These days, a lot of parents and coaches take youth hockey and winning way too seriously. That’s not to say that it isn’t a serious sport or that it’s not okay to want to win. However, when coaches and parents choose to make winning their main priority, and, in the process, don’t give every player his fair share of playing time, they’re doing a great disservice to the young athletes who depend on and look up to them.
A lot of coaches get away with rarely playing certain players by putting them on the fourth line and choosing to use that line sparingly, or, in some cases, not at all. A much better strategy is to rotate lines out very often, as often as every thirty seconds, so that every player gets to play at least some in each game. And, with such short segments, less-skilled players won’t really have much time to do any serious damage to the team score, which can help to reduce any anxieties about losing.
Really, though, there shouldn’t be a lot of anxiety over losing at this level of the game. Sure, winning feels good, but does it really matter with pint-sized players? They are not trying to become professionals just yet. Thus, even if weaker players do sometimes cost the team a game or two, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. What does matter, however, is the practice and confidence that less-skilled players stand to gain from actually being allowed to try out the skills they’re learning and trying so hard to develop.
Coaches really should be running their lines in order consistently. That’s not to say that ice time has to be absolutely equal for each and every player, but every player should have at least some ice time per game.
Unfortunately, when coaches try to enact this “everybody gets to play” strategy, it’s often met with objection. Usually, the parents who are very focused on winning and who have strong players as children will complain. To them, winning is the ultimate goal, and they’re not willing to sacrifice that for anything. Coaches can keep complaining and bad attitudes at bay by making their policies clear from the beginning. That way, parents who only want wins will be more likely to sign their children up for a more “serious” team.
In the long run, it’s those parents and their children who are missing out. Yes, they might enjoy more wins with a coach who shortens the bench, but they won’t get to experience the joy of stronger players teaching and helping less strong players and of seeing weaker players grow in their confidence and skills. And that- seeing the joy on a child’s face as he gets to actually play- is worth a whole lot more than any win.