Mouthguard Cleaning

Q. My son just tosses his mouthguard into a front pocket of his bag, which is cleaner than the rest of his bag but still not pristine. My wife says we need to keep it in a baggie or box, but given how many kids pick them up off the floor and put them back in their mouths, I say don’t worry about it. A. Hockey players do tend to act as if cleanliness is next to sissiness (ever heard one brag about how bad his bag smells?). But worrying about the cleanliness of your child’s mouthguard is far from being overprotective. To prevent illnesses that range from minor mouth infections to serious conditions such as meningitis, the mouthguard should be cleaned daily and stored in a container with airflow. (The Cleanguard Ultraviolet Mouthguard Sanitizer shown here eliminates bacteria in 10 minutes.) We recently heard from a parent who spent $61 for a doctor visit and prescription copay to cure a mouth yeast infection that might have been prevented with a mouthguard that starts, and stays, clean. The time, money and hassle might have been saved for the low cost of $10-$20.

Editor's Note: Thank you to Kelly Anton for this story.

Food and Rest Key

It is important to stress to youth athletes and especially to the parents of youth athletes the significance of proper rest especially the day before and day of a game. With many youth games starting at 6 a.m., this point needs to be emphasized to parents (even if teammates are clamoring for sleepovers). Also, players should not eat a heavy meal within 90 minutes of game time or practice. Instead, offer a healthy snack—such as an apple, banana, grapes or two tablespoons of peanut butter on crackers and plenty of pure water—60 to 90 minutes prior to the game!

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to John Boccella for the tip.

Education Reduces Stress for Parents and Athletes

Some parents unintentionally become a potent source of stress when they over-identify with their child’s sport performance. How might this happen? All parents identify with their children to some extent and want them to do well. Unfortunately, in some cases, the degree of identification becomes excessive, and the child becomes an extension of the parent’s ego. When this happens, parents begin to define their own self-worth in terms of their son or daughter’s successes or failures. The father who is a “frustrated jock” may seek to experience through his child the success he never knew as an athlete. The parent who was a star may be resentful and rejecting if the child does not attain a similar level of achievement. Some parents thus become “winners” or “losers” through their children, and the pressure placed on the children can be extreme. The child must succeed, or the parent’s self-image is threatened. When parental love and approval depend on how well the child performs, sports are bound to be stressful.

What can parents do to help combat performance anxiety? Parents are in an ideal position to help their young athletes develop healthy attitudes about achievement and an ability to tolerate setbacks when they occur. Research published in the Journal of Youth Development indicates that by educating parents, they can effectively reduce athletes’ competitive anxiety. Sport psychologists Frank Smoll and Ronald Smith are co-authors of the study.

“Over the last 20 years, there’s been a trend to teach coaches how to create a healthy psychological environment for young athletes. There’s also an important need to educate parents, so they can support and supplement what trained coaches are trying to do. Parents and coaches working together are a powerful combination.”

The University of Washington researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of coach and parent education in their study of 151 boys and girls playing in two different basketball leagues. The average age of the athletes was 11.6 years. Coaches in one league participated in a Mastery Approach to Coaching workshop developed by Smoll and Smith.

The workshop content emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun. Parents participated in a companion Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports workshop that taught them how to apply mastery principles and how to reduce performance anxiety in their children. Coaches and parents in the second league (a control group) were not offered the workshops.

Preseason questionnaires showed little difference in the levels of performance anxiety among the boys and girls in the two leagues. However, by the end of the season, athletes playing for trained coaches and whose parents attended the workshop reported that their levels of stress, worry, and concentration disruption on the court had decreased. Players in the other league reported that their anxiety had increased over the course of the season.

“This combined approach helps both coaches and parents to create a mastery-oriented climate,” said Smoll. “We never ignore the importance of winning, because it’s an important objective in all sports. But we place winning in a healthy perspective. As a result, young athletes exposed to the mastery climate had less worries about their performance, and they were better able to concentrate while playing.”

