Hockey Mom Column

Keeping Emotions In Check The Key To On-Ice Success


Emotions can get the best of us. If you need evidence, watch any of those viral clips I’m sure you’ve seen of meltdowns on the bench, on ice chaos or overzealous spectators. 

Plenty of us have had moments of flush faces or choice words that we later regret. 

When it happens on the ice, with our kids, we need to pay attention. I’ve seen plenty of “moments.” From an 8U player flailing tantrum on the ice, fistfights, to a 12U skater breaking his stick over his helmet because the ref called a no-goal that would have won the game (seriously). The exhilarating game of hockey can trigger a range of emotions, even some unexpected feelings.

A dad recently reached out seeking advice because his daughter is having trouble controlling her emotions during games. 

“She’s only 10, but plays with a lot of intensity and passion,” he wrote. “Sometimes that comes out in tears. It’s not anger or sad tears. They’re happy and excited tears.” 

The dad went on to explain their only rule for her is work hard and have fun.

USA Hockey’s Player Development Director Scott Paluch says parents can intervene with guidance to help their children develop into better athletes and people. When they lose

their cool, a young athlete can easily lose focus and the same is true when the emotional pendulum swings the other way.

Paluch suggests working with your child on a plan to keep calm. To develop a more balanced approach, have a conversation to find out what makes them angry, sob or trigger happy tears. Understanding the “why” can help them move toward more positive solutions for intense or inappropriate outbursts.

“While it’s important they enjoy sports, help them find a moment to get them back to focusing on the game,” Paluch says. 

A “snap back” moment, could be a favorite hockey player, a pet or something that is calming. Paluch advises giving the athlete the responsibility for getting emotions under control and remind them how to do it.

Junior hockey team owner and editor of Mark Gilman recalls his son once cried an entire game at the age of 7 because the Velcro on his shin guard broke loose and was scratching his leg the whole game. 

“That stuff happens and as parents, we can’t get frustrated either, even though we traveled over an hour each way for that game,” Gilman says.

It really begins with setting an example.

“If we get frustrated with referees, so will they. If we talk badly about coaches, our kids will stop listening to them,” Gilman says. “Take time as a parent to compliment the coaches and their teammates; they’ll see the sport as fun and having a good time with their friends instead of an exercise in frustration because of something like an equipment failure.”

Talking about emotions often carries a stigma in athletics. That might be especially true in hockey, where toughness reigns supreme. Maybe we could avoid some of those viral moments if we just talked about how we were feeling in the first place. 


Christie Casciano Burns is the author of several successful hockey books including “My Kids Play Hockey: Essential Advice For Every Hockey Parent.”


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