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10 Ways to Build More Resilient Kids

A great save is a missed goal for another player, and a shifty move around a defenseman means someone else just got worked.

Resiliency, by definition, is the ability to bounce back from something difficult. It’s how you react when the chips are down, or in our case, when you’re down by two goals late in the third period.

However, those “bad” times can be equally as powerful for personal and team development, said Maureen Sanderson, a Stillwater-based hockey player, youth coach and certified trainer for Positive Coaching Alliance.

“Hockey is a game of quick transitions that provide endless opportunities for little successes as well as multiple mistakes,” said Sanderson, who’s also an assistant coach for the Hamline University women’s lacrosse team. “The best growth often happens when hockey players are tested and pushed beyond their comfort zones.”

That’s another reason small-area games plays such an important role in development. In such tight areas, so many decisions – and sometimes failures – happen. And if parents and coaches are supportive of the process and their kids, eventually kids will learn what makes them successful and that’s when development happens.

Resilient kids will not only learn the game faster, but they’ll learn to love the game, too.

“Learning this skill is important for youth hockey players so that they’ll continue to enjoy playing the game they love – all while learning the life lessons that hockey provides,” she continued. “This comes from a combination of supportive coaches and parents who allow players to own and learn from their mistakes and then move on, instead of making excuses of why something didn't work out right.”

Sanderson, a member of the Stillwater Area Hockey Association Girls Hockey Advisory Board, said resilient kids are able to quickly and effectively move on from setbacks and mistakes and get back to the most important play – the next one. She teaches her players to focus on what they can control, which really boils down to three things: attitude, effort and practice.

“Anything else that happens during the game – like you missing a game-winning shot, a teammate being out of position, or a ref missing an easy call – is all out of your control,” said Sanderson. “Unfortunately, those ‘uncontrollables’ can end up distracting young hockey players from doing the little things they need to do to be successful.

“So, when they do happen – and trust me, they will – don’t sweat it. Focus on what you can control, remain positive, get back out there, and give your best effort.”

Both parents and coaches play key roles in helping kids focus, have fun and bounce back when the puck doesn’t bounce their way:

If You’re a Parent:

  1. Keep your kids involved in the game. Every time they step on the ice, youth hockey players have a chance to compete and interact with coaches, teammates and opponents.  

  2. Support your kids in owning and learning from their mistakes, rather than worrying about trying to fix them.

  3. Get involved with the team and understand the team’s philosophy from a coaching perspective. This way, you can support what the coach is trying to accomplish. 

  4. Keep everything in perspective. The time you spend watching your child play hockey is invaluable. Enjoy every moment, because it will go by quickly.  

  5. Win or lose, make the phrase "I really like watching you play" part of your post-game vocabulary.

If You’re a Coach:

  1. Define and defend a team culture where your players focus on what they can control: attitude, effort and practice.  

  2. Communicate your coaching philosophy to all players as well as their parents, so they know what they can expect from you in regards to practices, playing time and special circumstances in games.

  3. When your players make mistakes, help them bounce back by using a “mistake ritual.” This will help them learn from a mistake, then move on to the next play. Examples of mistake rituals can be found at devzone.positivecoach.org.

  4. If your team isn't performing to your expectations, ask yourself if you’re using practices to teach the principles you want to see? Are you giving your team opportunities to learn and improve in the areas of the game you’re emphasizing? Are you holding them accountable to give their best effort in practices and games, or are you just telling them what to do and expecting them to just do it?

  5. Reward unsuccessful effort. If you want your players to give their best effort, take the time to reward solid effort, even when the result might not be what you desired. If you reward what you want to see more of, you’ll have players who will push themselves hard to hear praise from their coach.

“The ability to bounce back from setbacks and mistakes is something we all need to have in order to navigate all aspects of life – school, work, family life, and sports,” Sanderson said. “Building resiliency now will help young hockey players go after what they want in life without fear of failure, because they will have learned that, no matter what, they’ll be able to get up the next day and try again, work hard and to do the little things that will lead to big success in life.”

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