Fear of failure is an athlete’s worst enemy, and the sport situation can easily create this type of anxiety,” said Smith. “The encouraging thing is that educational programs for coaches and parents can give them the tools for decreasing pressure and increasing enjoyment. And an added bonus is that athletes who are not afraid of failure typically perform better. When coaches and parents are taught stress-reduction principles, they can be a winning combination for kids.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., and Ronald E. Smith, Ph.D., for this article. Drs. Smoll and Smith are sport psychologists at the University of Washington and co-directors of the Youth Enrichment in Sports program. To see previews of their Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports DVDs, visit

How to Score Deals on Hockey Equipment

Are you looking to get the latest and greatest sporting equipment? Are you hopping back into the game after a layoff or do you have children who are just starting their athletic careers? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you already know that athletic performance is often tied to quality sporting equipment. In today’s uncertain economy, finding a great deal on expensive hockey equipment is not always easy. Everybody has to make their money work harder for them in our global economic slowdown, so here are some ways to save a stack of cash next time you need the best athletic equipment.

  1. Sign Up for Deals: Watch out for the equipment you need through daily emails from websites such as Every day amazing deals on skates, sticks, helmets, pads and more are delivered right to you—usually starting at 40 percent off! It’s not unusual to save hundreds of dollars and get 90 percent off pricey items like goalie gloves.

  2. Shop Sales: It may sound like common sense or a no-brainer to most people, but shopping sales is the easiest way to save you money on sporting equipment. Looking for new skates in the spring or baseball mitts in the winter can often score you a substantial discount. When sports are in the offseason, stores are looking to clear out the previous year’s equipment before the new models arrive. By doing this, they usually mark down what inventory they have left of the old models (which are often just as good as the new models).

  3. Scour Hockey Communities: Trying to get back on a treadmill? Looking for a new bike for the fall? Try communities like Cusada, where users can post their unused or unwanted equipment for substantial discounts or even free of charge. You can often find the best deals if you put in the time and effort on these networks, since many users like the feeling of giving back to others.

  4. Shop Auction Sites: eBay is a great resource for anything, but you can often buy sporting equipment on the giant auction site at a great price. Whether the equipment is new or used, eBay will be sure to have it. Make sure that you verify what you are purchasing is real and look at a seller’s feedback before purchasing.

  5. Barter: An old school method that is now becoming more and more popular is bartering. Let’s say you walk into a local shop and want to get your hands on a brand new stick. You see the board listed for $250 but negotiate with the shop owner and agree on a price of $200. Not only did you get the sweet stick you wanted, but you also saved yourself $50 and have built rapport with a store owner whom you can do business with in the future.

While these methods just scrape the surface of what you can do to get sports equipment at a discount, they represent the most tried-and-true ways to save yourself money while also performing at the top of your game.

Celebrate with Class During Blowouts

No matter what you think about teams running up the score against a significantly weaker opponent (and there’s plenty to read about that!), there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on: Parents and players on the winning team need to act as if they’ve been there before.

Don't celebrate every goal in a blowout of 0-11 proportions as if your team just won the Stanley Cup. Of course players can celebrate and congratulate other team members on goals. They just need to be sure their celebrations aren’t rising to the level of gloating and goading the other team. (And sorry to the third-line wingers who never score and finally get a goal. You have to show a little class, too.)

Parents and fans (by which we mean grandparents) need to show a little restraint, too. Clapping and yelling “great goal”? Fine. Jumping up and down and screaming “woo hoo” while clanging your cowbell for the 10th goal? Too much.

Think about how you feel when you’re on the other end of a blowout. (And if you haven’t been there, rest assured you will be at some point!) Then celebrate accordingly.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to the parents who’ve endured this situation and suggested the topic.

Mite Hockey = Fun!

