock, anger, sadness, anger, and then finally, anger. Did I mention anger? The parent that once sat politely in the stand, shouting words of encouragement to their child, is now shouting words of another nature to their child’s coach. The parent is angry because they feel the coach has in some way injured their child, and crippled their chance of fulfilling a dream. The unfortunate truth is the parent is crippling that dream, with every nasty word.
Parents: Don’t get mad, get informed. Coaches: Don’t react, interact.
Parents often take offence to their child being cut, especially at the more competitive levels. Just remember that it’s not personal. A coach’s job is to make sure the kids he selects are the best fit for the team. If your child didn’t make the team don’t walk out kicking and screaming, talk the coach. Most coaches are happy to speak to parents about what their child can do to improve their game.
Gallo has been coaching for more than 25 years at a variety of levels for organizations in Florida, Montreal and Ottawa. He spent eight years in Florida coaching. He was the director of hockey for USA Hockey in Orlando, Florida.
“I have one rule,” Gallo said. “If you’re doing your cuts I don’t believe in just telling the kid you’re cut. I believe in taking your time, telling them what they need to do get better.”
Gallo said balance and skating are the most common issues young players face, but he is always happy to give them tips on how to improve.
“I had one kid that was 6-foot-3 at 12 years-old,” Gallo said. “He had skating issues. I told his dad, ‘First of all, let’s find out if your son wants to play hockey.’ The kid said ‘yes’, so I got him to get a couple of balance boards. By next year the kid worked real hard and he was ready to go.”
Gallo said that one of the problems is that there is a lack of communication between parents and coaches.
“90 per cent of parents don’t deal with the coach directly,” Gallo said. “What happened to the old days where if you had a problem you talked about it and got it off your chest?”
He said that parents and players sometimes assume that a spot on the roster has been secured due to a successful season the year before. This often leaves the young player unprepared for try-outs.
“I think the biggest problem is that they think if they make this team in atom they should be able to get into bantam midget,” Gallo said. “It’s simply not true, there are too many variables. Your best kid in atom won’t necessarily be the best kid in bantam midget.”
Steve Merkley, head coach of the minor bantam AAA Upper Canada Cyclones, said that by explaining how he coaches right from the start, he avoids having to deal with a lot of angry parents.
“Most parents realistically see where their kids fit best,” Merkley said. “Unfortunately, some parents have already decided which kids are best for the team.”
He said that parents should be asking their child’s coach questions about why their kid was cut, to help improve their skills.
Rick Dorval, head coach of the Junior A Gloucester Rangers, said that when cutting kids, honesty is the best policy.
“When you release a younger kid, especially when they make it late into the camp and you’re down to cutting the last 2 or 3, parents like to know why,” said Dorval. “You just have to be honest with the father or mother and explain the situation. Let them know how to make them better in the future.”
“The way I approach releasing kids is I like to talk to them one-on-one,” Dorval said. “Tell them some feedback to help them improve, so they can make the hockey club next year. I always like to leave the kids on a positive note.”
Dorval was an assistant coach with the major bantam AAA Ottawa 67’s. He has had a parents react badly to their children being cut in the past.
“I’ve had it happen, he calls you every name in the book,” Dorval said. “You’re going to deal with people like that. At the end of the day you have to keep your calm. You want to do what’s best for the kid.”
Curb the attitude mom and dad, it can get your child get cut, or worse, they could inherit it.
Merkley said that parents that have poor attitudes can hinder their child’s chance of making a team.
“Why would a coach or volunteer want to deal with that for nine months?” He said.
Gallo said that he has never cut a child because of a parent’s poor attitude, but he might consider it in the future. He said that coaches do not receive the same respect they once did.
“I think we do need to start cutting kids when the parents are misbehaving,” Gallo said. “There used to be a line that wasn’t crossed. The coaches were given the benefit of the doubt. I think we’ve strayed away from that.”
Merkley said that agents and scouts that show up to games will often ask the coaches if a child’s parents could pose potential headaches. He said that unless a child is extremely talented, agents and scouts will sometimes pass on a child that has a parent with bad attitudes.
He said that it’s not just mom and dad’s attitudes that need to reviewed, a child’s poor attitude can get them cut in a hurry. He said that if a player is complaining in training camp, they’re only hurting their chances of making the team.
Parents: Don’t get discouraged, ask for your child to be affiliated
If a child has not made the initial cut, it does not necessarily mean they can’t play at that level of competition a few months down the road.
“It’s not a family failure,” Gallo said. “If your son or daughter is not performing it’s normal. There’s a learning curve.”
Merkley allows any players he cuts to continue attending practices with his team.
“I have an open policy to let the kids I cut come to all practices,” Merkley said. “You never know when you’re going to lose someone to injury.”
He said that some of the parents that are initially angry are happy to see their child’s coach make an effort to create an opportunity for them to rejoin the team.
Once during goaltending cuts, Merkley received angry emails from an upset parent. Merkley decided to affiliate the player, and allowed him to practice with the team throughout the entire season.
“By the end of the year his father thanked me,” said Merkley.