A course on how to deal with hockey parents and players may seem excessive, but there are a lot of complicated issues at the rink.
The politics I’ve covered on Parliament Hill is child’s play compared to hockey rink politics. There’s just so much less at stake when it comes to the nation’s work. Hockey, especially minor hockey, deals with wins and losses and conflicts and resolutions on a much more personal level. While it may be true that parents are a bit like MPs looking out for their constituents’ best interests, that is where the analogy ends. A child is not a mom’s voter; again, because much more is at stake.
I can almost understand why some parents scoff at the idea of putting their kids into hockey, or for that matter any organized activity. After a long day at work tolerating others, who wants to be sociable with other parents, some of whom may even be strangers? Best buy Junior an IPod and turn on the television.
But we are social beings. The lone homosapien hunter would have been gobbled up long ago without the cooperation and consensus of others. That’s why many of us see a benefit to organized activities; jamming our kids into a sweat-stinking dressing room while we huddle together in the stands for warmth. We are advancing the species, more or less.
Unfortunately, the exception undermines the rule. It is almost universally accepted that hockey parents are forever banging on Plexiglas, railing against a teenage ref’s offside call as if it were a crime against humanity. Yes, it happens. But, just as news is when a man bites a dog and not when a dog bites a man, it is the exception – and garners attention because it happens infrequently.
Most high-strung hockey parents simply want the best for their kid. Only a small subset actually delude themselves with selfish dreams of becoming NHL players’ parents. At a recent Hockey Canada meeting I attended we learned how much of a hallucination that dream can be. Of the 30,000 Ontario players who registered for hockey in 1975, just 22,000 were still playing in 1991; 232 were drafted into the OHL; 105 actually played; 48 were drafted into the NHL; 34 signed contracts; 22 played. By 1999, only 11 remained in the NHL. That is .005 per cent. Total dollar from each player’s parents? Between $750,000 and $1.5 million.
Suddenly spending $600 on an Easton Synergy Xtreme Grip stick for a player in atom makes a little less sense. Then again, kids that age can’t put 600 pounds of pressure on the stick to make it of any use; best to put that money against the mortgage.
Because the vast majority of hockey parents are great people, I decided this year to contribute a little more than the registration fee. I’m our atom team’s trainer, though apparently that’s not enough to convince my wife to call me Dr. Dunn. Among the prerequisites for the job is to take the Speak Out! course.
I jumped at the chance to spend an evening at the Carp rink, a half-hour drive from home. OK, less a jump than a swift push from other parent volunteers. During the dark drive there I lamented over the state of humanity; why it is we need training simply to oversee a kids’ game? Are we too used to the “Here we are now, entertain us” of the Internet, where we can click to another site at will? Maybe we’ve confused the customer-service provider relationship a la restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores for normal interactions.
I asked Brent Dick, our instructor that night, why we needed a course. “Back in the good ole days we didn’t need a course,” I said.
“Sheldon Kennedy,” Dick said. The good ole days weren’t so good for kids like Kennedy, who was sexually abused during his days in minor hockey. Hockey Canada failed the ex-pro. And now the organization is determined to not let it happen to another kid.
Dick said parents have an expectation when they send their kids to hockey, to school, to any number of activities: safety is a given. Today’s parents also participate more in their children’s lives then parents did in the past. Participating can be complicated; issues that arise can be complicated. Many of us benefit from learning best practices, and not assume that just because we have our own kids we know how to deal with other kids.
I learned a lot from the course, starting with the differences between bullying, harassment, and abuse.
BULLIES ARE ADMIRED
Bullying is anti-social behaviour toward peers. It is more than teasing where both sides laugh it off. A bully alienates a weaker individual, forcing him or her away from friends and teammates. The bully continually criticizes and blames the target for mistakes, and has unreasonable demands. The target’s accomplishments are downplayed, and is expected to live by more stringent rules than others.
Interestingly, a bully is often an excellent player and student, admired by peers and adults alike. She or he is a natural leader. That is why, should the target speak up – which they almost never do – he or she is often asked by an authority figure: ‘What did you do wrong?’
That’s not the right approach, obviously. The target needs someone who will, first and foremost, listen to their plight. Maybe suggest ways they can stand up for themselves, if they have it within them. Suggesting winning over peers; there’s strength in numbers.
The bully needs correcting, too. Left unchecked, they will bring it into adulthood and will likely become a mall security guard or prime minister. They need to be taught empathy, and how to connect with others. Saying, repeatedly, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” will drive guilt into them. And as every good Catholic will tell you, guilt is a great motivator.
Harassment is a violation of someone’s rights. It has to do with sexual, race, or disability discrimination. There doesn’t need to be a relationship. It can happen between players on opposing teams.
Abuse is when someone intends to harm another. It can be emotional (a coach screaming abuses at players); physical (grabbing the back of a player’s sweater); sexual (both contact and non-contact). These may seem broad and sweeping, but the one thing they have in common is that an abuser is a predator by nature. Abuse must be reported, not investigated by coaches or parents.
How should adults keep themselves safe? By ensuring at least two adults are around kids at all times.
Speak Out! has much more to offer, of course. And I do recommend it for anyone who spends time at the hockey rink. After all, there is a lot at stake, best to be as informed as possible.
Now, if someone would just develop