HIBBING — Inside Melissa West Versich’s childhood home, hockey reigned supreme. Her earliest memories are of being a “rink rat,” cheering wildly from the stands as her brother and his team slapped pucks around on the ice. Season after season, her love for the sport grew, and the only fan whose fervor came close to equaling her own was her father.
“My dad was a goalie in the Army back in the day, and he had an incredible passion for hockey,” the Hibbing native said Wednesday morning. “We went to the Minnesota State High School Hockey tournaments every single year when I was a kid, and my dad really instilled in me the love of the game.”
By the time Versich had her own child, she was eager to pass on the family tradition. She bought her son, Christiano, his first pair of skates when he was four-years-old and by the time he was a senior in high school, he was a top ten candidate for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award. Christiano, now 22-years-old, recently completed his sophomore year at Colorado College, where he’s attending on a full hockey scholarship.
At a glance, her tale is a happy one, but in her newly released book, “The Ten Commandments for Hockey Parents: Lessons Learned by Breaking Them All,” Versich opens up about how the enthusiasm she learned as a young girl on the sidelines nearly spoiled the sport for her son and cost the overly-energetic hockey mom many sleepless nights.
During a sit down interview with the Hibbing Daily Tribune, Versich holds an early copy of the book, explaining, “The premise of the book is ‘The Ten Commandments for Hockey Parents,’ meaning what not to do when you have a child in hockey.”
She dedicates the book to her father for introducing her to the sport, her mother for making sure her circumstances never dictated her goals, and her son, who she said exhibited patience and love despite her “bad behavior” around the ice.
Within the pages, Versich shares a candid account of her crimes, from screaming in the stands to getting into altercations with other hockey parents— even those on her own team. At one point, she even got son kicked off his team.
“Basically, I was that mom,” she admits. “...You get so into it— and I think it’s great to get into it— but you always have to realize that as a parent you can't control where your child’s hockey career ends up. You can’t.”
The veteran hockey mom is also the executive director at the Hibbing Tourist Center, a personal and professional life coach as well as a public speaker. She holds a master’s degree in communication and pens a monthly column for a local publication.
For Versich, the process of writing was both a therapeutic and painful journey. As she set out on a quest for self-forgiveness, it forced her to recall embarrassing moments while reflecting on what she put her son through as a self-appointed coach that followed him home. The words she uses to describe herself back then?
“Loud, mean, crazy, rude, crude, loathsome, revolting, obnoxious, certifiable and just awful,” she reads aloud, smiling to herself.
As Versich looks down at the pages, she says, “I want to help others. When I was in it, I wish I had had somebody that I could talk to and that was willing to coach me on my behavior.”
Though birthed from unsavory moments, each chapter offers a lesson in “commandment” form, each ripe with honesty, humor and an undercurrent of hope. Versich offers gentle reminders for parents as someone who’s “been there” about acting like the parent rather than the coach, focusing on development above team selection and being happy for the success of other players— even when it’s not easy. She also touches on topics like avoiding the money trap of youth hockey in a chapter called, “Thou Shalt Avoid Filing Bankruptcy.” However, the most important lesson was inspired by her father and appears in the chapter titled,“Thou Shalt Trust God in the Process.”
“That comes back to my dad because he’d say ‘If you’re good, they’ll find you,’” she recalled. “Even in Hibbing.” She continued, “So let your kids play, have fun and if they’re going to rise to the top and play college or pro, it’s going to happen. There’s nothing you can do as a parent that’s going to get them there.”
Versich said she believes with her whole heart that if a child is going to make it, their hard work and talent will come to the surface. Or, as she puts it: cream rises to the top.
The final chapter is a compilation of advice from more than 50 hockey parents Versich interviewed. Some of the participants have kids who quit youth hockey while others have adult children currently playing college or professional hockey. The variety of experiences offers a little something for everyone.
“One of the greatest comments that someone said to me when I was interviewing was ‘They decide when it ends, we don’t,’” Versich recalled, pointing out that it can be tough advice to swallow for parents who might be living vicariously through their children. “We don't decide when they quit or how much effort they put in. They decide. They have to get themselves to the promised land, so to speak. We can’t get them there.”
Looking back now, she wishes she had learned these lessons sooner— especially the concept of letting go of the things she can’t control. Versich believes the book is a great companion or anyone with a child in youth sports because the principals in the book are flexible.
“I believe if parents read the book they’ll enjoy their child's sporting experience and be a lot less stressed out— and they’ll be a lot happier and enjoy the experience. Enjoy the journey.”
The 105-page book is now available at the Hibbing Tourist Center and through Amazon Kindle.
Versich is set to host a book signing next Thursday, June 13, from 4-6 p.m. at the Hibbing Tourist Center with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the center.
Versich is currently in the planning stage of a new manuscript about single parenting and is preparing for a personal growth workshop. It’s all part of following her own advice she gives in the book.
“As parents and as people we’re all works in progress, and I feel like nobody should be ashamed,” she shared. “We're trying to get better and move into a higher level of living. If you’re the same person a year from now, then you’ve got some work to do.”
To learn more, follow Versich on Facebook at her page Melissa Versich Coaching.