What Does It Mean to Have Fun in Hockey?
Having 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:
- Learning or improving on ice skills.
- Experiencing camaraderie on and off the ice. Such as making friends with teammates.
- 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.