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Never Assume... Unless You Assume Best Intentions

By Paul Antonenko, 02/16/21, 9:00AM CST


I hate it when I get sideways with someone. I am glad it does not happen that often. When it does happen, it is not only embarrassing and stressful, but it’s also frustrating because it’s typically the result of assumptions made of a situation where either mine were wrong, or theirs were, or both. 

We have all heard the saying that ‘assume makes an $$$ out of you and me.’  True in so many ways!

The worst situations I have ever faced as a coach, a member of the association leadership team, or as a leader in my professional organization are a result of poor assumptions being made by me and/or the other party and then entering a conversation with no consideration of another perspective. 

I have been on the receiving end of some bad ‘conversations’ as a coach and member of a leadership team in hockey and business. I sure learned from those. My level of involvement in hockey over the years is likely the main reason I have only been in a couple of situations as the parent wondering about coaching decisions.  Today, I thought I would share a story about one of those instances when, as a parent, I did not assume, but instead went into a conversation with the hope of understanding, expressing honestly my concerns/feelings in a proper way, and coming to a mutual understanding that was ultimately in the best interest of my child.  It is also a good story for coaches and association leadership to hear as you will see since it takes two to play nice in the sandbox, just like it takes two to tango.

In 2011, my wife and I moved our family to Kansas City, KS.  One of my daughters wanted to continue to play at a higher level than was available for her locally, so we looked around at the hockey landscape and found the best option was to have her play for the Dallas Stars organization in the Tier I Elite League (not to be confused with the CCM HP Tier I League in Minnesota).  As a 15-year-old, she ended up on an Under-19 team and was excited. (I was too, I’m not going to lie.)  If you are not familiar with how the Tier I League works, let’s just say that there should be no complaints about association fees or travel time for hockey in MN.  There really is no such thing as a home game for these teams as they had to travel across the country to play their regular season games.

After we flew to a couple of different cities for games, and I watched my daughter see less than 3 or 4 shifts in any given game, which caused us both stress, I decided to set up a meeting with the head coach.  (Yeah, it is OK for parents to want to talk to the coach about concerns!  But this is where parents and coaches alike would benefit from approaching the conversation with a different mindset.)

I vividly remember sitting with my daughter, the head coach, and the team manager, in an area of the dryland facilities we were at in Plano, TX where the team was based.  (I have learned to expect that the player be part of these conversation, even at younger ages.  It is, after all, about them.)

Here is the important part:  The question that we asked, genuinely, was, “What would need to change, in order for my daughter to get more ice time?”  Note that it was NOT an accusation as to what we felt the coach was doing, but instead was simply that we both did not understand and wanted to learn.

His answer was straight and to the point, which is right in line with his Russian upbringing.  [Read with your best Russian accent] “At this point in time, if I play you on the blue line where you want to play, you could put your team at a disadvantage in the games.  You need to improve your foot speed and competitiveness.  If you want to play more, and to improve, I can put you on the wing.” 

He had a reason for not playing her at this point, and he had a solution that made sense for him and for my daughter (and for me considering the time and monetary investment we were making).  His assessment was accurate, had the team in mind, and even though it wasn’t clear initially, he had her best interests in mind too. Putting my daughter in a place to fail repeatedly, before she was ready, would not have been helpful either.

She had not played wing before, but she accepted the change, saw more ice time, improved her foot speed and competitiveness, and ended up really enjoying the rest of the season. It made the decision to play the next year with the same organization easy. Ultimately, she played varsity hockey, again, in Minnesota when we moved back in 2014… as a defenseman. 

Why did this work? 

  1. We did not assume there was something nefarious going on and the coach did not assume we were just a new family that was complaining but was open to a conversation. 
  2. We both assumed best intentions of the other party.

I had another situation where the same question was asked of a coach, but they were not assuming best intentions by us, and that conversation went off the rails quickly.  We all need to be on the same page when we start our conversations.

So, when you are stressed out, or concerned about what a coach is doing, or if you are a coach and are concerned about what a parent is like or going to say, do yourself a favor and ASSUME BEST INTENTIONS.  If both parties start from there, positive communication has a chance.


Paul Antonenko
The View From Center Ice Blog

As a former goaltender growing up in the Detroit, MI area, finishing his High School Hockey in Thief River Falls, MN, and getting his coaching start with East Grand Forks Green Wave High School in 1991 while attending the University of North Dakota, Paul Antonenko is a lifelong advocate for the game of hockey.  He is a USA Hockey Level 4 Coach, USA Hockey Level 1 Official, Former Hockey Development Director for Armstrong/Cooper Youth Hockey, Former Coaches Board Chair for Orono Youth Hockey, and has coached teams of all ages and skill levels since 1991, girls and boys, from Mites through high school throughout the upper Midwest.  He is the father of 3 girls and 2 boys who have all played through various levels of competitive hockey including the Girls Tier I Elite League outside of Minnesota, Minnesota High School Hockey, and juniors in the USPHL Premier League.  He is currently involved as a non-parent coach in the Orono-Westonka Warriors girls hockey program.

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