Dear Coach: My 11-year-old is big for his age (5'11", 150 pounds), and he has good hoops skills. But he's self-conscious about his size and is fearful of hurting others, so he plays timidly. How do I get him into the game?
Dear Reluctant: First, caution your son that playing gingerly can backfire. "His coordination is still developing," says sports and exercise psychologist Russ Medbery. "To protect himself and others, he has to move decisively." Show him how he can help his teammates—for example, he can pull down offensive boards and kick the ball out rather than bank in easy putbacks—without being a front-court bully. He may even find opponents appreciate his hard play. "Your son is working on developing relationships," Medbery says. "His concern for others is something to praise, not discourage."
Dear Coach: When should kids be allowed to check in hockey? My son is 11, and his league allows contact. Even though my son is small for his age, isn't 11 too young for checking?
Dear Mated: According to USA Hockey, body checking is allowed starting at peewee level (ages 11 and 12), so your son's league is within the guidelines. However, your concern is natural. Kids grow at different rates, so the disparity in body sizes can be significant. If you feel your sons not physically ready, ask the league if it has another no-check program. If it doesn't, spend time teaching him the proper way to deliver and absorb contact. Learning the fundamentals is the most important factor in minimizing injuries.