Playing Youth Sports About Having Fun, Developing Skills
Posted by Dean Holden at May 27th, 2015
by Jason Gregor, 19 May 2015
Photograph by: Larry Wong , Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON – A few weeks ago, the story of nine-year-old hockey player Sam Lescarbeau got national attention. He quit playing spring hockey and his father, Yannick, penned a letter explaining the decision.
“It was important to share why Sam and I decided to leave the team,” Lescarbeau wrote. “Like every nine-year-old on that team, Sam dreams and lives hockey, and when hockey is no longer fun, when you find yourself crying on the bench because, as a nine-year-old, you have only played two shifts in the game, no matter how important that game is … it is time to have a talk with yourself and re-evaluate why we do this.”
The letter made my blood boil. What type of person could coach nine-year-olds and sit them on the bench for the entire game? Is winning a hockey game really that important?
Based on comments from many parents who read the article, it seems winning is that important for some adults. But is it really that important to nine-year-olds? In my 14 years of reporting, I’ve discovered it is often the parents of young kids who hold on to the feeling of winning or losing much longer than their children. For some, the obsession with winning or helping their child become the next great hockey player has clouded their ability to reason.
While spring hockey has become increasingly popular over the past two decades despite studies that prove focusing too much on one sport for children under the age of 12 limits their sporting potential, many parents are still willing to pay big dollars to enrol their kids. The major concern for some involved in spring hockey is there is no governing body overlooking the process.
Paul Carson, vice-president of hockey development for Hockey Canada, said having a governing association wouldn’t necessarily prevent problems like benching nine-year-olds. But there are many reasons why spring hockey needs a regulatory body.
“Our branches across the country are discussing ways to integrate the sport because we know that the participants oftentimes are members of Hockey Canada and, ultimately, what you want to do is ensure that your membership is well protected, they are in a safe and positive environment, and, to some degree, that may mean we look at how we become the body that works with spring hockey groups,” said Carson. “Having said that, that doesn’t mean every single group that operates a program would necessarily join, so there’s a double-edged sword.”
I’m not opposed to spring hockey, although it is asinine that kids as young as seven are playing year-round. If a boy or girl is an elite player at age 12 or 13, I can see the benefits of playing in the spring.
“We need to get people to understand that it’s no fun for the kids watching the win if they’re sitting on the bench and not contributing to the victory,” Carson said. “I would say that in 100 per cent of the cases kids would rather be contributing members in a loss or a close game than they would sitting on the bench for an entire game or period watching their team win.”
I can understand if a team is trailing by a goal or leading by a goal and specific players are put out in the final minute of the game, but it happens too often with 10 minutes remaining. Carson has interacted with thousands of parents over the years and shared an interesting observation.
“Often I hear parents say, ‘We’ve given the coach liberty to shorten the bench with five minutes to go in the game if we’re protecting a lead or if we’re trying to win a hockey game.’ I have to ask the question of every one of the parents that agree with that: ‘Is your child in that top five?’ And you know what, 15 of them will say, ‘Yeah, I think he is’ and there’s your problem. You have 15 people who all agree you should shorten the bench so long as you shorten the bench and play my child,” said Carson.
If the same children always play in the “important” situations, how will a coach, parent or, most importantly, the other players know if they are capable of handling that situation?
According to Carson, stopping this mindset begins with parents and local associations asking for change.
“If we can get parents and associations to understand that it isn’t about winning, it is about developing, it is about having a great time in sport, then I think we’re closer to solving that dilemma of what coaches will resort to to win hockey games,” he said.
You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on TSN 1260 and read him at oilersnation.com
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