Time For Tough Love In Minor Hockey
Posted by Dean Holden at March 17th, 2017
by Gordon Clark, 5 March 2017
After nearly a decade of volunteering in minor hockey, I’ve come to a sad conclusion — it’s time to hurt the children.
No, of course I don’t mean physically harm kids. What I mean is the only way minor hockey is going to stop the serious, exhausting and crappy behaviour of a tiny minority of hockey parents is to throw them and their little darlings out of the game. The same likely applies to other youth sports.
It’s not something I would have said even a few years ago.
Until recently, during the thousands of hours I volunteered as a safety officer, coach, division manager, hockey association board member and president, and most recently as a Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association volunteer, I and other volunteers and staff always tried not to impact players when parents misbehaved, often chronically. In dozens of cases of parent misconduct, up to and including criminal charges and convictions, we always tried to find discipline solutions that allowed kids to keep playing.
Unfortunately, this approach isn’t working.
Despite years of educating parents that their children’s hockey is just a game for kids, requiring them to sign codes of conduct, placing posters in rinks reminding them to behave — initiative after another — too many parents refuse to calm down and follow the rules. They may be five per cent of the parents but they suck up a tremendous amount of volunteer time.
Just look at the terrible incident late last month being investigated by PCAHA, the association that runs minor hockey in the Lower Mainland. During a game between North Vancouver and Burnaby minor hockey associations Pee Wee teams, parents physically threatened 15-year-old on-ice officials. The threats were so serious that the RCMP had to attend the next game.
Minor hockey officials have a word for parents who act like this — we call them nut jobs because they are basically insane. How else can one explain how an adult could get so infuriated over a game involving 11- and 12-year-olds? In this case, A4 rep teams, in my view a bogus level of rep hockey with players who really should be playing recreational house hockey with the 80 per cent of kids who play hockey. There’s never any excuse to abuse or threaten refs or linesmen, especially when they are kids, but you’ve really got to have a screw loose to get so worked up about an A4 Pee Wee hockey game. It’s not like the Stanley Cup — or anything, actually — is on the line.
The same people who lose their temper at games are also often the same parents who abuse volunteers, constantly complain about their kids’ hockey programs and will even lie or launch false, bullying accusations or threaten association volunteers while trying to break the rules or get their way. Frequently, they hire lawyers, forcing minor hockey associations to waste thousands of dollars to defend themselves. It’s exhausting and burns out volunteers.
The reality is most hockey parents are terrific. The decent and reasonable parents don’t need codes of conduct or anti-bullying education because they aren’t going to misbehave. For the tiny few self-centered and entitled bullies who act badly, no amount of reminding them to act decently will make it happen.
You want to clean up hockey? Do what the Cranbrook Minor Hockey Association did in January to two difficult parents and their children after years of abusive conduct and refusal to abide by the conditions of earlier suspensions — tossed them out of the club.
“As a result of the parents’ continued and relentless abuse of CMHA volunteers, the CMHA was forced to expel the entire family,” says a statement on the CMHA’s website. “This decision was not made lightly but was made to protect the integrity of the experience for the other children and volunteers involved.”
In my view, enough is enough. No one has an absolute right to be a member of a minor hockey association. Expelling the jerks will not only remove the problem, it will teach others that bad conduct really won’t be tolerated. More importantly, it will allow everyone else to get back to doing what minor hockey should be about, even at the most competitive levels — kids having fun.
Gordon Clark is a columnist and editorial pages editor for The Province.