Children’s Organized Hockey is Broken!


There is something very wrong with the state of organized hockey in Canada, and to be honest, I’m not sure it can be fixed, or if those involved want it fixed.

House league, select, and upwards are run so very badly in many instances, by parents who put their interests above the best interests of the team and the players on the team, and in doing so, these parents do deceitful things; trying to hide better players to stack their team, break the rules to win games, force their kids to play when they don’t want to, or use their power to decide who plays even if that decision is not in the best interest of the team, the player or against the mandate of the league.

Everybody knows about it, but little is said and even less is done about it.  It’s the perfect toxic pool.  No wonder parents are becoming increasingly less enthusiastic about putting their kids in the sport.

As a current and former hockey coach, I have always abided by the rules passed down by the league because that is what the job requirements were when I signed up.  When the league asks the coaches to develop the players and give them equal ice time, then that is what we, as coaches are being asked to do.

I learned a long time ago, that as a team, you are only as good as your weakest player and I have always felt this way, and as a coach, assistant coach, or a kid who opens the door for the players to enter and leave the bench, it is so very important to be a positive influence on the kids – ALL the kids – on the bench and in the dressing room.

As a coach, a leader, and a role model, the responsibility to teach the kids about hockey is only a portion of the role.  Teaching the kids to be respectful on the ice and off the ice is another significant requirement of the job, as is communicating with the parents and the kids about strengths, weaknesses and issues.

Common sense also tells me that dressing rooms should be a safe place for kids to get ready for the games, to dress / undress into their uniforms and to have discussions about the game, the practice, or to learn about being good human beings.  It’s not the place to throw things at each other, play loud music and swear at each other.  When the parents come into the dressing room and see this, they feel the coach does not have control of the players, that they don’t respect the coach.

When there is chaos in the dressing room, there is chaos on the ice.  Kids can get hurt, physically and mentally, and that is not acceptable.

I was fortunate to have begun my coaching career in my early 20’s and after 3-seasons, I stopped, only to pick it up again in my late 20’s.

I started taking the Canadian Coaching Certification Program in hopes of one day coaching the Canadian Olympic team, but without having children, and then children who played hockey, my focus turned elsewhere.

Then my middle child turned 8-years-old and he decided that he wanted to learn to skate so he could play hockey and make it to the NHL.

I was reluctant, but it was what he wanted so we supported him, and started by taking him to skating lessons, and later that year he joined a Learn To Play league which was a blast.

The following year we joined House League hockey and I was shocked and amazed at what I saw.  I saw parents clearly pushing their kids to play when the kids clearly resented it and were not enjoying it.  I also saw parents yelling at their kids and screaming obscenities at the referees either because they are crazy or because they have clearly made a mistake by thinking that house league hockey was the NHL.

Then came some of the weirder things that I observed, like the number of times parents of very highly skilled parents would come up to me and tell me that they were in awe of my son’s size.  Yes, he’s tall, but not a giant, and while hockey has always mistakenly favoured tall players over smaller skilled players, that trend is thankfully moving away, and shouldn’t we, as parents support our kids no matter their skill, size, physique?

If the kids keep getting bigger and bigger, and hockey rinks are not, then pretty soon the game we love will become a glorified pinball game with nowhere to move and the puck bouncing from stick to stick.

As well, what is the point of wishing your child was bigger?  They cant change their height!  Don’t make them feel bad about your genetics!

Fast forward a couple of years and now my son is eager to try out for the “select” team.  I was really hesitant, not because I knew he wasn’t ready for it, but because of what might happen to him after he doesn’t make the team.  He, in his mind, felt he could play at that level, but as a new player, he is far from polished, so to the untrained eye, he was awkward, but he got where he needed to go, and did what he needed to do.

In hockey terms they would have referred to him as a “project”.

My son knew that he had a lot to learn, but he wanted to experience tryouts and see if he could make the team, and knowing that we took him.

Here is where I don’t understand hockey teams operate…  We heard there was room on the team, the coach said there was room on the team, and the coach offered to me that “no one was guaranteed a spot”.

In fact, in the dressing room before the tryout, the coach read the riot act to the parents and then told the kids that they had better be on the ice by the time the session began or they would lose their spots, and as the session started, 3 kids were still in the dressing room slowly getting ready.  The assistant coach came in and told them to get on the ice.

