Posted by Greg Carter
I was recently talking with an elite athlete who shared some important advice he had received from his parents:
To play the game is good,
To win the game is better,
To love the game is best of all.
I left the conversation thinking about all of the great players that I have had the pleasure of playing with or coached, and about those who have made it to the Division I level and beyond. Without exception, they all loved the game. Some of them are listed in our hockey camp Hall of Fame.
Youth hockey players, especially as they mature and reach the top of the pyramid, have many influences, and many people trying to give them advice. “You need to do this, and you need to do that.”
This is where one can find the defining fine line between needing to do something, and doing it because you love the game.
For example, I can remember being at hockey school and receiving instruction on how to improve my shot. I spent many hours working on developing the best shot I possibly could. Yes, I needed to do this, but that’s not why I did it. I practiced shooting until I literally could not shoot another puck because I loved the thought of scoring the winning goal. I loved the thought of the on-ice celebration afterwards. I loved the thought of laughing and having fun in the room after a win with my buddies. And all of these feelings are why I loved the game way back then, and still today.
The encouragement that I received from people closest to me was always centered around the joys of competition, and the satisfaction of coming out on top. Things like ‘hockey is a game of ten-foot races, win the races and you stand a good chance of winning the game.” When someone said that to me, I took that as an opportunity to work hard on my speed. Again, not because someone told me that I had to, but because I wanted to win so bad, and wanted to feel the exhilaration that comes along with it. When you love something the compete level is at its greatest, as are your chances of success.
No one can teach a player to love the game, instead it has to come naturally and with positive encouragement. Teaching versus preaching is important. Focusing on long-term development versus short-term gain is critical. Car rides home discussing the fun atmosphere of a game, the excitement of the speed and appreciation of the finesses are things that create the emotional connection with a player to the game. And once that positive emotional connection is made, and a vision of that player being in the moment is created, a great future can be built on the foundation.
As you continue down the road this winter with your son or daughter, remember that to play the game is good, to win the game is better, and to love the game is best of all.