Parents of members of the Long Island Gulls hockey team watch the team play during a road trip in early 2007 in Marlborough, Mass. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It’s really simple, but apparently a concept some parents just can’t comprehend.
Minor sports – and on THN.com, we’re talking minor hockey – are for kids to enjoy and not for parents to interfere in and, consequently, ruin. Some people just have no shame, I suppose, and what would embarrass most of us doesn’t seem to register with a section of parents trying to live out their childhood aspirations through their children without considering what effect it may have.
Canadian Thanksgiving is a week away and it’s a benchmark for the start of a new season. The NHL, of course, starts the Thursday prior, but I remember Thanksgiving weekend as the time of year when you found out if you had made the rep team or not.
And, boy, that can be a testy time for touchy parents, eh?
A few months ago, a couple parents sued the Greater Toronto Hockey League after their sons were cut from a midget Junior A team. One side claimed being cut damaged one of the kids’ “self esteem as an impressionable teenager.” It really is a ridiculous tale and a prime example of how crazy parents can get at this time of year. I mean, really, if the parents didn’t think their kid could handle it, maybe he shouldn’t have been put in a position where he might fail to begin with.
And that was for teenaged kids. In tyke it’s astounding how emotional and uptight some parents can get. While they scream at teenaged referees for fair play or the coach for fair ice time, the players, for the most part, don’t even know what the score is.
A sentimental piece of the great ESPN Films series, Boys of the Fall is about growing up with football and how it helps kids develop lifelong friendships, learn how to strive for something better and grow as a person. The Americana correlated perfectly with its wintry Canadian counterpart and made me hearken back to the good ol’ days.
When I was in my first year of bodychecking hockey at the peewee level I was one of the smaller players, but one of the better skill-wise. I felt like I was making the step up to big-kid hockey at the time and at first it was as intimidating as it was enjoyable. I had always played with my group of friends and hadn’t been cut from a rep team before, so why would it happen now?
Well, it did. I was relegated to house league along with two other surprise cuts. The reasoning? We were too small.
At the time it was devastating; I couldn’t believe it. I remember starting to cry before leaving the arena because I just couldn’t hold back the disappointment. I got a few well wishes and words of wisdom from friends and their parents, but in the long-run it was how my dad handled it that helped most.
He wasn’t happy himself, but rather than make a big stink about it he basically told me to dominate the league I’d be playing in, prove them wrong and come back next season. While I would much rather have been playing rep, I enjoyed my most productive season that year, came back the following year and never missed a rep team again.
In fact, I eventually became good friends with the two coaches responsible for that cut.
I played for one of them twice more after that and, because he ran the skate-sharpening shop in the arena, I’d always stop in to talk hockey with him in later years whenever I was reffing.
The other coached my brother a few times and I’d sometimes practice with them and help out where I could. In fact, I last ran into him a couple years ago at a Tim Hortons and spent at least 20 minutes catching up before he gave me a lift to where I was headed.
If my dad had intervened that October the way some parents tend to, I probably never would have enjoyed my minor hockey experience as much as I did later on.
Minor sports are about kids and character development, not about parents controlling every outcome. If you can’t handle disappointment, don’t try out for the team. If you want guaranteed fair ice time, play house league. Understand where you’re at and teach the kids not only to have fun, but to improve their lot themselves if they’re not happy.
As John Madden said in that ESPN film: “I’d like to see kids, especially younger kids…when I see them play, I just hope they’re having fun.”
And that’s hard to do when someone’s interfering with the experience.
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