Now I knew for certain that the comment that “no one was guaranteed a spot was 100% not true.

Everyone on the team is guaranteed a spot.  They’re friends.  They have played together for years.  The only time a space opens up is when a kid moves up.

There was one spot on the team – but it was already filled by a friend of one of the players who he the coach had already seen play and given the thumbs up to.

As a result, at the tryout, the coach didn’t even look at my son.  He didn’t talk to him, and didn’t give him a chance.  He was cut within 5-minutes of the session ending.

I asked the coach, in all honesty, if he knew which kid he was cutting – how one spot was opening up – but he didn’t remember that part of the conversation, as he said that the team was the same team from last year and there were no spots.  He said that most teams keep all the kids, no matter what, and that it’s similar to a clique, so if we wanted to get him into select hockey we should have either got him in when he was 4-years-old, or started “networking” years ago.

Point taken.

The following year, now a year better, I knew to ask the coach if there were real spots available and if my son should even bother to try out.  Again, he said yes to both, and again, there were no spots and he was sent home – this time puzzled as to how this is fair?  If a defenseman is required to skate backwards and the team has a defenseman that cannot skate backwards, wouldn’t then even have a look at a defenseman that could skate backwards?  Apparently not.  Apparently it’s better to have all the same kids together because they’re friends, than to realistically look at all options.

After not being given what he deemed to have been a fair chance, he wanted to quit hockey.  He plays basketball, baseball, swims, and tried out for every sports team at school.  If hockey doesn’t want him, he doesn’t want hockey.

That thankfully lasted for one day.  The next morning he was in the basement, stick in hand, working on his shot.

He loves playing the game… He doesn’t watch hockey, but he loves playing it.

The following season we left that league and tried out for a different team which apparently had spots open, and he made that team.   What transpired after was confusing to say the least, but I should have taken notes, or written a book, because it started poorly, ended poorly, and had some ups an many downs in between.

After making the team, he was to be brought on as an “alternate” which was explained to me as a player who made the team and who would be developed and play, especially whenever there were players missing, but was a full part of the team who practiced with the team, and was part of the team.

It was explained to me that if he improved, he would go from playing potentially less, to potentially much, much more, because at worst he would still play, train and develop with the select team, and not play house league, and at best, he’s on a top line, playing power play and killing penalties.

Upon learning the term “alternate”, my son was very disappointed.  He felt he was better than that, but after some discussions with the coach and manager and after reading the communications to the rest of the team and their parents, it was understood that he would be a full part of this team – where most of the kids have played together for 5-6 years – and that the term “alternate” meant nothing in his development.

We did have additional discussions with the coach and manager about what an alternate meant and after being told “don’t worry, he’ll be fine”, I should have worried and had things in writing in case they came back later on.

Which it did…

Excited for him, he did extra hockey – trained with the incredible Creative Hockey Development program – and worked hard at every practice, he was respectful, and worked very hard on the ice.  The dressing room was absolute chaos and that caused him hesitation when it was time to come for practices and games, but he did his best.

Practices were… interesting.  For example in one of his early practices, one of the coaches tried to teach him a skill that he had never seen before, and he was trying to understand what the coach was doing, but the coach got frustrated and punched him (both fists into the front of my son’s shoulders).  I saw the entire incident and I knew that he was holding back tears.  I called the coach over and informed him that in the 3-years of hockey, my son had no idea what he was telling him, and he might want to break it down to the beginning for him.  The coach apologized to me, and to him and then took the time to go through it from the beginning.

I felt this was a defining moment… The coach wanted my son to get low to the ice while skating backwards, but as a tall kid who learned to skate and balance himself in a certain way, bending low to the ice was not something that he would be able to do right away with any chance of success – skating standing up might seem unusual, however his trainers said it was fine, he was fast, and there were plenty of NHL players who skate more upright.  It’s not a deal-breaker.

Didn’t it also figure that this coach was the coach who opened and closed the doors on the defence side for many of the games that season…

At games, I began to notice that even where the team was short players, the coaches would be playing my son very sparingly.  It didn’t matter if it was 0-0, or if they were winning 6-1, or losing 6-1, he would play 4-5 shifts and some games he would stand on the bench and not play a single shift.

