Yesterday Hockey Canada released a report tracking discrimination and maltreatment in hockey. Hockey Canada has said:
“As part of Hockey Canada’s Action Plan to Improve Canada’s Game, the organization, and its Members are working to identify, track, and report all instances of abuse, maltreatment, and harassment in hockey across the country,” the report stated.
“As a first step in this work, Hockey Canada Members have tracked and reported all incidents of verbal taunts, insults or intimidation based on discriminatory grounds which occurred during the 2021-22 season.”
The report is shared in its entity HERE.
I wanted to (briefly) share my first impressions on the report. To be clear – I’m somewhat of a data junkie so I sometimes get excited to look at graphs. Not so much in this case since the topic is… well.. depressing, but I do think starting to dig into data like this is a way that we can learn how to make a difference.
Let’s start with Figure 3 from the report– Types of Discrimination.
· A whopping 61%, well over half of penalties were given due to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
· Race was second at 18% followed by disability at 11%.
Now, onto Figures 4 and 5 – Penalties by Age Division
· The most common age division receiving suspensions was U18 with 282 (55%) of all penalties
· It wasn’t clear, but appears that the U18 category would encompass three birth years of players (U16, U17, U18)
· If that’s the case, and it was only two years combined in each category below U18, that makes the age categories a little harder to compare (e.g. 2 years of data vs 3 years of data).
· Regardless, it seems that U15 is the age the infractions begin in earnest, and in fact, 423/512 (82%) of penalties were handed out to players in the combined U15/U18 categories alone.
Now to backtrack to the start of the report, lets look at the breakdown of who the penalties were handed out to.
· 76% of penalties happened in competitive hockey
· 96% of penalties were dealt out to players and 4% to coaches and bench staff
· 99% of penalties were handed out to male players.
Before we go too deeply into what we do about all of this I would like to acknowledge that Hockey Canada was clear about the limitations of this work, citing that it’s a first step, that data collection and reporting methods varied across the country. See page four of the report for more information on limitations of the data.
That being said, here are my takeaways:
We can start to zone in on who is committing the infractions, or at least where officials are best at catching them. Though this is a snapshot, we can start to paint a picture. To recap:
· We know that 99% of the infractions are committed by boys, and 82% are in the U15, U18 categories. The U15 and U18 age groups need to be the area of focus specifically in boys’ hockey, and proactively, the age group right below (U13) because we know what’s coming.
· We know that 61% (around 312) of gross misconducts were given due to taunts based on sexual orientation or gender. Let’s be honest, we can all guess the type of language that was used. This one seems like a no brainer and an issue that parents can help tackle directly. Teach your kid not to say the “P” word, or the “F homophobic” word. Teach them because it’s hurtful, it’s discriminatory, and it’s wrong. If players can’t control themselves and do better, it’s going to cost them (in my area) 7 games if not more.
· 18% of penalties were handed out due to maltreatment due to race and 11% due to disability. Again, we can have a big impact on our kids. Have the discussion about how we treat people in general, and that this doesn’t change when we are on the ice. It’s not ok anymore, and there are repercussions.
I’m still formulating my thoughts on this and don’t have all the answers. But this is where my brain goes based on all that has happened over the last several months. I’m sharing this from my perspective as a parent, former executive member, corporate trainer, community developer, and someone who has heard from hundreds of families over the years through Canadian Hockey Moms and through interviews for Terry Marcotte and my book. I do want to generate discussion and I understand that so many others, including people who have played, been on the bench, or those who have experienced maltreatment themselves will have different and relevant opinions, and will be able to help create a broader picture of the issues and the solutions.
My brain tends to see things through an ecological model, always, and assumes there are multiple levels of conversations to be had, as well as multiple level interventions that have to take place.
· At the player level focus needs to be on prevention all the way up, but targeted prevention at U13 and U15, since 82% of all infractions start at U15
· What else is happening at this time? Puberty. Let’s get honest about young men going through massive hormonal changes on the ice under intense competitive pressure, have the discussion, and do better to equip our players with more productive ways of dealing with the changes. No excuses – but better accountability to understand how to choose responses rather than simply react.
· Coaches are there for the right reasons and I believe have the best of intentions. They also are dealing with youth who are going through puberty, and if/when they themselves went through the system, the insults were probably even worse. Let’s not assume every single coach knows how to talk about these issues with their players and ensure coaches have supports around them so they don’t’ have to take it on their own.
· Parents/guardians/billets have an important role for setting the standard for how our players act. Talking to our children about how they treat players on the ice and in the dressing room, and the consequences is paramount.
· The report presents player/coach infractions, but how are parents doing in the stands? There isn’t room for this kind of behaviour off the ice, either. Parents need a clear method for addressing behaviour either on their own, or through formalized processes for teams or associations.
· At the association level codes of conduct are in place to help enforce positive behaviour, but what is the process for handing concerns or disputes? Depending on where you are, it varies. There is lots of room to work towards consistency here. Proper processes need to be put in place in every association and enforced locally and by provincial bodies.
· Governance training should be required for every executive member (e.g. currently you need to take a course to watch your kid play but no training is required to run an association). The training could cover how to effectively operate a not-for profit, conflict resolution, and steps for setting a positive culture on teams and within the organization.
Society (Provincial Members/Hockey Canada)
· Hockey Canada’s plan to continue to provide more precise data will help us have a better understanding of what is really going on. This data should include:
· Incidence and prevalence of maltreatment in other sports compared to hockey
· Hockey Canada maltreatment data over time/years with consistent methods for collecting/reporting data in each geographic area (this will require clarification and training).
· Continued conversations using multiple methods for gathering data including key informant interviews, focus groups, document review and larger scale surveys across all levels (local/association level, provincial and national) will provide a more fulsome picture of what is actually going on, and allow for solutions to be solicited from people actually experiencing the problems.
· A practical road map for associations and teams for how to build a positive culture on teams and within organizations – examples of golden standards or selection of best practices - would provide consistency in standards and expectations and a clear direction forward for everyone.
Looking at data never provides all the answers, even though we wish it would. One of the important roles of data of this type is to generate more precise questions, then we go back and dig deeper for more precise solutions.
I don’t pretend my suggestions even come close to covering all the issues or solutions. These came to me in the 30 minutes it’s taken me to write this. My intention is to generate (respectful) conversation only, and learn more about what YOU think is needed to improve hockey culture for everyone.
We are at the precipice of making great change. We all care, so let’s take this on together.