Well, according to the feedback and comments I received, our post and the article got you thinking, too. I want to share one thoughtful email that I received, because this Hockey Mom’s comments are worded so eloquently, and I think they probably reflect what so many of us experience when our child, especially our younger children, are in “sticky situations”.
Thank you Sharon, for sharing! I think you are right…we do have to be able to advocate for our child in respectful ways!
Email received August 3, 2010.
I am a hockey mom of 3 boys ages 6. 9, and 11. Two eldest play rep hockey, the youngest plays house league ‘Timbits’. I appreciated finding your website and the short article you posted on the caption subject – ‘abuse by coaches’.
I too would question the line drawn as what constitutes abuse. For sure, I am guessing this definition included things like berating / benching kids for performance (or lack thereof), in order for researchers to conclude that 40% of coaches are abusive. Most coaches are volunteers trying to help the community and get involved in a sport their own child is interested in. Having said that, I will never forget a video clip presented in the “PRS” speak out course which depicted actual footage of a coach screaming at an 8 year old boy during a playoff game. In the post game interview, the coach offered no apologies for his behaviour, only the rationalization that “this is competitive hockey – part of the game.”
While unbelievable on one level, this is perhaps the most common rationalization I have heard. There becomes a culture of toughness that is hard to speak out against. Many parents adopt a “suck it up” mindset and start to talk in these terms amongst one another, and the ‘kinder, gentler’ perspectives are swept away by the stronger, more aggressive and often more intensive voices which start to dominate the culture. This is evidenced often firstly by way of directed comments against the opposition, (parents remarking on the other team’s players), and in my experience, as the kids get older, the remarks start to extend to some of the players on your own team.
By way of anecdote, I personally stood amongst a mixture of our team and the opposing team’s parents at a game a couple of years ago (minor atom ae game – my son was 9); body-checking was permitted at that time at this level. As the game counted down in a close 1 point lead for our team and as my son picked up the puck behind our net, 2 of the opposing team players came at him very hard and checked him so hard he collapsed in a heap. From behind the glass I could hear him wailing. The play continued for another minute or so (check was ‘clean’). It is a frightening moment as a hockey mom, but this was toward the end of the season… I had seen checking and knew it was ‘part of the game’ – not that this eradicates one’s concern for your son (or anyone’s child) when you see them go down so hard. The amazing part of all of this was that after less than a minute, as my son was still down and clearly distressed (trainer en route), another “hockey mom” from the opposing team quipped out “That’ll put hair on his chest!”. I was so shocked and ticked off at such a mindset that would be so blasé and uncaring toward a hurt player… a minor atom 9 year old player… one who does not particularly need ‘hair on his chest’. All I could blurt back at the unknown voice in the crowd as I pressed against the glass to see how he was doing was “That’s MY son”. (Just to conclude – he was fine in the end – badly winded but fine).
I give this story by way of illustration of a culture that feeds on itself. Toughness, mental and physical, are highly prized in hockey culture, and I suppose in all competitive sports, and in competitive situations in general. It’s societally endorsed, and when it comes to our collective ‘buy-in’ to the system(s), there is a part of us that wants our child to succeed, to win, to excel. So we buy in that this requires mental and physical toughness. I push my 3 kids to be both mentally strong and physically fit and capable. However, I have clear boundaries about conduct – theirs, their cohorts on the team, and my expectations for coaching boundaries. Sportsmanship and respect above all. Clean play. Working on skill development so that their talent enables them to be competitive. I don’t mind the coach being tough on the team – giving them timely criticism and feedback on the bench when they aren’t playing as expected – but I would not accept swearing at them or humiliation or hazing tactics. They are in this sport to develop skills (life skills, hockey skills, strategic thinking skills, interpersonal skills, and so on) and self-esteem. Sometimes you need to be taken down a notch to motivate yourself to work harder to get to the next performance level. This is something that comes with maturity and is part of maturing. But the day hockey starts to take away from my sons’ self esteem and become a negative experience will be the day to consider other sporting and recreation options.
Why do parents tolerate ‘abuse’ by coaches? We can get caught up in that blurry line and lose sight of our own ambitions for our burgeoning hockey stars, fear recrimination and mocking by our own peer group, fear recrimination by the ‘system’ (kid getting cut from a team or benched), and we can sometimes go too far in the group-think mindset that “this will put hair on their chest”.
I hope more parents think this through, and never back down from respectfully discussing any concerns they or their son or daughter have with the coach’s communication and team management approach. It is our job to watch out for our kids and be an advocate of the best values hockey and sport can aspire to represent.
Respectfully submitted, Sharon Hockey Mom, Team Manager and Board Member for Minor Hockey in York-Simcoe (Ontario)
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