Author Rich Cohen on His Latest Book, Being a ‘Crazy’ Hockey Parent, and Staying Sane When Your Kid Plays Sports

rich cohen
Courtesy Image

A youth hockey team awakened a dormant fandom in Rich Cohen and elicited an emotional investment “I haven’t really felt since I was rooting for the ‘85 Bears,” says the author of such non-fiction gems as The Chicago Cubs: Story Of A Curse and Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football.

 

 

Cohen, 52, details his 11-year-old son’s turbulent season on a Ridgefield, CT, travel hockey team in his new book, Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent. It’s a stirring, poetic account that is part suburban dad memoir, part sports drama. The elder Cohen deals with the stress of tryouts by taking a marijuana edible, follows that up with a visit to the cardiologist, and endures his son’s travails amidst similarly suffering parents and combative, clueless coaches.

We recently caught up with Cohen to discuss the book’s reception, what life is like for today’s sports parent, and whether or not more edibles are in his future.

Author Rich Cohen on His Latest Book, Being a ‘Crazy’ Hockey Parent, and Staying Sane When Your Kid Plays Sports

The Top 20 Toughest, Gnarliest Hockey Players of All Time

You don’t want to get mixed up with these heavy hitters. Check out video of the best goons, fighters...
Read article

Men’s Journal: Now that the book is published, has there been any blowback in Ridgefield?

Rich Cohen: The feedback has been great. I was, of course, a little nervous. I want people to like it, and I didn’t want people to think I was untruthful or unfair. I mean, it’s my story, very much my point of view. I try to show that in all of this, I’m as emotionally invested and crazy as every other parent. I’m worse than most of them. But mostly I’ve heard from other parents who have had the same exact experience. I got the greatest letter from a hockey parent from where I grew up who said, basically, you have written all of our stories.

The whole premise of the book was that if it’s like this for me, it has to be what everybody else is feeling—but we’re just not talking about it. And it’s good to talk about it. Because one, it’s entertaining, and two, it makes you realize that you’re not nuts.

That was the thesis I had, and it turned out to be true.

Why don’t you think hockey parents or other sports parents talk to each other about this?

There are two reasons. Everybody knows what a crazy sports parent is, and nobody wants to be that. You don’t want to say, “Listen, I’m obsessing about this, I can’t stop thinking about it.” You’re trying to control it. That’s one. Two is you’re afraid that if you say something that people don’t like, your kid’s going to be punished for it.

Did writing this book make you a better parent?

You can’t really make yourself a better parent, but you can change your behavior. The book has gotten a ton of attention out here and among hockey people, so I can’t act the way I did before.

I want the book to be a great sports story about a team that you root for, but at another level, it’s like a self-help book. My father wrote a self-help book when I was a kid. Watching him, seeing how he lived, and knowing what he wrote, I know that the authors of self-help books are the people most in need of self-help. I did not act well, and it’s in the book. It has made me confront that.

Because of Covid-19, I haven’t had the full intensity of a hockey season with my son, but I think that writing the book has made me more aware of my own behavior. And I think I will do a better job of just shutting up and walking away, instead of saying something stupid to a coach or another parent that I will then regret for the rest of the night, which I’ve done. And which everyone has done.

American writer Philip Milton Roth, in New York City. (Photo by Orjan F. Ellingvag/Dagbladet/Corbis via Getty Images)

The 64 Best Sports Books of All Time

Read article

I have to ask: Will you take an edible again?

Yeah, but not in the way I took it. Some people go out and drink nine beers. Are you one of those people?

No.

The friend who gave me the edible might have been a nine-beer guy, and he essentially gave me his nine beers. Whatever it was, it was a really intense experience. Not unpleasant, but it went back and forth between “Oh, this is really great!” to “When is this going to end?”

What’s the biggest misconception about hockey parents?

That they’re somehow crazier than everybody else walking around on the street. When they’re dealing with the parents, I always say to the coaches, “Pretend like you’re going up to somebody that’s just had three beers. They’re a little bit drunk.”

They’re good people and, in any other situation, you have a great time with them. But right now you’re talking to them, and it’s like you’re trying to get them out of the bar when they’re a little bit drunk. They’re drunk on the experience of being a hockey parent. They’re not normally like this.

How did sport parents get to their current state?

Not to blame any one particular person, but I think I blame Malcolm Gladwell, because Outliers seemed to give parents directions for how to make their kid a sports Mozart. One of the things he said is you need 10,000 hours of practice if you want to master anything. What he doesn’t tell you is that you can practice for 10,000 hours and still suck. If you’re really into something and you’re playing it all the time, it doesn’t feel like practice. It feels like play—that’s how you’re able to do it.

Then you get these parents who are trying to make sure that their kids practice enough. Their kids wind up not playing any other sports, because that doesn’t allow them to get to 10,000 hours. They play hockey all through the summer and go to hockey camps. The parents invest a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot emotionally. And so they want to make sure the outcome is what they imagine it to be.

Then you get these parents who are trying to make sure that their kids practice enough. Their kids wind up not playing any other sports, because that doesn’t allow them to get to 10,000 hours. They play hockey all through the summer and go to hockey camps. The parents invest a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot emotionally. And so they want to make sure the outcome is what they imagine it to be.

Then there’s a change in the country from when I was a kid. It seems like everything is getting smaller, and there’s less and less opportunity. There’s going to be less money, there’s going to be less good air, there’s going to be fewer good places to live. Everybody feels like it’s a zero sum game. If my friend’s kid does well, it’ll be that much harder for my kid to do well. This mix has made people go a little nutty.

Maybe we, as a generation of hockey parents, could use a collective edible.

I have a four-year-old daughter. What can I do to prepare myself for organized sports?

Nothing, really. It’s like trying to prepare yourself for being a parent, and you’re all cool. Then your kid gets a 104-degree fever in the middle of the night and you freak out. But the only way you get really invested, in my experience, is if your kid cares about their sport a lot. Then you start caring about it.

I think the best thing to do as a parent is to remember you’re not in control. Your kids are going to do what they’re going to do. They’re pre-wired. The feeling of control that you have is an illusion. It’s like if you go to the amusement park and ride the bumper cars—you’re steering the car, but you’re not really steering the car. If you let go of the wheel, the car continues to go where it was going to go in the first place. That’s kind of like being a parent: Once you realize you’re not really in control, you don’t obsess about it so much.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Top 10 quarterbacks - L: OAKLAND - OCTOBER 19: John Elway #7 of the Denver Broncos drops back to pass during an NFL game against the Oakland Raiders played on October 19, 1997 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California. Darrell Russell #96 and Greg Biekert #54 of Oakland pursue. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images) , R: ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 3: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completes a pass to Julian Edelman during the second quarter. The New England Patriots play the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Feb. 03, 2019. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Top 10 Quarterbacks of All Time

These legendary QBs achieved total dominance on the gridiron.
Read article

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!