If your child is playing hockey for the first time this season, you are probably interested in helping him or her have the best possible experience. Youth sports are a wonderful way for kids to get regular exercise and develop physical skills. Team sports also teach children how to get along with their teammates, how to take instructions from the coach and how to cope when things don’t go so well.

Why do kids play sports? Surveys conducted in the United States and Canada indicate that young athletes most often list their sport goals in the following order of importance:

  • To have fun.

  • To improve skills and learn new ones.

  • To be with friends or make new ones.

  • For thrills and excitement.

  • To win.

  • To become physically fit.

The findings clearly indicate that the primary goal of professional athletes and many adults—winning—is far less important to children. What really matters to kids is having fun! So, the key to gaining lifelong benefits from sports is to focus on participation and fun—not simply performance.

What about winning? Winning is fun when it happens, and it’s great when your child has good coordination and athletic talent. But it’s also wise to be realistic about the abilities and attention span of a typical hockey Mite. For example, it takes a certain amount of motor control and understanding for a youngster to skate and handle the stick. But realistically, while some kids will focus on what’s happening on the ice, you’ll see others “horsing around” or telling jokes. And that’s OK! It’s to be expected!

What’s important is the joy of the activity. By 9 or 10 years of age, a child usually gets more interested in playing hockey the right way. However, at any age, it’s not the parent’s job to push the child or live vicariously through him or her. The parent’s major role is to support the child and enjoy the moment.

How can you help to promote fun? Get excited about almost everything that happens. Find something to value and encourage in your child. Consistently reinforce indications of skill improvement, effort and good teamwork. Say, for example:

  • “I love how you skate fast.”

  • “Way to go! You showed a lot of effort and improvement.”

  • “It’s great to hear you encouraging your teammates!”

At the same time, look for opportunities to reinforce good sportsmanship, and keep things in perspective. For example, if your child complains about losing a game, you might say, “I know it’s fun to win. But everybody eventually is going to lose. How do you think that team felt last week when your team won? (Although this should not happen to Mites in USA Hockey as nobody is technically keeping score…) The important thing is to play, have fun, and do your best. Did you have fun?” Hopefully, your child will say “yes,” and you’ll see evidence that he or she enjoys playing hockey.

What if your child isn’t having fun? It’s possible that your child isn’t developmentally ready to play hockey and follow the coach’s instructions. If that’s the case, you might consider an activity that’s a little easier or more suited to your child’s temperament and capabilities (such as soccer, gymnastics or swimming). There’s no need to rush a disinterested or poorly coordinated child into any sport. And let’s face it: Not every kid wants to grow up to be Sidney Crosby. The bottom line is to do what is best for your child—not what is most pleasing to you.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., for this article. Dr. Smoll is a sport psychologist at the University of Washington and co-director of Youth Enrichment in Sports. To see previews of his Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports DVDs, visit

3 Steps for Handling Issues with a Coach

In every sport you will hear parents and players complain about “bad” coaches. We asked a long-term hockey director what parents should do when this situation arises. Read on for his advice.

First, you need to dissect what you mean that the coach “isn’t working out” or is a “bad coach.” Oftentimes, a close look at parents’ complaints reveals something other than an issue with development or the team’s win/loss record. Sometimes it’s a personal conflict with the coach. Other times it’s a belief that their player is not getting the ice time he or she deserves—or even that the player is not playing on the same line with his or her friends (or the parents’ friends)! There will always be situations in which a family believes the coach is not doing a good job—and sometimes it is a real concern.

When a real concern arises, follow these steps:

  1. First, speak with the team manager.

  2. If that doesn’t help, ask for a face-to-face meeting with the coach. It should not be a confrontational meeting, but more of a discussion of the issues.

  3. If you feel things are still not improving, ask for a meeting with your association’s hockey director or board member who handles these types of issues.

