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Parent Traps: How to Best Help Your Child Succeed in Hockey

11/27/2019, 10:45am CST
By Ryan Williamson

Coaches and hockey dads Cory Laylin and Scott Sandelin talk about some of the best ways parents can help their children succeed in hockey

As coaches at some of hockey’s highest levels, Cory Laylin and Scott Sandelin know a thing or two about how elite hockey players can succeed.

Aside from their coaching pedigree, which includes a lengthy list of titles and personal honors between the two of them, they also have the unique perspective of being parents of kids who are successful hockey players.

With that knowledge, both Laylin and Sandelin are valuable resources when it comes to how players can best succeed with an assist from their parents.

Coaches With Experience

For nearly two decades, Sandelin has had a front-row seat to life in major college hockey. He took over the UMD men’s team in 2000 and has propelled the Bulldogs to sustained success, including three national championships.

Laylin has also made a name for himself behind the bench. He is in his fifth season as the coach of the Hamline University men’s hockey team. He has worked hard to turn around the Piper program, and has successfully done so.

Both have had chances to work on the international stage. Laylin has coached various national teams for USA Hockey, including the 2016 Under-17 team that won the Five Nations Cup tournament in 2016.

Sandelin, meanwhile, was an assistant on the 2019 U.S. Men’s Junior National Team. This year, Sandelin will take on the role of head coach with Team USA.

Laylin is the father of three sons—Luc, Casy and Bode. Luc, the eldest of the three, played on the St. Michael-Albertville boys’ team which made the MSHSL state tournament in 2018.

Sandelin is dad to each a son and daugher. His son, Ryan, is a freshman this season at Minnesota State.

With both coaches also wearing the title of dad, they have a unique perspective on what it takes to parent or coach a successful hockey player.

Getting Off The Ice

Like many coaches in the hockey community, Laylin is an advocate for kids playing multiple sports from a young age. He put that philosophy into practice with his own children. His sons all played baseball along with hockey.

“Let the kids experience different things and let the kids be kids,” Laylin said. “If you specialize too early, the zest or excitement gets zapped from them a bit.

“We want kids to have that love of hockey for life.”

Laylin also acknowledged the data that backs up this philosophy. The American Academy of Pediatrics has studied this issue and have found that specializing in one sport too early can cause injury, stress and burnout.

A Different Path For Everyone

In nearly all aspects of life, comparing yourself to others is a common practice and something that can cause issues. That’s no different when it comes to comparing the development in one player or another. Laylin acknowledged the difficulty of not comparing one player to another at the youth level and beyond.

“I think each kid develops and grows physically and mentally at different rates,” Laylin said. “Instead of getting stuck in the compare game, it’s important to keep developing, watching and learning. I know a lot of players who played at the B or C level at Bantams and went on to play college or pro hockey.”

Managing The Time

As players get older and set their sights on higher levels of hockey, more responsibility gets placed on the individual players and handling themselves on and off the ice.

“If the kid loves the sport they’re trying to commit to, they need to sacrifice some things,” Laylin said. “With sacrifice comes responsibility. It ends up on the kid whether or not he wants to succeed.”

The issue of time management is something that plagues hockey players from a young age all the way through to even the collegiate level. It can mean trying to balance school, work and hockey. It’s something Sandelin addresses with his young players at UMD.

“A lot of times we have kids coming out of juniors who haven’t been in school for a year or two,” Sandelin said. “Sometimes, it can be difficult. It’s something they have to find a way and make their own routine.”

Picking The Right Spot

Another factor hockey players and their parents have to consider as they get older is what their path is going to look like. In Minnesota that path usually includes high school hockey, followed by junior or college hockey after graduation.

What’s important to remember, is that this doesn’t always look the same for each individual player. There is no one path fits all.

But beware the risk of rushing development, an issue that worries Laylin as both a coach and parent.

“You have to make sure you can saturate and enjoy the process instead of putting so much pressure on yourself,” he said.

When it comes to junior hockey, there are many different avenues to choose from whether it’s the United States Hockey League, North American Hockey League or other leagues. This can be a tough area for parents to navigate.

Laylin has seen this issue firsthand as he spent time coaching in the junior hockey world. He has dealt with the tremendous number of options and the vast amount of misinformation out there.

“I think the landscape in the hockey world has changed,” Laylin said. “I think there needs to be some sort of advisement and educational piece to learn about junior hockey and the processes.”

Knowledge is power, Laylin advises.

“You have to listen to as many people who have gone through the process to learn the different leagues, the good organizations and the bad organizations,” Laylin said. “Ask as many questions as you can, use all the technology and reach out to surrounding coaches.”

For parents seeking information, Laylin recommends speaking with their player’s coach or Minnesota Hockey.

“Some of these kids are so busy, it’s crazy. They have to find some time and get away in rest. Once that happens, hockey can continue to be something fun in their life.” – Scott Sandelin

Recruiting

How much should parents be involved in the college recruiting process? Both Laylin and Sandelin believe the athlete needs to have some responsibility in the decision.

Sandelin recently went through this with his son. In his experience, Sandelin let his son ultimately choose where to go but offered to answer any questions or provide any necessary help.

“For any player and any family, it’s a big decision,” Sandelin said. “I think it varies to a number of different degrees of it. I think kids make their own decisions most times, but they’re having conversations with the family about what they’re doing. You want everyone to be happy.”

For parents seeking out additional information on college hockey, Sandelin recommends College Hockey Inc. This organization has a vast amount of statistics and educational information about the college hockey landscape.

Ultimately, the process can be long and strenuous and there can be unhappy moments. Laylin has seen both the positives and negatives of the process.

“You have to learn patience and learn passion,” Laylin said. “You don’t want to have a bitter taste in your mouth at the end of this because you didn’t finish where you thought you should have.”

Keeping Hockey Fun

With time management, multiple sports, academics and recruiting, there is a concern about players getting burnt out and ultimately leaving the sport.

Carving time out for a hockey offseason is essential for all—even collegiate and NHL players.

“You hope (burnout) never happens but sometimes it does,” Sandelin said. “I think it’s something where you need to balance hockey with some time off.”

Sandelin keeps his Bulldogs for a few weeks after the season. Then, each one goes their separate ways for some much-needed time off.

“Some of these kids are so busy, it’s crazy,” Sandelin said. “They have to find some time and get away in rest. Once that happens, hockey can continue to be something fun in their life.”

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