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What Karl Subban Taught Me About Being a Hockey Mom

When I had the privilege of meeting Karl Subban I couldn't help but ask, "What advice do you have for hockey moms or sports parents in general?" This is what he told me.

What Karl Subban Taught Me About Being a Hockey Mom

Credit: Jenn Cox

I love being a mom, and I really love being a hockey mom. Having come from a family of hockey players and fans, I grew up in local arenas watching my brother and dad play, and as soon as I announced my pregnancy, my dad bought the smallest pair of Bauer skates he could find. My son's athleticism was already chosen for him; luckily, it was a sport he took to and loved. He was signed up for skating lessons at four and playing hockey by five.

Of course, when he started, my husband and I would jokingly imagine what it would be like if he grew up to play in the NHL (we thought his name, "Cameron Conry," had a great ring to it when announced over a loudspeaker). We've always only emphasized the fun of the sport, and while he's a great player, he isn't super competitive.

That's okay–I've learned that competitive kids' sports are like walking into a wasp nest of exhausted, hopeful parents, pressured coaches, and victimized referees. We have a lot of fun in our mid-range league – the kids genuinely like each other and enjoy themselves on and off the ice, and the parents also get along beautifully.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Karl Subban, the father of three NHL players (as well as two very successful daughters). He had just released his first children's book, The Hockey Skates. It was a Zoom interview, and as soon as Karl started talking, I was immediately captivated by his words.

Not only is he a parent, but he's worked as a principal and in the educational system his entire career and coached hockey. He spoke eloquently about his experiences, namely some lessons he learned in children's sports. I'll admit: I took the opportunity to get some personal advice and asked a question that I knew was interesting to readers and would help me.

What advice do you have for hockey moms or sports parents in general?

author Jenn's son in a hockey helmet Credit: Jenn Cox

It's not about winning; it's about developing

Yup, it sure is fun to win. It's fun for the parents in the stands or on the sidelines, and it's fun for the kids who are playing. But when kids are younger, Karl said, winning is not what being in sports is all about.

What is important, instead, is developing different skills. For example, in hockey, my son doesn't just learn how to play the sport, but he's gaining other experiences. He's figuring out what it's like to work with a team, to learn about sportsmanship and comradery, and to work well with others.

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He has coaches who all have different personalities and methods for their teaching. He has to make sacrifices to be on his hockey team, like getting up early for practices. He has to learn responsibility, get himself dressed in his gear, and care for that equipment.

There is so much more to a sport than the score at the end of a game, ribbon, or trophy—something hockey moms and hockey dads alike need to recognize.

Practice makes progress

This simple phrase, quoted in Karl's kid's book, really resonated. We all know the age-old adage "Practice makes perfect," but this statement will lead to disappointment because no one is perfect at anything, not even the pros. There is always something to learn. A child in a particular sport should never strive for perfection because, realistically, it's an unattainable goal. Karl explained that committing to a sport to improve your skills should always be the ultimate objective.

Karl Subban standing with his son P. K. Subban Credit: Jenn Cox

Help them discover why they play

"Not every day is fun at the rink – you're going to win and lose, and how we frame that and work through it is how they work through it," Karl Subban said. I know that when we have a close game and end up losing, we're bummed out. I am a very enthusiastic hockey mom and fan and invested in each game.

I realized that when my husband and I walked out of the arena after losing a game, we'd feel deflated, and my son picked up on that. But now, we're all about having fun and improving (another valuable Karl lesson). When he comes out of the dressing room after a loss, we shrug casually and say, "Oh well… it was still a great game to watch. Did you have fun?"

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We might look at our kids like little athletes, but they are still kids. They're learning to navigate challenges like the disappointment of not winning and look to us for cues. If we criticize our son for missing a pass or goal, we know he'll withdraw and eventually start to hate hockey.

However, if we tell him we'll work on these skills, if we practice with him, if we take it all in stride because, let's face it, at 7 or 9 or 11, he's not going pro, if we treat our kids like kids first and athletes second, everyone will benefit.

author Jenn's son skating at a hockey rink Credit: Jenn Cox

Let them lead you

Karl told a great story about a friend complaining that his kid wasn't enthusiastic on the ice and didn't have the "jam." We all know what the "jam" is: that spark that pushes a child to practice and be tenacious during practices and games. So, Karl asked his friend if they made jam with green strawberries or red. Of course, the answer is red, and they choose the red ones because they're ripened and ready.

We may push our kids to succeed athletically, but only they know when they're prepared to be competitive and more invested in sports. It was the same for Karl and his three boys. "We practiced skating because they were doing it at home on the backyard rink," he said. "They didn't do [certain] in the house leagues until they were ready. It's not about you and when you are ready, or their coach is ready – it's about them."

For years in hockey, my son had the skills (great skater and puck handler), and he was always enthusiastic at practices but never seemed very competitive during games. However, if we pressured him to play more aggressively, we knew he'd pull away and stop enjoying the sport. So, we sat back and waited. Then suddenly, when he was nine last year, he started picking up the pace during games. He had the "jam." Since he was little, he never really liked competition, but with age, he learned to develop the drive we'd hoped he'd have. It was his call to make. And I'm glad he was the one who made it.

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Kids' sports are about the fun of the sport. They're an extracurricular because they're an "extra" part of life. Therefore, it shouldn't be something that causes pushback or stress – it should be enjoyed by all those involved. And having fun is always the end goal.

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