The best way to ensure that the discussion is honest, upfront and not behind the coach’s back is to make sure there is a good line of communication. I do believe all coaches—even the ones who might not be getting it done—want the player to have fun and develop.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Angelo Ricci for sharing his 15 years of expertise as a hockey director in this article. Ricci is founder, head instructor and consultant for Ricci Hockey Consulting. With 20+ years experience as a skills and stickhandling coach, he conducts/oversees more than 40 programs year-round that develop over 1,000 players each year.

Should We Switch Hockey Associations?

Every year you see—and can’t help but hear—parents who think their player is not being treated fairly. He’s not getting a fair look at tryouts. She’s not getting enough ice time. The association is too political. You know the drill. Whatever the issues, many families start to think about switching hockey associations. And some even switch associations in the middle of tryouts, deposits be darned. But is the grass always greener once you make the switch? We asked an experienced hockey director for his take on the situation.

This question comes up every spring when it’s time to make the deposit for the next year. Unfortunately, there is no 100 percent correct answer. However, I have seen, over time, that about 90 percent of families realize they were in a pretty good organization after they make a change. I believe in loyalty to associations. Kids should have loyalty to the program they started with and give that program the benefit of the doubt. With that being said, it is also the association’s responsibility to be accountable to its members and ensure they offer good coaches, a solid skill-development program and a well-organized schedule.

Over my years as a director, I’ve had coaches who weren’t up to the standards I hoped for. Does each program have a hard time finding quality coaches? Yes! My guess is that over a youth hockey “career”—let’s say 12 to 13 years—each player is likely to experience a season (or two) that does not meet the expectations the program strives to obtain. Does that mean you transfer to another program? My answer would be no.

Are there exceptions? Absolutely, there will be some. I do believe that sometimes a change is good. There are always cases where it might be best for the player, family and program to part ways. However, I would say that 90 percent of players should (and usually do) remain with their club.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Angelo Ricci for sharing his 15 years of expertise as a hockey director in this article. Ricci is founder, head instructor and consultant for Ricci Hockey Consulting. With 20+ years experience as a skills and stickhandling coach, he conducts/oversees more than 40 programs year-round that develop over 1,000 players each year.

I Hate Sports, Now What?

Not all kids like sports. Don’t be surprised or concerned. I strongly support that all kids should participate in some type of exercise program for their physical fitness and health, whether it be a group sport such as football, baseball, basketball, hockey or soccer or an individual one, like walking, running, dance, gymnastics, swimming, or martial arts. It can be just for fun or more for competition.

Allowing your child to find his passion is key. Maybe he is interested in the arts or music. Being a musician myself, I did not participate in structured sports activities as a kid. I loved to ride my bike and I played tennis and racquetball, but my passion was in music. The challenges of being part of an orchestra and a musical theater group are very similar as those in sports—the tryouts, competition, performances, making the group. Any group activity requires harmony and chemistry between individuals to produce something greater than the sum of its parts.

Sports, music and other activities are training grounds for life. The lessons your child learns, beyond the skill of the activity, are endless: teamwork, leadership, commitment, physical strength, motivation, preparation, mental toughness, and confidence. With continued practice, learning and support, he is creating and growing into a powerful person. As a parent, I would view that as a ta-dah!

Editor’s Note: Optometrist Dr. Lynn Hellerstein, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO, has been a pioneer in vision therapy for more than 30 years. See It. Say It. Do It! provides easy, practical, step-by-step strategies and activities to enhance children’s visualization skills.

4 Signs of Overtraining

Given our access to experts, we like to offer plenty of advice for off-season hockey training. But all these training options are meant to keep kids busy, fit and having fun – not burning out to the point that they no longer love hockey! Often, when a child’s performance decreases, the instincts of both parents and coaching staff is to increase or intensify the training regimen. Unfortunately, this decrease in performance may be a sign of over training. Some symptoms of overtraining include:

  1. Irritability with the whole team

  2. A short supply of endurance

  3. Lack of interest in practicing

  4. Inability or lack of interest in reaching training goals

If you see these signs, err on the side of caution and give your young athlete some time off.

Editor's Note: Thank you to Grow the Game for this tip.

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