Learn to get out of the way when parenting, says Karl Subban, P.K.'s dad

Karl Subban says there's only one hockey dad that matters in Canada, and that's Walter Gretzky. But the father of 3 NHL players has a few parenting tips of his to share, too.

Book shares the ups and downs of parenting 5 successful kids — 3 of them NHL players

Nashville Predator P.K. Subban poses for a photo with his father Karl, mother Maria, Governor General David Johnston, and 6-year-old Martin during a ceremony at the Montreal Children's Hospital on March 1. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Karl Subban says there's only one hockey dad that matters in Canada, and that's Walter Gretzky.

But the father of two Toronto teachers and three NHL players — including Nashville's P.K. Subban, formerly of the Montreal Canadiens, and Las Vegas Knight Malcolm Subban — is more than willing to share his own parenting tips.

The lifelong educator and current middle school principal wrote many of them into his 2017 book, How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School and Life.

Subban was in Winnipeg this week for a book signing at McNally Robinson, and spoke to host Marcy Markusa on CBC Manitoba's Information Radio on Friday to share his tips and experiences parenting for successful kids.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

In your book, what does GPS stand for? Growth Potential System, is that right?

It's a growth potential system, because you know what, potential is the lens through which we see all of our children, and I want everyone to see children through that lens. Because it's their ability to become better over time. Every child was born with a GPS which must be loaded, and how we load it, it's helping them to find that thing that they love to do.

What are the pillars? It's spending time with them. When P.K. was younger, he didn't love skating more than he loved being with mom and dad. And so we skated with them. We didn't ski as a family, we didn't swim as a family, we skated as a family. Spending time with them, that's what stays in them, and stays with them.

The second thing is the love and emotional support our children need, unconditionally. P.K. was never paid to score goals, you know what I mean? (Laughs.)

And also the discipline, teaching our children what boundaries are, and also as a family providing them with the resources to fulfil their dreams.

Try to lead them to a path where they can have a dream of their own. It's really important that children know who they want to be and what they want to do, and the younger they know the better. It can change, but it puts them on that path to be better.

P.K. Subban celebrates a goal during a game when he was still a Montreal Canadien. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

What is lifeguard parenting? You talk about that in the book.

Oh, jeez, yeah. There are three types of parenting styles that I write about in the book, and the first one is what I noticed at the school where I'm working now [Brookview Middle School in North York, Ont.] … With some of our children, they were on autopilot. They were just raising themselves, it seems. We never saw their parents, I don't think they were around all the time. And for good reasons, maybe they were working.

But we know that children need supervision, and they can't grow themselves, and they can't raise themselves. So that's the autopilot parenting style.

And then there's the designer parenting style. Most people know about helicopter parents, that's what the designer is — those parents who feel they can design every step of the way to the NHL, every step of the way to medical school. And we know it doesn't work that way. The idea is to pave the way, clear the way and get out of the way.

That's a good one. I've heard you say that before.

(Laughing.) I didn't invent it but I use it like it's mine.

I'm like a lifeguard parent now. You teach them how to swim, you teach them as much as you can, and then you stand off in the distance. If they need you, you're there for them. That's the way it is now, and maybe sometimes in their development, you're involved in all three.

But you have to learn to get out of their way because sometimes — especially in minor hockey — if I didn't learn to get out of the way, get out of the way of their coaches, maybe even their educators, maybe they wouldn't be where they are today.

The Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban, right, to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber in a blockbuster swap of all-star defencemen. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Montreal Canadiens, of course, have been a huge part of your family's life. … How tough was it when P.K. was traded from Montreal to Nashville, for you?

Oh, wow. Let's go back to the day he was drafted to my favourite team, my childhood team. Coming off the plane from Jamaica, I fell in love with Montreal and [former Canadien goaltender] Ken Dryden — Ken Dryden, because I was a goalie whenever I play soccer, and so that's the position I identified with. When they drafted him that day in Columbus, Ohio, I was on Mount Everest.

And the second I heard, I was out walking that day when I got the call about the trade, I was in the valley, you know, looking up at Mount Everest. You know what I mean? It was a very low moment for us [and] for P.K. too. But you know what, that's the way it should be, I believe, because when you love something and you're part of something and then it's taken away from you, if you're not human, you won't feel that way.

But I know P.K.'s in Nashville now, and I have Jordan in Vancouver and Malcolm who just left Boston, he's with Vegas. When they leave those teams, or P.K. leaves Nashville, I expect to feel the same way.

Do you consider yourself a hockey dad?

I'm going to tell you this now, I never confuse the roles. There's only one hockey dad. That's Walter Gretzky, you know what I mean? Sorry dads out there. (Laughs.)

But no, there are many hockey moms and hockey dads, and they're fantastic, because the time they spend, the effort, the resources, the energy, it's unbelievable. I want to commend them all.

But I never confused my role between a dad and a hockey dad. I knew which one was more important always, and I knew which one my boys needed most, and it was Karl Subban the dad. That was a very important lesson that I learned, and if I wasn't learning it, my wife Maria would make sure that I did.
What is it like raising a family of five, with three of your sons playing professional hockey? CBC's Marjorie Dowhos spoke with ultimate hockey dad, Karl Subban. 4:46

With files from CBC Manitoba's Information Radio