Watch your language

As if competition among players is not enough, hockey parents deal with inconsistencies in use and misunderstanding of meaning of hockey terms that caused confusion, and potentially hard feelings among team families.

Language, and its use never fails to interest me. I have been chided for it by co-workers and told by one that I reminded her of an elderly character in the movie “Julie and Julia” who is dismayed by an index entry cookbook index entry. Pedantry is an occupational hazard, I suppose; I am always searching to improve the material and communication pieces I write. A technical writer’s job is to communicate clearly. I must write in a way that every reader interprets instruction and explanation the same. Dialogue allows for much interpretation, especially when terms are defined differently by those involved in a conversation.

Misuse of terminology as the source of misunderstanding came to mind recently when a hockey parent told me of a kid who had “signed” with a major junior team. From what I knew, I got the sense that this “signing” was an issue of wording, not a factual occurrence. It was irrelevant to our conversation, but I wanted to know more. An untried journalism career in my back pocket, coupled with some spare time at the office, I went to work researching a claim that an undrafted player signed with an OHL team before rookie/training camp, or main camp.

Of course, when it comes to the hockey world, many hockey parents like me struggle with the language. It changes. In some cases, The Hockey Dictionary, by Andrew Podnieks has helped with the basics, but in learning about rules when unfamiliar lingo is mixed with game strategy, I’m doubly lost.

One of the most prominent examples of misunderstanding I recall happened in our Minor Midget year (aka “Draft Year” and thereby a tense year with parents and players) when I was inspired in the design of our team yearbook. Trying to improve on seven years of previous yearbooks, I wanted the designer to run a timeline across the top of every page from start to finish. In chronological order, I suggested we add events and milestones—both team and individual. The artistic concept was that each, individual player contributed to the team’s success. This included first goal/tenth goal, first penalty/last penalty, notable injury—whatever seasonal milestone the player felt he wanted to highlight. In short, the concept said, “teamwork.” When I asked a handful of team parents if they, or their kids, could recall these statistics the responses were decidedly negative. Rightly, they understood the statistics to mean, well, statistics. I meant milestones. But that’s not what I said.

Few parents—dad team parents, in particular—failed to see the value to having this information in the yearbook. One parent even remarked that the adding any injury notation would be detrimental to the OHL Priority Selection. I rolled by eyes. Parents can be extra-sensitive in Minor Midget.

I had poorly communicated my vision and used the wrong word to explain it, so I understand the guffaws and resistance.  The concept was soon scrapped.

Days after my conversation about the purported OHL signing, I received an e-newsletter about the newly introduced OHL Tryout Contract and learned that “signing” meant intent to sign, if invited to do so. It seemed like a way for a free agent to give an OHL team the first right of refusal after he skated in a camp setting, giving the team an assurance that even if he attended another team’s rookie camp, they had dibs on his rights.

Just like my use of the word “statistics” created confusion, saying that your son has “signed” with an OHL team can be misleading depending on what the player signed. It does, however, give the player (and by extension, his parents) some cache. Sometimes parents misuse terminology on purpose.


— Staff Writer
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