One of the joys for parents with children involved in youth sports is getting the chance to watch their kids revel in all the great things that can be gained from the athletic experience.
However, some parents end up doing the opposite when they allow their fun to turn overzealous.
When parents get upset over something regarding their kids' sports experience, the target of their ire usually becomes the coaches. And for veteran youth coaches like Bob Nielsen, it's become a frequent headache.
The majority of parents, he says, are well-behaved – but as with anything else, one or two bad apples can spoil the bunch.
In his years as a coach for youth and high school-age hockey teams in the Philadelphia area, Nielsen has dealt with a few unruly parents. Most complaints from parents involve playing time, and Nielsen's answers vary depending on the age of children involved.
"Every situation calls for a different approach," Nielsen told NHL.com. "If you're dealing with a parent who's out of his mind over little Jimmy only getting 12 minutes of ice time while the other kid got 15 minutes of ice time, the first thing that hits me is this (parent) is sitting in the stands with a stop watch.
"If you're at a level, say AA hockey, and a parent is asking you that, as a coach you can say for the first two periods of the game I'm trying to let every kid play as much as possible. As we get to the middle of the third period, I want the better players on the ice and if little Jimmy isn't one of the best players, he knows it. They know who the best player is and who the weaker player is. And he doesn't want to be on the ice if he's a weaker player. Part of the coach's responsibility is to not put a player in that position where they could be embarrassed. Those kids in the middle, the sixth-best player versus the fifth-best player, maybe there's an issue. But if Jimmy is the 15th-best player and the parents want to live through the kids, it becomes difficult."
Brian Yandle, who runs Global Hockey in Boston, also approaches things differently depending on the ages of the players involved.
"The 8-year-old and the younger kids, we're trying to encourage them to play in all situations," he told NHL.com. "There will be that certain time depending on if you're playing AAA elite-level hockey where a kid might get left on the bench or miss a shift, and that's a conversation I try to explain to the parents and let them know and be up front with it."
Yandle said at Global Hockey, he's instituted a rule where parents are barred from talking to a coach for 24 hours following any contentious game or practice. He said this cooling-off period has resulted in a fairly smooth relationship between coaches and parents.
"After a game, when things may have gotten heated and something might have happened and little Johnny might have missed a shift, you're not allowed to approach the coach for 24 hours so tempers calm down," Yandle said. "It's a good way to relax. Send an email the next day or make a phone call and work things out. A parent is upset their kid didn't get out to play, it's upsetting to them and the kid. And the coach may have just lost a close game and the kids played their hearts out and his emotions are running high, too, so take 24 hours, sit back and then talk things out when tempers have cooled.
"We try to enforce that rule, but we still have incidents where parents are approaching coaches, but you try and step in and defuse the situation and talk things out. Let's trade an email the next day or a phone call, or meet for a cup of coffee when things are settled down."
Yandle also tries to manage parents' expectations. He played in the AHL and ECHL before getting into coaching, and his brother, Keith, was a first-time All-Star for the Phoenix Coyotes this season and is among the candidates for this season's Norris Trophy. Brian said his parents never put pressure on him or his brother to excel at hockey, and he tries to remind parents involved with Global Hockey why their kids are playing the sport.
"It's a tough situation because these parents are paying a lot of money, and they want to see results with their kids," Yandle said. "What I try to do is meet with the parents and talk to them about the pressures of playing. I was just reading an article on my brother and he said he never felt pressure growing up. I think now parents are putting too much pressure on kids. I think it's because my parents never really pushed us too much. They guided us and went all over all different situations with us. We never felt like, 'You need to get a scholarship and you need to play pro hockey.'"
Global, like other youth organizations, requires parents to sign a code of conduct that governs the behavior of parents. And for the most part, the majority of them are able to abide by the rules. Everyone has a meltdown at times, though, and Nielsen said sometimes the best cure to the situation is letting that parent just get their issue off their chest.
"I think if you confront the situation from a mature standpoint and talk about the skill level and the ability of that one child you have a better chance," Nielsen said. "I think every parent wants to know they were heard. You'll hear, 'I don't think you're right but thanks for talking to me.' That's OK."
And at the end of the day, sometimes parents need a simple reminder of why they got their child involved in hockey in the first place.
"It's a fun thing to do, and that's the message I try to relay to my parents," Yandle said. "This game is supposed to be fun. These are the best friends they're going to have for the rest of their lives. That's what hockey is really all about."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK