The Drive to Excel – What it Takes to Become a Professional Player

by Becky Kellar-Duke Hockey 3-time Olympic Hockey Gold Medalist, Becky Kellar-Duke, talks about creating the right environment for our children to excel in sport.

Falling In Love With Hockey

It all starts with a passion. I once heard Brian Burke say, “You cannot like this game – you have to love it. If you love it, you will find success.” 

I was very lucky, I grew up with a passion for hockey and parents that encouraged that passion in a time when girls were not supposed to play. My parents put off plans of finishing the basement so I would have a place to shoot pucks, my dad strung lights from the garage out to the pond in the backyard so I wouldn't have to skate in the dark, they took me to hockey games, put miles on the car, spent money on equipment, ice time and extra training – all at my request. My parents never pushed me, they simply let me lead the way and they helped to steer.     

While I had a natural love for the game, it was my parents that made sure that didn't change. As parents and coaches we have a direct impact on a child’s enjoyment of the game. So, how can we impact our child’s experience in a positive way?

Hockey Is Fun

The reason we are drawn to hockey is because it is a game – it’s fun. How often do we see kids come out of the dressing room with smiles on their faces after a tough loss while the parents are moping in the lobby? The kids have put the game behind them, they have already moved on to other things: treats, sleepovers, team parties. As adults, we sometimes question why they aren't more upset, but we can learn a lesson from their behaviour. As elite athletes we spend a lot of time trying to train ourselves to forget mistakes, put bad games behind us and move forward. Most children do this naturally which is a gift! They return to the rink for the next game/practice in a positive state of mind. I always played my best when I was having fun, most athletes do. If we want our children to perform well make sure they are having fun.

Hockey Gives Confidence

The single most important mental factor in sports. As Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” While Yogi’s math is a little off, we can certainly apply his thought process to hockey. If we want to excel in anything, we have to believe in our ability to do so. As parents, we have a huge impact on our child’s confidence. I remember our sport psychologist once saying, “If I punch you repeatedly I cannot get mad at you for bruising.” We cannot constantly point out the negatives after a game and expect our child to believe in their abilities.          

Hockey Promotes Camaraderie

Hockey isn't just played on the ice. Sometimes our level of confidence as a player comes from factors off the ice. For most athletes, especially girls, they need to feel like they fit in. I remember my first road trip with Team Canada. After practice we headed back to the hotel for lunch. I was the first person in the lunch room. I grabbed my plate and sat down. The next 3 players in the room sat at a different table. As each player passed me I shrunk a little further into my seat, my confidence dwindling, and I actually thought to myself, “I’m going to get cut”. While this seems ridiculous in retrospect, our confidence off the ice can have an impact on the product on the ice. Luckily for me, the 4th person in the room – the team captain – sat with me. She said the one thing that brought my confidence back, “how are you”. It often doesn't take much to feel like we belong. So, before you say no team parties, sleepovers and play dates with teammates, remember the value they can have on your athlete’s confidence. 

Avoid Burnout

In Canada, hockey has become a year-round commitment. Winter hockey, spring hockey, summer hockey, all in a pursuit to create great hockey players. This kind of commitment can only last so long before athletes burn out. If our goal as coaches and parents is to create happy, confident athletes, we need to give them a break to recharge. In addition, all long term athlete development models advise that playing many sports will develop better athletes, who in turn, will become better hockey players. 

Creating the right environment for our children will allow them to build confidence, have fun and maximize their potential. What else could we ask for?

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