TORONTO — Chris Joseph suited up for 19 seasons of professional hockey — including 14 years in the NHL — but even after a lengthy career at the sport’s top level, he still remembers the sting of disappointment he felt after being cut from a team as a kid.
“I was always the type of player that if I did get negative feedback from a coach — and I did a lot — I took it personally a lot of times,” recalled the former defenceman, who grew up in Burnaby, B.C, and is an alumni of the Burnaby Winter Club program.
“But never once did I ever think: ‘That coach is out to lunch,’ or ‘That coach is completely wrong.’ I thought: ‘Well, I have to be better. …’ And maybe to a fault — maybe I was even too hard on myself. But I think that attitude helped me look within and try to be better all the time.”
Now a coach himself in St. Albert, Alta., and father to two sons in minor hockey, Joseph has fresh perspective of how parents cope with the news that their kids don’t measure up.
“There’s a lot of criticism when teams are selected as to how the process is done. Everybody questions it. And a lot of them think that their kid should be on the higher team,” he said. “I’ve found that over the years that occasionally one or two kids will fall through the cracks or they’ll get higher than they should be. But for the most part, most kids usually end up about where they should be. And yet, if you talk to Mom and Dad lots of times, their kid’s gotten the raw end of the deal.”
Joseph said while almost every parent will be disappointed when their child is cut, they have to be realistic about the youngster’s abilities.
“Is it his skating is not up to speed? Is it he doesn’t play the position as well as somebody else?” he asked. “A lot of parents will look at their son or daughter’s strengths and they’ll look past some of their weaknesses as a player.”
Joseph echoes a chorus of experts who say parents should focus on encouraging kids after they are cut rather than levelling critiques against coaches.
“A typical example we see from parents is that when their kids are cut, they get really upset themselves which doesn’t help their children,” said Natalie Durand-Bush, associate professor of sport psychology at the University of Ottawa.
“They’ll blame the coaches, they’ll blame the politics of the sport — some of this could be true. But instead of helping the child — just identify(ing) their strengths and weaknesses and try(ing) to bring it down to something they can control, to keep working hard to maybe try again next time and make the team the next year, they get really upset. They blame the association, they start writing nasty letters to the association to say: ‘How could they cut their child? Their child is the best out there. …’
“I think that really confuses the child more than anything,” added Durand-Bush, who also works as a mental performance consultant with athletes as young as nine years old.
“There’s so many things that you can’t control in competitive sport. So if your child is cut, you can go and ask questions for sure. But I think in the end, if you can go back to your child and help them maintain their confidence and their motivation to keep going those two aspects, to me, are key.
The disappointment Joseph experienced not making the roster as a child he now sees through the eyes of sons Jaxon, 17, playing his last year of midget hockey and Brett, 12, who’s in his second year of peewee.
“With my own children, I try to be very realistic,” he said. “I’ve never once told them that a coach that has cut them has cut them because they don’t like them…. I’ve always said: ‘There’s something about your game maybe that he doesn’t like as much as the next kid, but it’s your job to do something about that — so what are you going to do?’
“For the most part, my kids have stayed at a relatively high level, but it’s because I think they’ve both pushed hard to get better. And at the end of the day, I think they enjoy the game, so that’s the biggest reason why they keep coming back.”
Victoria-based soccer coach Jim Grove suggests either parents sit down with the coach or encourage the child to do so for insight into how they can improve.
“Ask them for some feedback on: ‘What can I do to become a better player?’ Or: ‘What were my shortcomings for not making the team?’ and ‘What is your advice for what I can do to get better so that I can make the cut next time?”‘ said Grove, a married father of three who has coached girls’ and boys’ soccer for more than 15 years.
Another question is whether players can potentially join a team midseason if they make significant improvements, he added.
Within any organized team, Grove noted there are certain roles with different skill sets required, and it could be the case kids didn’t make the cut due to a surplus of players vying for too few openings.
“Maybe you’re looking to carry three forwards total for the team and there’s six forwards that come out to the tryouts and they’re all really, really good,” said Grove, a senior contributing editor at Active for Life, a non-profit social enterprise aimed at helping parents raise active, successful kids.
Grove also tells parents to remember that their kid should be prepared to try a different position.
“You may be a really good forward but you may also discover you’re really good playing as a defender because of your skill or your speed or what have you. So, keep an open mind and maintain a degree of flexibility and you may find that you can make the cut.”