Helping Kids Reach their Potential: Karl Subban Hockey Dad, Educator, Author

Karl Subban

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Sep 22, 2020

Karl Subban, father of 5, grandfather of 4, a retired teacher, school administrator and life-long educator, speaks to Lianne Castelino of WhereParentsTalk TV about how to help kids reach their potential.

He also discusses parenting during the COVID-19 global pandemic, empowering children to address racism and discrimination and about his first book, “How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School and Life, published in 2017.

Click for video transcription

LC: Welcome to Where Parents Talk TV my name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a father of five, a grandfather of four He is also an author and an educator who’s been a teacher, a principal and an administrator over a 30-odd year career. He’s probably best known as the father of three NHL players we’re delighted to welcome Karl subban.

KS: Thank you Lianne thanks for having me again.

LC: Yes it’s always a pleasure to talk to you Karl because I think there are so many important messages that you’ve imparted in your book certainly but I wanted to ask you first of all how are you and your family doing coping during this global pandemic now into its sixth month.

KS: You know we’re doing the best we can. So far everyone is safe and I hope that everyone continues to be safe following all the safety protocols you know masking, hand washing, social distancing, physical distancing so I just hope we keep it up and we all continue to be safe.

LC: In terms of the pandemic, I’m interested what would you say your main observation has been as you watch parents and family life and moms and dads trying to cope in this time.

KS: You know there are a couple things that come to mind, first of all fear. I just want to make sure that people who are very close to me, I just want to make sure they’re safe. There’s fear there’s also a lot of confusion because it seems to me that information around Covid-19 continues to change daily and so sometimes people like myself are a little bit confused. I see the same thing with other adults who are around me. You know the fear, the anxiety, a little bit of confusion and you know we all want it to end. I think that everyone is hopeful that it’s going to end but we’d rather that it ended sooner than later.

LC: Tell me what you’ve observed if anything about just the families that you see on a daily basis the parents that you meet sort of the angst that really is is paralyzing a lot of families these days in terms of what tips or advice could you possibly offer them at this particular time
KS: You know most of the parents that I’ve been in touch with they want things to be as normal as possible for their children. They want them in school, they want them around their friends, they want them to be working, chasing their dreams and unfortunately all those three things are not always available and so you know so what has ended up happening is students are spending so much more time at home not just sleeping and eating and watching tv or playing video game.

Our schools have been transformed into places of work for parents and into places of learning for young people and you know that’s bringing a lot of confusion and stress and anxiety so my thing is to parents, I want you first to take care of yourselves you know you need to take care of yourselves. First by doing as much as you can physically because you know physical exercise is so important not only to your body but to our minds so you take care of yourselves and also at home parents, make time for yourself where you’re not parenting. I know it’s tough you know where you say, “Listen dad listen I’m closing the door for half hour okay, you know only knock on the door or bother me if there’s an emergency”. You know children wanna be with their parents especially now in light of what they’re dealing with they’re not at school, they’re not at friends, they’re not going to the malls with their friends so you are their friend you are the school to them you are their teacher. I know there’s a lot on your plate but you know give your kids as much love as you can give them as much attention as you can because you know the one thing that young people need other than love and and keeping them safe is your time they value it, they’re all looking for it so please give them your time and continue to be as as positive with them as possible.

Continue to to make sure that that they’re not overly stressed you’ve got to look for signs, are they you know maybe they’re not sleeping so that’s a red flag maybe they’re not eating that’s the way they would or should that’s a red flag maybe they don’t seem to have a lot of energy that’s a red flag so look you know look for those red flags consult with {because you know now that} school is up you have access to teachers you can give them a call you have your physician and so on please parents it takes a village to raise them reach out to those around you so that your children can continue, so that they can stay healthy and positive and I think that will help them to go through this pandemic
LC: we’re coming up to the three-year anniversary of the publication of How We Did It: The Subban Plan For Success In Hockey, School and Life, a book that I’m sure you hear about every single day in some way. From somebody who’s read it what’s been the most rewarding feedback that you’ve received on the book and its impact.

KS: You know I don’t always get concrete feedback however, what I do get from parents is a lot of people [saying] “I read your book, I read your book”, and you know different people will take different things from it. I wish I would have read more before I became a parent I know I get a lot of pats on the back and Maria too for being parents but I never hesitated to share with people that my children made me look a lot better at parenting than I really am and really the book is just another tool for parents to use to help young people to you know to fulfil their potential.

