COLUMN: Odds are, your kids aren’t going to play pro, so let them have some fun

Tara Jeffrey

Gordie Howe never pushed his son to play hockey, never yelled from the stands or pointed out the mistakes he made on the ice.

“After each game, he’d ask me, ‘did you have fun?’” Dr. Murray Howe recently told Macleans magazine about his legendary dad.

“Then he’d buy me ice cream… he and mom regularly reminded us that if it wasn’t fun, we should do something else; life was too short.’”

With a new hockey season kicking off, it’s an exciting time for youngsters who are fortunate enough to be able to play the game — a privilege that shouldn’t be lost on their parents.

Canada’s favourite pastime is not cheap. According to a Hockey Canada survey, the average hockey parent spent just under $3,000 on minor hockey in the 2011-12 season alone. The cost alone leaving many families shut out of the sport altogether.

I am not from a hockey family but I did marry into one, and am slowly warming up to hockey-parent life: the smell, the travelling (bye-bye, weekends) and permanently being cold.

I’ve cringed watching parents forcibly drag their sobbing little ones onto the ice, despite their protests, while wondering — who’s got the big dream here, the kid, or the parent?

(Fact: one study has shown that, statistically, only 0.02% of hockey-playing boys in Ontario will make a career out of the sport).

And I’ve cried while watching a seven-year-old girl jump for joy after scoring her first goal in the final game of the season, knowing she could barely stand on skates just months earlier.

I am learning that this game — particularly for my young daughters — is more about building confidence and nurturing friendships than any drill can teach.

My brother-in-law was one of the lucky ones — drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007 and pursuing a successful professional career. His coaches and family all say he just had ‘it’ — a knack for a game he loved. His parents never pressured him to play, never argued with coaches and referees, or yelled from the stands.

And the motto in the Jeffrey house is still the same today as it was then: you can keep playing hockey, as long as you enjoy it.

Just like Mr. Hockey said: “Life is too short. If it’s not fun, do something else.”