The Evil Face Of Youth Hockey

In a previous life I coached kids hockey with some buddies in Detroit. None of us had kids on the team, rather we thought it was a good way to give back to the community, work with some kids and have a good time. We did it for three or four years working our way up the travel program in Michigan. By the end of our run, we were coaching at a fairly senior level. I stopped coaching for a couple of reasons. First, I moved, first back to Toronto and then shortly thereafter to Miami for law school. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I realized at the ripe old age of 25 that I was way too competitive.

When my son asked me to coach his soccer team some 10 years later I reluctantly gave in, again for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I didn’t know the first thing about soccer (how much trouble could I get in?), secondly, I was bored out of my mind whenever we went to the field for his games, thirdly, I hoped I had mellowed a little bit and could use this as a test for hockey should he ever ask me to coach his hockey team and finally and more importantly, for the simple reason that he asked.

So, this past spring when we signed up for the 2009-2010 hockey season when he asked me to coach him, I agreed. This time for 2 reasons. One, cause I learned in soccer that indeed I had mellowed and yes, more importantly, because he asked. To date I have had a complete blast. I am not the head coach so I have been fortunate enough to only play a small role as one of two assistant coaches. The coaches and parents on our team are extremely lucky. There isn’t a bad kid or parent amongst us. There isn’t a parent or kid in the group that doesn’t have their head in the right place. Everyone is there 100% for their kids to have fun. We all want our kids to learn the importance of team sports, and want our kids to have fun. i have yet to see with this group any thoughts, notions or ideas of grandeur. It’s a relief to say the least.

Tonight, I was reminded however, of the evils that lurke in arenas teaching our kids. I saw first hand the reason why we have problems in hockey here in Canada. I saw a coach with such an ego that he has lost all grip on reality. It was the prototypical case of what we as hockey parents should avoid like the plague, the worst part is the person exhibiting these behaviors has no clue what exactly he is.

Here is what happened. My team, a group of 7 and 8 year old house league boys had a practice scheduled at a local arena for 6:10pm. Our head coach wasn’t going to attend. So myself and the other assistant coach showed up to run the practice. We got to the rink early and immediately found there was a problem. We found a scheduling problem existed on the specific rink we had been told was reserved for us. Another team from our league was also there getting ready to practice. Now, in the grand scheme of things, this type of “conflict” isn’t a big deal right? I mean, keeping in mind the purpose of the exercise, the focus on the kids, how hard could it be to resolve the issue? I mean, even the 7 year old boys could suggest a proposed solution- split the ice.

So when the other assistant coach and I approached the coach from the other team, one would think that given reasonable minds a resolution could be achieved quickly. Instead, this coach, decided in less than 3 seconds, that his team was more important than ours, and that there was NO WAY his team wasn’t going to practice as scheduled. He looked at us and said, without batting an eye, oh no, my team is practicing, we have a playoff game tomorrow. He turned away, walked in to his locker room and slammed the door.

He did this in front of his players, his players parents, our players and our players parents. I mean isn’t this the guy you want to leave your kids with to teach life lessons? This guy had his priorities completely out of whack. Trying to talk to him was like trying to reason with a baby. It didn’t matter that we tried to tell him that he wasn’t in the wrong. It didn’t matter that we suggested that our association double booked the ice. The coach on multiple occasions actually wanted to fight over the ice! Can you imagine that this guy is allowed 10 seconds with the youth of today? In less than 30 seconds he decided that we were wrong and that his team was more important than his.

Finally, he asked us, what exactly we would suggest as a compromise. When we suggested something novel I guess, i mean a really innovative idea called SHARING the ice; splitting it in half, his response was, “that’s really tough to do”! Have you ever heard anything more inane? Unless his kids are lining up for the provincial championship that will decide their entire fate, no 1 practice can be that important to a group of under 10 year olds! I mean who was this guy at the rink for, his kids or his own ego? If this is as freaked as he gets about something so stupid as this, how does he react on the bench when a kid, i don’t know, scores on his own net (you know kids sometimes do that)?

Thankfully, the parents on his team, who were watching this all unfold, were able to speak some sense into this guy. The damage, was already done. While someone was talking to him on his team, we told our kids to go home. It wasn’t really worth it. After about five minutes, we were waiting to make sure that no more of parents showed up, he approached and said that we could share his ice. This was after he showed us his blackberry with the email confirming his ice time. We tried to explain to him that we never questioned whether or not he was told he had the ice. We told him that weren’t made about the mix up. Shit, as they say, happens. We were mad that a fellow coach would act as immaturely has he had. The message appeared to be lost on him. it wasn’t until 5-10 minutes passed and some more folks from his team talked to him that he tried to apologize to us. The damage was, already done.

This is where the problems in hockey start. Within each organization is a person like this. It’s not that they don’t have the right credentials. They aren’t bad people per se. They just don’t see the big picture. They don’t understand that there lessons are being monitored by the kids they are coaching. Their words and actions have huge impacts on the kids. It really isn’t only about winning. Teaching kids how to win and how to lose is equally important.

Proof? I have tried to tell my kids that falling in sports isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When they first learned to skate or ski, I told them that when they fell it meant that they did so because they were trying really hard. In fact, not falling could at times be a sign that they weren’t trying hard enough. I have told my son that practice in hockey for him is more important than the games themselves. It is in these practices where he learns the most. Our coaching group talked up this practice as being important because it was on the eve of our last regular season game. So, as my son and I walked out of the arena, my son looked and me and said, “if we lose tomorrow dad, will it be because we didn’t practice tonight?” Our kids listen, they hear everything we say, even in jest or in passing. The next time you hear the question, whats wrong with hockey in this country, take a look inside the locker room of your nearest arena. I suggest that inside you will find someone coaching a team like I did tonight. That my friend is the problem, that is the evil face of youth hockey. That is where this lack of respect starts. If it is happening at this age, can you imagine how much worse it is as the kids get older?



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