Also it’s really happy for me to hear a young person saying to me, “Mr. Subban I read your book” and we know how important reading is to learning and to growing and if my book motivated a young person to read I’m happy about it. Parents and young people, once they’ve read the book I want them to leave believing even more in their potential and realizing that with having a dream and believing in their abilities and doing those things they need to do you know those things can lead to positive outcomes.
I never failed to remind them too that we might not always fulfill all of our dreams, but you’re gonna learn something along that path in that journey that will help you to do better, to be better and to dream some more and to work to fulfil it.

LC: So it’s interesting Karl here’s the copy of the book, my copy and it’s a bit dog-eared as you might see up here and that’s because I have lent it out to quite a few people who were intrigued when I said to them that I personally think it needs to be required reading for not just parents but for anybody considering becoming a parent because what it really underscores and illustrates is that parenting is hard work and you need to have a plan. Now i want drill into a bit more for people who may not have read the book, a few of the things that you allude to so tell us about your ‘GPS system’.

KS: You know the GPS system, the growing potential system that’s what it stands for. I really believe that every child who came into this world came into it with potential but they also came into it with a GPS and that GPS must be loaded for them to move in the right direction. That’s why it’s important that young people have dreams, big dreams, big goals and parents and educators and coaches please continue to help them to believe in that potential which represents to me their abilities, their skills and their talents. I’ve given young people and parents and coaches the ‘4 T’s’ you know to help them to fulfil that dream of theirs: the first T is time, the second T tasks , the third T training and the fourth T is team. We want every young person to make time to do their tasks, go to school on time, make time to do your school tasks which are your reading assignments, writing assignments, projects and so on and so forth. We know when your teacher is introducing you to an assignment, for example, writing an essay, usually the first one you do will not be as good as the tenth one you do so that’s what i call training. [Also] it’s very difficult for young people or for anyone to fulfill their potential, to live their dream by not being a good workmate or a teammate or a classmate so the GPS is based on having a dream it’s based on believing in your potential and its also based on making your dream actionable through the ‘4 T’s’.

LC: Let me ask you three years into the book being out and people reading it, do you find that the message the core theme of potential is even more resonant today in the world we live in with all the sort of mental wellness issues that we hear about on a daily basis? With resilience being a theme, overcoming adversity and adversity is coming in so many different ways and forms and in ways that we can’t predict and can’t control. Is it more resonant today what your message was in this book than maybe it was even when you published it?

KS: Yeah one of the things that we know today young people today are more stressed than ever before we have more young people today don’t believe in their abilities and we look at the rate of mental illness in terms of how it’s paralyzing young people at a very, very high rate. So you know one of the things I say to teachers and coaches and young people, I tell them that I no longer tell people to believe in themselves, I tell them to believe in their potential. Everyone has it. It’s tangible, you know if you put forth the effort you can do better, you can be better and you can become more so that’s one of my main messages to young people today.

The other thing is, why it is so important today my messaging around potential especially in light of what’s happening around the world with people marching and standing up for justice and so one of the things that I say to teachers and educators and I say this to students when I’m speaking to them I tell students this and I tell teachers this. I see every young person through that lens I call their potential because that’s what will define you and that’s so important to me I don’t mind telling people. It’s my potential that will define me not the colour of my skin and so that’s an important message I believe that the world needs to hear. Yes the colour of my skin is important because we know that’s why people are marching today and not only the colour of their skin it could be because of their sexual orientation where there are biases and we have male and female it goes on and on. I try to focus on people’s potential.

I always remember when I came to Canada and obviously it was a change for me. It was a big change living on Peter Street in Sudbury, Ontario I didn’t see any kid who looked like me so obviously I’m focusing on my race. What made my transition easier than I ever thought was when my potential went to work. I was able to hold the hockey stick, I was able to stop the puck in the net that was my potential at work so that thing about race which was a barrier I know for me in my mind seemed to get pushed aside when I went into the net to play hockey like Ken Dryden. So today I would like to see the world, our schools, our families everyone let’s focus more on seeing people through that lens I call their potential

LC: Sources tell me that you also could hit a mean three-pointer back [in the day]. I want to ask you on that note it’s obviously an incredibly important subject especially today but what advice could you offer to parents as it relates to how they can empower their children to confront and then address discrimination or racism when they see it or are the victims of it.

KS: Yeah I think first of all I feel really good about what’s happening now because they say it takes a village to raise their children, well it’s gonna take a village to get rid of injustices and racism. One person can’t do it by him or herself, it’s gonna take a village. One of the things that I just look at my situation with my children and we know we’re visible minorities and one of the things that we focused on was helping our children to find their passion in life and that’s a powerful thing that is such a powerful thing whatever it is. I know my boys especially, I mean the hockey journey wasn’t an easy one and it wouldn’t be right for me to say that everything that happened to them was because of the colour of their skin, it wouldn’t be good for me to say that some things did not happen because of the colour of their skin.

