This is Part 1 of a 3-part piece on problems surrounding minor hockey. Check back next monday for part 2!
A few weeks ago, I went to go watch a Midget BB hockey game at my local arena. It had been a while since I had watched minor hockey, so I figured I would go watch some kids play a good-spirited hockey game. These boys, aged 15-17, were good hockey players. They were not all incredibly skilled, but they knew how to play the game clean and effectively. At the time that I walked in, one team was beating the other team by a score of 6-1. A couple of minutes later, one of the defensemen on the winning team made some mistakes that led to a couple of goals. His team was now winning by a score of 6-3. However, one of the parents from the winning team decided that these mistakes were grounds to start heckling the young man. The parent began to yell, “You suck! Get off the ice!”. Keep in mind that this was a player on his son’s team, the same team that he was supposed to be supporting. Some other parents joined in and no one defended the poor kid. It made me sick to my stomach to watch this young man skate to the bench with his head bowed in shame. He didn’t play another shift for the rest of the game. It’s not because his coach didn’t want him to play; I saw the coach go and ask him to get out on the ice a few times. He just didn’t want to play anymore. His soul was crushed, as was his will to play.
There is a toxicity surrounding minor hockey. It seems that many parents seem to forget that these are kids playing. These are not professional athletes being paid millions of dollars to play. They are playing for the love of the sport and to be with their friends and teammates. This boy, aged between 15-17, was heckled and yelled at by adults he did not necessarily know. No child deserves that kind of belittlement, especially while they are playing a game.
We have all been teenagers; it is an awkward age to get through. You are going through not only physical changes, but mental changes as well. You begin to be self-conscious about yourself, and self-confidence can often be low. On top of that, you are playing a competitive sport where your mistakes can cost your team on the scoreboard. Imagine how this child felt, being told that he sucked by adults. Adults are the people all children are told to respect. They are supposed to help nurture these young kids into functioning members of society. What kind of message is that sending? That if you make mistakes, you are open to ridicule and abuse? That goes completely against the goal and purpose of organized sports, which is to teach children the importance and value of working their hardest while learning from their mistakes, instead of being alienated by them.
Parents have no right to yell at kids playing hockey. In fact, parents have no right to yell at anyone during a game. They are supporters of their team, and should act accordingly by supporting their team, their players and their coaches. If the goalie lets in a soft goal, be positive and tell him that it’s okay, instead of criticizing them. From time to time there will be a bad call or a bad play, and it’s natural to get disappointed. There is never a reason to become aggressive or insulting; the coaches are volunteers, and the referees are doing their best.
I realize that hockey is an intense sport, and people can get caught up in the excitement of it all. Nevertheless, there is no excuse to yell at amateur players, no matter what age or caliber. Encourage your child or team; make them feel proud to be playing. However, negative comments should never be tolerated, whether if it’s at your own team or the other team. These are kids, and they are playing a game. Hockey is a wonderful sport that teaches kids about teamwork, determination, hard work, and learning from their mistakes. This is not the NHL, and players shouldn’t be treated as if they were pros. They are there to have fun, and so should you.