Could a change in format change behaviour?

If you want parents to stop acting like morons at minor hockey games, think about changing the format. Wait. What? Another non-hockey playing, know-nothing, libertarian looking to change *our* game? But, before you criticize this seemingly ridiculous statement, let me explain.

Those who know, coach. Those who don’t sit in the stands and bitch

By and large, minor hockey parents are ignorant of the game of hockey. Yes, it’s true. Admittedly, some parents are well-versed in the game, but those guys and gals generally end up on the bench coaching players, opening the gate, and putting ice on strains and pains. Those who know, coach. Those who don’t sit in the stands and bitch.

For years, I sat in the stands at minor hockey games watching my son play hockey and listened to team parents complain about kids other than their own. The only complaint about their own kid was the amount of ice-time their kid deserved, but was not getting. They complained about the head coach and the coaching staff, about their kids’ line-mates, about losing another game, about the level of play, but rarely did they mention their own kids’ inability to understand a system, to execute a play, to skate with enthusiasm, to score goals, to stop goals, to defend. When it was not annoying, it was comical.

It’s not just the behaviour of otherwise normal people, it’s about the way we approach the game itself

After my own kid graduated from minor hockey, it was easy to see what a solid hockey team looked like, what the next level of coaching translates to, what a good play looks like when it’s well executed. In other words, I was watching a real hockey game and it made me think that maybe we’re going about this minor hockey thing sideways.

It’s not just the behaviour of otherwise normal people: the mother who bared her breasts to players on the opposing team; the father who followed a 17-year-old official out of the arena and kicked the legs out from under him; the parent who tossed hot coffee at a player. It’s not about the morons who holler insults at young children, remark on their inabilities, or insult a player’s looks. After all, those sad cases are few despite their horrendousness of restraint and humanity. This is about the way we approach the game itself.

Minor hockey reflects/mirror professional leagues. There are cheering fans, gate fees, seven year-olds skating up and down the full length of the ice shooting on full-size nets. Fans cheer, or jeer, when the scoreboard lights up; spectators take verbal jabs at the officials. Go to a major junior game and what I mean. For all intents and purposes, minor hockey players are simply smaller versions of their adult counterparts.

Fans take sides—literally—by sitting in sections across from their team’s bench, which allows an anonymity that sitting among the opposing team’s fan base does not.

Who would do it if the kid wasn’t enjoying it?

Sure, we want the sport to be fun. That’s inherent. Why else would we get up at 6 a.m. for games, give up my winter weekends for hockey arenas, travel highways in snow storms for out-of-town games, ditch school for Friday afternoon tournament games, crowd Christmas and March break with hockey tournaments, create a family lifestyle without a real dinner hours, and put out $4,000+ every year? Who would do that if the kid wasn’t enjoying it? Some would do it, as others claim because parents want the NHL contract, but most of the parents I know spend their free time in arenas because their kids love the game.

Our competitive kids play in competitive environments

We place six-year-old kids play the game on the same size ice surface as 16 to 21-year-olds in junior hockey. Hockey parents, by and large, are fans of their own children. They are not fans of the game of hockey. That is, they do not understand systems, coaching, or officiating. They behave in the stands just as they do at an Major Junior, or NHL game.

Most of us haven’t a clue. And the majority refuses to admit it.

So, if you want to change minor minor hockey parents’ behaviour at rinks across the country, change the format of the game that their kids play.

We can remind ourselves of the tenets of minor hockey: fun, sportsmanship, team play. We can claim that it’s “just a game,” but the truth is, as long as hockey parents watch minor hockey in the same way they watch professional hockey, they see the circumstances as identical. And if it’s set up just like one, how are they to know the difference?


— Editorial Staff
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