But what helped them to work through it, like the caterpillar who went into the cocoon and came out as a butterfly and was able to fly came out even stronger was pursuing their passion, which helped to define their identity and build their self-confidence. It gave them the power to take off like a rocket above whatever they were facing. Also with us too as parents, providing them the love, the time, the attention and the emotional support they need, that is so important. We know that young people all go through different things in life from whatever age from (10-17) they’re going through all these changes and they need the caring adults around them to help them through it. Then you add these other layers of race and injustices and now Covid-19, they have a lot on their plate, so the role of parents, the role of educators and the role of teachers are more important than ever before to ensure the safety and the health and well-being of all of our children.

When those things are not top-notch, when they’re not right it’s going to be difficult for our children to have those outcomes in life and in school that we see for them and want for them.
LC: How does a parent go about taking concrete steps to help their child reach their potential? What steps can they take to make that happen?

KS: You know I can say a lot of things but I just look back at my children. First of all spending time with them, it’s hard to influence them if you’re not spending time with them so that’s really important and then by doing different activities with them. They will find something that they’re interested in that might light that fire in them. I loved hockey, but Natasha, my daughter, who’s an educator and she’s also a visual artist, didn’t love hockey or basketball as much as I did. Maria and I paved the way for her to do what she wanted to do.

I have another daughter, our eldest daughter who played basketball and she loved to read so we gave her books and we gave her the ball and we brought it to the basketball court and we got her going and the boys with hockey and they loved it.

LC: Karl, could you give us a sense into how you would describe your parenting approach in the book, How We Did It, you talk about being a lifeguard parent. Can you explain what that means?
KS: One of the things that I’ve observed with parents over the years from my position as a teacher and being a principal of a school. Also from being a coach, I coach soccer and basketball and coached in the GTHL, the largest minor hockey system in the world, is that sometimes parents don’t know when to get out of the way. It’s hard we love our children and you know we start out by doing everything for them, by being there for them and then as they get older we must try to do a little bit less and sort of get out of the way a little bit more.

There’s a quote I use it’s not mine ‘as a parent, as a leader, as a coach, I cleared the way, paved the way and got out of the way’ and after a while I realized that with my boys on their hockey journey if I did not learn to get out of their way I don’t believe they would have made it because I would have been in their way, blocking them. It’s like a snow plow in front of me. I can’t pass it. In terms of the three styles of parenting we have those parents I believe who are like autopilot I call them autopilot, who are raising kids on autopilot. It’s like they’re raising themselves. They’re on autopilot, they’re flying themselves, there’s no pilot there, no parental figure is there to guide them to make sure that the wings are not getting too heavy, that ice is not building up on their wings and will let them crash to the ground.

Then we have helicopter parents but I call them designer parents. These parents will feel that they can ‘design’ every step to the NHL or every step of the way to medical school and that’s fine you know your children need you. I love the lifeguard parenting style, you can’t be a lifeguard parent especially when your child is a toddler or an infant, especially when my boys started out in hockey you know I had to be there for them and then eventually I had to learn to get out of the way and you watch them from a distance like a lifeguard and if they’re in trouble you jump in and you help them because you don’t want them to drown. It’s something that you learn to do over time.

One of the questions I love to ask parents is this Lianne, what are you doing to be a better parent? That is important because our children they’re constantly changing, they’re going through all these changes in their lives and so if we’re not learning and growing with them there’s going to be a lot of stress, anxiety and conflicts. Those are there anyway but I think they’re increased when you’re not getting better as your children are progressing through those different age groups.
LC: Karl in what specific ways would you say that the way your parents raised you and your siblings impacted the way you then raised your own children?

KS: First of all that’s a very good question Lianne, I’m here because of my parents. They’re my role models, my mom and dad. You know they gave us a lot of love and so that’s one thing that I’ve given my children. That’s the most important thing, time with your kids, my mom had me in the kitchen teaching me how to cook. My dad used to take me to the cricket grounds and I’m there playing with his cricket bat. I wasn’t a hockey player but I took my kids to the hockey rink, I took my daughters to the basketball court because my parents did that. My parents knew when to get out of the way that is so important they never told me ‘Karl you had to be a teacher’ they never said one day that ‘you have to go to university or you have to get A’s’ but I knew I had to go and it was important to them and to me to do the best I was able to do in school. My parents are my role models, they taught me how to be a parent. Some of the things you observe from your parents you say to yourself you’re looking back well, I’m not gonna do those things, but the one thing I’ve learned is and you said it earlier parenting is a labour of love and it doesn’t matter how good you think you are you’re never good enough for somebody. So when you’re in that situation, parents just give them love because when you don’t know what to do and when you don’t know what to say just give them love because that’s what my parents did they gave us time they gave us a lot of love and you know what they got out of their way and that path we were on that was leading us to success.

