What Does It Mean to Have Fun in Hockey?

fun_in_hockeyHaving fun in sports receives almost no research attention, yet when kids are asked why they play sports such as hockey, most say they are on the ice “to have fun.” Parents also say, “I just want my kids to have fun!” What do they mean?

When we think of fun we often think of games at a party, fooling around with friends, twittering or playing video games. Is hockey fun? Yes, but it is fun in a different way. Several years ago, college and professional hockey players were asked to define “fun in hockey.” What was discovered was that fun could be divided into three main themes:

  1. Learning or improving on ice skills.
  2. Experiencing camaraderie on and off the ice. Such as making friends with teammates.
  3. Experiencing competition or striving to win.

It is no surprise that hockey is hard work and players can only get good by practicing. In “Outliners,” Malcolm Gladwell speaks of the 10,000 hours required to become really good at anything. This is also true in hockey.

Hockey is an “edgy” sport that can be frustrating and irritating to players, parents and coaches. Players are checking each other, colliding, deliberately or accidentally hooking, being tripped and many times being overly coached (which may feel like a scolding) when they get back to the bench.

However, in order for a player to become conditioned to play their best, they have to be coached at what Jack Blatherwick, exercise physiologist to the USA Miracles team, calls “over speed.”  That means skating at top speed, in overdrive for all drills, carrying the puck, shooting or going into the corners, etc. Only by doing this will a player be able to perform skills in a game, going flat out. Practicing in over speed will not always feel “fun!”  A player will feel the burn.  However, they will gradually become accustomed to it and move up to the next level.

While it is difficult, a player should be open to being coached and corrected. The highest compliment a child can receive is when a coach provides instruction and correction. It is crucial to listen carefully and make the changes he or she wants. When a coach recommends a change in a shot, skating, attitude,  lack of communication or passing it is because they believe the player is capable of doing better. Coachability is important and it is the only way any player will improve.

Fun in hockey results from hard work and a positive attitude.  When a player has one of those rare moments when they make the perfect check in the corner, win a one on one battle and frees up the puck, or passes it to a line mate who breaks in on the goalie, dekes and scores – there will be no doubt that there is a lot of fun in hockey!

It is up to each individual to choose to think “bad” or think “good” in life. Players who accept correction, change their behavior and improve, become more skilled, earn the respect of their teammates and experience camaraderie. These are the things that are fun in hockey, and as Ken Dryden used to say…They are not unearned gifts!

Editor’s Note:
Thank you to Aynsley Smith and Doug Zmolek for this insightful article.

Minnesota Hockey is a trademark of Minnesota Hockey. The Minnesota Wild is a trademark of the Minnesota Wild. NHL and the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup are registered trademarks and the NHL Shield and NHL Conference logos are trademarks of the National Hockey League. Copyright © 2009. Minnesota Hockey. All Rights Reserved. This webite and its associated newsletter was prepared as a service to Minnesota Hockey. Neither Minnesota Hockey, the Minnesota Wild, nor any of its employees makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe on privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by Minnesota Hockey or the Minnesota Wild. The opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of Minnesota Hockey or the Minnesota Wild and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.