Dear Austin Hockey Community, 

The Austin Metro Hockey Association is excited to begin its second year of Austin youth hockey. Last spring, the Dallas Stars Travel Hockey League helped the two Austin programs merge in order to provide a more competitive and sustainable program for the Austin Hockey community. Over the past year, the AMHA Board has been able to reflect on the challenges our new program faces. Scheduling, staff, curriculum, and communication can all be challenging in a new program. After survey evaluation and anecdotal information gathering, the Board has been able to identify areas for improvement:

1. Culture: Our merged program, specifically at the travel level has a culture problem. This is a nationwide issue with youth sports. In fact, statistically speaking, roughly 70% of kids drop out of organized athletics by age 13 (Positive Coaching Alliance). The main reason kids quit is because it is not fun anymore. (Kids define "fun" differently than adults). The people responsible for this, and the only ones who can change it, are the adults. That means you and us.

Some of the ways we take the joy out of the sport are (found on Changingthegame.organd PCA):

  • Parents coach from the sideline: 99% of athletes say they wish their parents would say nothing on the sideline. 
  • Yelling instructions while the ball is rolling: Any adult giving instruction to a player involved in the play, under pressure, and trying to make the decisions that the game requires, is confusing. It is also scientifically proven to diminish performance (see the book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman for more on this). . Every time we solve a problem for a player in a game we delay learning. 
  • Disrespecting officials: We teach our kids to respect authority figures, from teachers to parents to coaches and yes, referees and officials. Then as soon as that official makes a disagreeable call, we lose the plot. Please, be consistent in what we ask our kids because they will do not as you say, but as you do.
  • Parents questioning the coach: When parents question coaching decisions, player positions, playing time, tactics, and more, they undermine a coach’s authority, and the players respect for that coach. You teach your kids to question everything a coach tells them, and this makes them indecisive come game time. It also takes their focus off things they can control, like their attitude, their effort, and their focus, and turns it towards uncontrollable like coaching decisions. Yes, your child might have a coach that sees things differently than you do, but so what? If you really know that much more than the coach, you should coach. 
  • Commenting on Their Teammates’ Play: An athlete’s teammates are very likely their friends as well. When a parent tries to make her daughter feel better by saying “I don’t know why Jenny always gets to play forward instead of you, she gives the ball away too much” it is very uncomfortable for her child. You are talking behind the back of their friend and you are destroying the critical trust that teammates need in each other and their coach. Keep your thoughts to yourself.
  • Making the ride home/post game talk a “teachable moment:” Ah yes, the ride home, kids’ least favorite memory in sports. Most kids report that they don’t mind some feedback from mom and dad (if they actually know what they are talking about) but very few actually like it on the ride home.

The unintended consequences of a bad culture are:

  • Players no longer enjoy the sport, so they quit
  • Coach attrition (1/3 the number of coach applications from last year)
  • There is no sense of community

2. Accountability: One of the main factors of our culture issue is accountability. If we do not change, and we continue to allow our players to disrespect each other and their coaches, parents to drive referees to call the police and continue to have coaches who are so afraid of parents, they turn a blind eye- then our culture will only GET WORSE. The problem in sports is that everyone blames everyone else- and we wonder why our kids make excuses. It is time we had much more accountability in our program.

John O’Sullivan from changingthegame.org says it best when he lays out accountability: 

  • Coaches: you are accountable to their players in that they must, 1. Clearly communicate expectations, 2. Treat your players with respect and encourage them to learn 3. Provide a safe environment, 4. Know the game you are teaching, 5. Be a positive role model
  • Parents are accountable to their players in that 1. they don’t coach them from the sideline, 2. Do not disrespect the officials, the coach or the opposing fans, 3. Help them find their passion instead of deciding it for them, 4. Value their effort, focus on the process not only the results, 5. Be patient, development is a LONG PROCESS. (8 Tips for being a great sport parent)
  • Athletes are accountable to make their experience a better one by 1. not acting entitled 2. showing up early, staying late and working hard 3. Being positive 4. Being patient and embracing struggle 5. Being a good role model for your team, association and your city 6. Being held accountable for the commitments it takes to achieve your goals

In order to facilitate a more accountable organization, the AMHA plans to: 

a.    Adopt a comprehensive parent and coaching education mandate.

b.    Model and adhere to our organization’s core values

c.    Adopt a strict policy for any parent, coach or athlete who breaks our code of conduct and enforce it! 

3. Transactional vs Transformational: In the past, the programs in Austin have been more transactional than transformational. The association is looking at creating curriculum and coach training that will facilitate a more transformational experience for our players. This means that our coaches will be spending more time on our “core values,” which include integrity, discipline, respect, sportsmanship and leadership. “Sports is supposed to be a dress rehearsal for life: winning, losing, feedback, roles, responsibility, victory, defeat. It’s supposed to be about that athlete’s journey. But it’s turned into being about the parent, about how many wins the coach has. The focus is off the kids. The adultification of sports has left out who it’s supposed to serve — those young men and women,” said North Vancouver’s Matt Young, a fitness company innovator recently tapped by the U.S. Olympic Committee to produce its athlete development model. We need a parent community who will support these important values. If this is not something you support, we encourage you to “seek excellence elsewhere.” 

Here are a few things we will demand from our coaches and our organization:

4.    Value proposition: In many of the surveys, parents complained about the price of the program. There are several choices in Austin with regards to programming. Players can play in a 2 or 3 day a week In-house program for a relatively reasonable price. In-house players can play a full season or half a season, allowing for multi-sport athletes to participate in our program. There is a travel program, which is considerably more expensive and requires a much bigger time commitment. This includes additional practices, dry land, and league play with other travel programs in the region. Both of these programs are comparable to other club programs in town. In fact, per session, ice hockey is less than club volleyball and lacrosse, even though maintaining ice is much more expensive than a gym or field. Finally, hockey is a two season sport, which adds to the sticker price. The Board has provided a scholarship fund in which an application is necessary to receive funds. The IHAA also set up several fundraising options for players to raise money for their seasons last year. Many people did not take advantage of these opportunities. Prior to signing up, look at all the options. We are happy to break down the per ice session cost, but by following USA Hockey practice recommendation, those of you who want to be on the most “competitive” team in town, need to expect to pay a considerable amount for the overall program. 

5.    Parent Engagement: Parent engagement includes regular communication, parent education, understanding of core values, clear behavioral expectations, program knowledge, systematic feedback and policies related to complaints. There will be a more systematic approach towards parent engagement, and we hope you will embrace this partnership. 

The AMHA Board is working to address these issues, but will need parent buy-in and support. We all want our kids to enjoy hockey, benefit from the life lessons sport teaches us and yes, we want them to be competitive and good hockey players. Research tells us players won’t develop if they are not having fun. Players don’t have fun in a culture where they don’t have a sense of belonging and purpose and most importantly, don’t have the right support from their parents and coaches. Culture and accountability involves the whole community. Help us create an environment that attracts new players and coaches, and holds on to our current ones; an environment that we are proud of and want to be a part of for many years to come. 

Sincerely,

The AMHA Board