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Life Lessons from Team USA Athletes

02/24/2014, 12:45pm EST
By USAHockey.com

Brought to you by the Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports program

Our American athletes were just thousands of miles away from home in Sochi, competing against the very best of the world.  And our kids are were watching these men and women on TV in awe, wondering how they got "there."

Of course, these U.S. Olympic participants aren't just lucky or talented.  They've learned a lot over the years to be able to make it to the top.

Lessons like the courage it takes to respect an opponent.  Taking a "big picture" perspective.  How to recover from setbacks.

As parents, these are great lessons for your kids to keep in mind as they were watching the Games.

The Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports team, together with the experts at Positive Coaching Alliance, have spoken with some of America's top winter athletes and coaches about what they learned in play—and how that made a difference in life.

Set Goals Together.  At the beginning of any season, it's important that both you and your child each write down a separate list of youth sports goals.  Then compare lists.  Hopefully, there's agreement in important areas.  Jim Craig, 1980 Miracle on Ice goaltender, speaks about what he calls a "shared dream": "And you have to understand that if you are going to be successful in life that you can’t do it individually. It’s really collective."

The Right Coach Is Important.  It may not necessarily be the one who gives the most playing time or wins the most, but the one who teaches your children how to succeed off the field and sustains their love for the game.  So take your time choosing your child’s team!  Picabo Street, 1998 U.S. Olympic alpine skiing gold medalist, has strong opinions about this because of her four kids: "I will literally skate across town [for the right coach." 

Give Them a Break.  There can come a point when a young athlete plays so much that it isn't play for him or her anymore.  This is referred to as "burn out."  This can happen when an athlete practices too much, plays too many sports, or simply doesn't enjoy the game anymore.  Let them leave the game if they don't love it.  Sometimes, kids just need a long break to re-fill their Emotional Tanks.  Katey Stone, 2014 U.S. Olympic women's ice hockey head coach, states, "Our kids need some time to step away from everything and have a little bit of balance, so they can be better players when they get out there." 

Respect Your Opponents.  Your kids look to you in the stands and will emulate your behaviors.  So try to cheer for everybody, even the opponents!  Sometimes, for various reasons, it can be difficult to respect the other side.  It can take real courage.  Jenny Potter, U.S. Olympic women's ice hockey silver medalist, once received a post-game compliment from a Team Canada goaltender, of all people!

Phil Housley, 2002 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey silver medalist, points out that a current rival can become a teammate in an instant.  “When you're growing up, you might be playing on a certain team within your city league.  You might have to move to a different team.  And all of the sudden, you meet some new friends, form new teammates, and now, you might be battling the guys that you were originally with.”  So you can never be sure who your kids will be playing with next!

Be a Supportive Base.  Kids need to know that no matter what, win or lose, there is one place where they have unconditional support.  It's not necessary to talk about the game at home, unless they want to.  And if they do, remember that home should be a place of positivity.  Hannah Kearney, 2010 U.S. Olympic mogul skiing gold medalist, remembers coming back to her hometown after not placing in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, thinking that she had let down 3,200 people.  She was wrong.  "It made me a lot more comfortable four years later, knowing no matter what happened in Vancouver, I was going to come back  home to a community that was going to accept me."

Look at the Big Picture.  As we mentioned, kids take their cues from you, their parents, and from their coaches.  If each game's result is treated as a matter of life and death, that pressure will seep into the fun your kids are having.  Results matter, but another way your kids can "win" is with what they learn from playing.  Tony Granato, 2014 U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey team assistant coach, says, "If we could just look at it as a game…understand that there's a lot of learning that goes along with it and valuable lessons that will be important later on in life."

What other life lessons have your kids learned from sports? Join us on Facebook to share your thoughts.  If you like this article and want more please subscribe to our Fundamentals eNewsletter today!

At Liberty Mutual Insurance, we constantly look for ways to celebrate the countless acts of responsibility shown by people every day. We created Responsible Sports, powered by Positive Coaching Alliance, as part of this belief to help ensure that our kids experience the best that sports have to offer in environments that promote and display responsibility. We believe kids can learn valuable life lessons when coaches and parents come together to support winning on and off the field. Join the Responsible Sports movement!

©2014 Liberty Mutual Insurance Company

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If you’ve ever called USA Hockey with officiating registration questions, you’ve likely heard the voice of Helen Fenlon. As the manager of officiating administration, Fenlon is the brains behind registration operations. She started working with USA Hockey in 1991 and joined the officiating department in 1993.

Fenlon took a break from readying eager officials for the upcoming season to tell us more about herself and the registration process.


USA Hockey: How did you first get involved with USA Hockey? Did you lace up the skates or make the call on the ice a time or two?

Helen Fenlon: (Laughs) No, I wasn’t a ref or player. I was a mom and I had a child that played. I volunteered at the local association for a number of years and volunteered at USA Hockey. Before I knew it I was employed by them and have been doing this job ever since. It’s nice because I’ve seen the volunteer side and know how the local and state boards work because I did all of that when my kids were growing up.

USA Hockey: What’s a typical day like for you?

Helen Fenlon:
I work on the officiating registration. When everyone registers (to be an official) they are mailed out books to do the test and emailed information about doing the test online and ways to sign up for seminars online as well. Then I score the test when they come in for the closed-book test and basically answer all the questions that pertain to the ice hockey refs. I manage approximately 24,000 registrations when from August 1 through March. Once the registration period is over, we start getting ready for next year.

USA Hockey: How has the registration process changed in your 21-year tenure?

Helen Fenlon:
When we first started, we used to mail them out the application, have them mail it back with a check and then we would process it. Once that was done, we would mail them a test and they would mail us back their answer sheet when they were done. It was all done by hand back then. Now, for registration, they just go online and pay with a credit card and the test is also done online. It’s much easier for everyone involved.

In the past, we also would just do an open-book test, but it’s evolved into different levels of doing an open-book and closed-book test, and some do a skating exam, too. Also going into place this year, everyone will do an online seminar.

USA Hockey: Officials must be happy to have the process accelerated thanks to online capabilities.

Helen Fenlon:
It’s great for people to access the test faster and be able to turn materials around faster so they can start working. To some of these people, it’s a job. Others do it because they want to help kids. People do it for all kinds of different reasons. For me, it’s impressive to see people who stick with (officiating) for so long.

USA Hockey: How have the resources available to officials changed through the years?

Helen Fenlon: Right now, with the new rules and programs in place, the amount of resources available for officials education is improving, but we’re always looking for more ways to help our officials be successful.

USA Hockey: What’s one thing you want to remind everyone about?

Helen Fenlon
: It’s always been my goal for everybody across the country, whether you’re in Colorado Springs, New York, California or anywhere in between, to follow the same rules as far as being able to become an official and complete the registration. That’s the fair way, and it’s the best way to ensure the best quality of officiating throughout the country.

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