THE WHYTE STUFF: Cheering works, but must be done in a positive way
Besides winning, the greatest part about playing a sport is hearing the fans cheer you on and although I am not a fanatical, paint-my-face, scream-at-the-top-of-my-lungs, pom pom-waving, cheerleading fan, I do appreciate those that completely support their team and pour their heart and soul into the players they root for.
With that being said, it is imperative to state that when cheering during youth sports, everyone needs to keep in mind that IT IS youth sports, and the hollers and screams need to remain sportsmanlike and positive.
I just recently had one of my teams compete in a tournament and could continuously hear the spectators across the rink cheering the teams on. During one of the games that slowly became quite physical and close to steering out of control, I could hear the parents, friends and families on the other side of the arena begin to transition the positive cheering into more of a hostile environment. The players on our bench then started to fall victim to the negative aura and the overall energy of the bench slowly shifted to suit the moment.
At this point, it is the responsibility of the coach to reestablish a positive attitude and keep the players focused on the task at hand. If this is not done in a timely manner, the players can lose sight of what their true goal is and the game can be lost.
Hockey is an absolute game of intimidation and as soon as you can redirect a team away from its direction, you have begun on the path of victory. Please remember that intimidation is not purely based on physical play, but also speed, skill and team play. Once you can pull a team away from any of these key areas, you have an advantage. What many fans do not realize is that as soon as they lose sight of the focal desire, so can the team. These players feed off of the energy that resonates not only from their teammates and coaches, but also the fans supporting them.
This rings true more so in youth sports, as pretty much anyone watching and being vocal in a minor hockey event is someone that has ties to either one of the two teams competing. If parents start yelling loudly about the officiating, the players can take on that mentality. If the supporters start with a barrage of widely-heard comments regarding the other team’s potential inappropriate level of play, they can feed on that, too. If a fan base continues to remain positive, encouraging and sportsmanlike, the players will easily swim in that stream and maintain a strong team concept.
I write this article because we had a situation where our family members veered off track, which started our players to do so as well. After the game, I spoke with a family member about how the negative cheering can greatly affect the overall play of our kids. The following day, I was approached by this family member and he apologized. He said, “You know Sean, I thought about what you said to me last night, and I realized what you were talking about. I am sorry and will keep my cheering positive and about what our team is striving for.”
I was so impressed and totally respect this person for being able to look within and decide to change his approach in cheering on his family member.
Please remember to cheer loud and cheer proud for your team, your player, and the game of hockey overall. We all ultimately want to have all of these young players enjoy the time of their lives in hockey while learning amazing life lessons and hopefully, play the game for as long as they can.
Sean Whyte is the director of hockey operations and coach-in-chief at DYHA.