to greater achievement they stayed out of her way knowing what you know now in all of your life experiences and all the different hats that you wear and the perspectives that you have knowing what you know now would you change anything about the way you parented yes that’s i get that question a lot um you know from audiences

The one thing that I would do more is a couple things: the first thing is not so much with my daughters with the boys especially with reading. I wish I would have encouraged them more to read. Not that I didn’t, I would have spent more time saying ; what if you’re skating for six hours a day you should be reading at least for six and encouraging the love of books. The girls I didn’t have to do it as much but I know that our children are all different. Whenever I’m buying gifts for my children, especially when I do this for my boys, I will buy them a book and it’s usually a book that I’ve read and I’ll write a little note.

The other thing that I would add to my parenting toolbox is following through more on completing tasks around the house. In terms of their rooms and so on cleaning up and following through on those tasks I would have given them more tasks and duties and responsibilities at home. I know they were busy, very busy because of school and their hockey and so on but those are a couple of things that I would have changed.

The other thing being a hockey parent because I’m known [mainly] as a hockey dad, mostly PK’s dad, that’s what most people refer to me as I wouldn’t worry as much as I did because sometimes we worry about the unknown and and we worry because we love them. I realized that there were things that I was worrying about first of all that I had no control over those things and I realized now that if I had to go through it again I wouldn’t worry about those things that I saw happening or heard people saying because it meant nothing.

What it came down to in hockey was based on the ‘4 T’s’ how much time that my boys spent doing their hockey tasks and training and being a good teammate. Also the other thing that I don’t want to forget this point Lianne, is working through adversity because you know that’s one thing that as a parent and most parents we see our children going through a tough time and we want to take their place that’s what we do we love them and we know research now tells us that it’s important that they go through it.
I call these ‘cocoon moments’ the adversity, the challenges that they’re facing. We know it’s not going to kill them and we have to use our common sense here but they must go through these ‘cocoon moments’ to become butterflies. It makes them stronger and so that is one thing that I would [do]. My boys had a hockey coach who was very good at creating adversity and it’s years later I realized what he was doing and why he was doing it.

I’ll finish your question with this point that i really believe that my boys are making it in life and in hockey at a very high level because of their ability to work through these tough moments and difficult times they didn’t become whatever they were facing they didn’t become it they were able to rise above it with parental support with other people.

It does take a village to raise them but also them learning some lessons around going through adversity that it’s not going to last forever and it’s just something that they have to work through and after going through it a couple times they realize that they’re better days ahead and better times ahead too.

LC: Karl in closing are there any final thoughts that you’d like to share [just in terms of actually] a couple of the points that you just made we really do live more than ever. For many parents in a very worried generation of parenting and you know it’s almost a self-discipline to try to to deal with that so in closing any sort of tips that you can share with parents about how to manage that in themselves and also in how they parent.

KS: I think that it’s really important because we’re living, learning and working first of all in a Covid world but also in the information age and there’s so much information out there and a lot of it can affect our children positively or negatively. So you really need to continue to monitor them and not to be part of that level of stress that you’re dealing with.

I think the other thing that I would recommend is to help your child or your children find their passion that is so important parents, please and help them to find it and they might not find it overnight sometimes they’ll find it over time so i think that became that thing that my children love to do.

became that extra parent uh parent that they needed so um you know

Monitor their health, I don’t know how you can check all the information that they’re digesting some of it might not be right, some of it might lead them down the wrong path. Please if you can help and guide them in terms of dealing with all this information they’re being bombarded with that’s going to be important, but i’m going to go back to what i said spend time with them. Give them your emotional support and give them lots of love also give them boundaries too especially now with Covid it’s more important that they understand there’s certain things you can do and there’s certain things you can’t do. I’m presently working in a school the children are so happy to be back and they’re following the rules and they’re following the routines and I didn’t take much to guide them so give them your time emotional love and support set the boundaries and you know work with those around you to provide them with the resources for them to find their passion for them to live their dream.

LC: Karl Subban, thank you so much for your time and your perspective today, thank you!

KS: Lianne thanks for having me and I love to speak to parents and to everyone about parenting and let’s not stop this discussion around it because it will ensure that we continue to learn. Thank you so much, thank you!

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An interview with Karl Subban:  Part 1

An interview with Karl Subban: Part 2

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Karl Subban

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