KIM FENNELL, PRESIDENT, YORK SIMCOE EXPRESS HOCKEY ASSOCIATION spoke to Minor.Hockey.Life. about the challenges of the role, her philosophy about leading change within the organization, and plans for her second term.
Many minor hockey parents know of the existence of “the executive” as if the board of directors were a single, mysterious, decision-making entity, not a group comprised of parent and non-parent volunteers (paid and unpaid), who care about minor hockey.
What were your main reasons for putting your name on the voting ballet?
Initially, I had not considered running for President. My son was closing in on his final years with the York-Simcoe Express Hockey Association and I felt that it was time to move on. Before the Annual General Meeting (AGM), I received countless calls from parents asking me to run for President. The members wanted a change in management and felt that I could be an agent for change. Those who know me personally and professionally, know that I am not one to back down from a challenge, but I will say that this is the toughest job I have ever had.
How have you faced the inevitable challenges of stepping into this role?
In the six years that I have been involved in the organization, the President position was typically acclaimed. Certainly, over the years women have played a strong role in the association. In particular, Denise MacNeil served as President during some tough times including when a President stepped down for a period of time.
I have had some great experiences and some not so great experiences. In this job, not everyone you work with comes from a professional background, so often the shots I take are more personal in nature. Also, I think that there is a perception that because I am a woman, I do not know much about hockey. I certainly would never say I know everything there is to know about hockey; however, I have been involved with minor hockey for years. I have been a trainer on AA and AAA benches for multiple coaches and at different age levels, I’ve been a team manager, I have scheduled, I have played hockey in the Aurora SR Women’s league and as a mom, wife and aunt, I have watched thousands of games. I am also very fortunate to have a strong network and have many excellent advisors who I reach out to for guidance.
What was the transition like for you?
The transition into the role was fairly smooth as I had the summer months to get my helmet on.
Early on, we did have challenges with some teams and that is when I felt as if I had been thrown into the fire. I have learned a ton this season and I am certain that my second term as President will bring more challenges, but whenever the work feels overwhelming, I focus on the reason I am doing this: the 150 players in our organization.
What I have come to realize is that I am not doing my job unless there is some strife. Growing pains are inevitable. That is why I can laugh off the personal comments I hear from disgruntled members because I know that change can be painful to some people.
The power differential in hockey can be great. Much of my job is ensuring that process is fair and everyone has a voice.
What have you found the greatest challenge(s) to be?
Finding enough time to see as many games and practices I would like to while dealing with the day-to-day operations of running a hockey association.
The use of conference calls and email as tools is not embraced by all our volunteers and members, especially those who are not part of the business world, so co-ordination can be challenging at times. I also do not have the time to call or socialize with people in order to campaign for certain changes behind the scenes. It is also not the way I like to operate. My approach has been an open one with transparent process, whereby our board members get everything from me, at the same time. The reason for this, in part, is simply a method of effectiveness, but I also feel that minor hockey could benefit from fewer behind-the-scenes phone calls and more frank, open discussion with all present.
There is a personal challenge as well in squeezing in time to spend with my busy teenage son because I also travel for my job. Thankfully, he is very supportive of this volunteer work, as is my husband.
What are you plans for next term?
For my second term, I hope that the foundation we’ve laid this term will serve us well. I would like the Board to focus on coaching and player development. What I mean by this is to develop a York-Simcoe Express way of training our players, so that as they move up in the years, they continually add to the base of what they’ve learned. If the membership passes the Rules of Operation and By-Laws I am hopeful we will add two positions to our board. The two positions would be the Director of Player Development and the Director of Coaching Development. Of course, these positions would work closely together, but I do believe that this is missing today from our association, and that its implementation will make a difference.
What is your philosophy about minor hockey?
At the end of the day, minor hockey should be about the development of our children in our community. Sure, a select few will be drafted into the OHL, or go on to play at a high level in post-secondary schools. Even fewer will get a shot at the NHL. However, I think that the focus of our minor hockey clubs should be on the overall development of players, which includes hockey, but also on encouraging them to develop as individuals.
I know many may disagree with me; however, my opinion is that hockey should be fun. This does not mean that players should not work hard, compete hard, and try their best. It means that we ought to provide an environment that effectively competes with all the distractions facing teenagers. If kids still want to come to the rink when they are 14, 15, and 16, that only serves the community.
The coach selection is an important part of the process. A coach not only has a seasonal budget, in some cases of $100,000, but 17 impressionable young players that look to him as a role model. Every board member must take the selection process personally and seriously. The average team has two games per week and two to three other events every week from start of season to end of season. They can spend more time together then with their parents, which emphasizes the requirement for great role models.
In the two-year period that you will hold the past-president position, advice that you will offer the incoming president?
When times get tough, remember that you are doing this work for every player and every parent in the association. This keeps the perspective that you are serving the parents as well as the kids by providing a program that is affordable to everyone in the community, and in which everyone can participate.