During the games, my son would engage the coaches in the most respectful way – asking questions during the game and getting feedback – but he never raised a stink, or made a scene in front of the coach or his teammates.

This was the season for him.  Hard practices, then little or no game action. I would say that he was held off shifts more times than he actually was allowed to play.  So much for development.  But we didn’t say anything.

Then, as the season was nearing an end, I realized that tryouts for the next season were coming up and I had not heard anything negative from the coach or manager, I decided to ask the coach about next season, and was told this;

“I’m glad you came to speak to me.  I was actually going to speak to you about him.  He has not developed as much as I would have liked, and in the playoffs we can only carry 15 players, so your son won’t be playing.  Don’t dress him, or bring him to the game.  And as for next season, as it stands right now, I wouldn’t pick him to play on the team next season.”

WOW…

So here are my thoughts at that moment;

My son is not the worst player on the team.  There are kids who are worse, however, they’ve played together for 5-6 years so with carpools in place, and as the kids have made friends, it’s much easier to cut the new kid, right?

Then I thought, how can a player develop if he’s not being played in games?

How do you know where a player has strengths, when he doesn’t get to play in games?

How do you know where a player is weak, when you don’t put him in every situation, let him fail, and then let him try again, and see if he fails, and then you can say he is weak at something.

Regarding those games, if he was put in a position where he failed over and over again, then yes, I can see that you see that he needs to work on certain things, but much like the select tryouts, if you don’t see what he can do, how do you know he can’t do it?

But something seemed off with the way that message was delivered to me, so I contacted the league to confirm the only fact that was presented to me which was that teams can only carry 15-players maximum (including goalies) and I found out that it was not true.  Teams are required to carry a minimum of 15-players of they will be fined.

That rule is intended to prevent coaches from shortening their benches and thus gaining an advantage over another team who plays all their players.

Now frustrated and confused as to why the coach would lie to my face, I wondered what else was going on with the team.

The parents all had similar situations with their kids – standing on the bench many games, and not being played on the power play or on penalty killing, ever.  Not one shift.  There were kids fighting in the dressing room, kids punching each other in the head before games, and a kid who always skated on the ice while the Zamboni was on until I stopped him, three practices in a row, before finally telling his mother.

My eyes were wide open!

In the dressing room, all season, I would help the goalie get dressed, tie the kids skates, continue giving them tips and suggestions, and I would be in the dressing room to break up fights, keep the kids safe and make sure chaos was turned into order.  I’m a parent.  Not a coach.

Normally, I let things go, but I could not let this go, so I spoke to the coach again… He was adamant it was a 15-player max.  He’s been doing this for a while, and he “spoke” to the league and confirmed.

Now into the playoffs, I hear the other kids on the team questioning my son’s commitment to the team – why wasn’t he coming to the games.  Apparently, my son was making excuses for not being able to attend the games, and not telling the truth.  I explained to him, and the coach explained to him that he was not to dress for the games, so he should just tell the kids that.

The coach was okay with that, and he told me that he spoke to the kids, as many of the kids had been in that position in previous years.

After not coming to any of the games, my son wanted to attend one of the games to cheer his team on.  The kids were confused that he was there but not playing – which made me think that maybe this conversation with the team never actually happened.  My son calmly explained to his teammates that he was told not to dress for the games, but he wanted to come support his team.  By this time he was told he could come watch, but not come in the dressing room, or be on the bench.

Parents commiserated with me, as this had happened to their kids in seasons before.  They would shrug their shoulders and give me that look.  The look that say; “I know it sucks, but if you speak up things will be worse.”

Apparently, my son’s appearance and the game for support, and his practice participation under these circumstances hit a chord somewhere, as he was asked to come to the next game to “support” his teammates.  We received an email that he was “welcomed into the dressing room to speak to his teammates and his presence was considered a positive.”

He did not want to go to be a cheerleader.  He wanted to play.

We declined the invitation.

Hours before the game, the team manager emailed me asking him to play, sort of; “[Your son] is welcomed to dress for the game, and hopefully he will even play!”

I was excited for him!  We took the high road, and did the right things and I thought that it was noticed, respected and he was getting an opportunity as a result.  When I approached him with this offer, he didn’t want to go!

I was shocked.  It turns out that he was nervous – he had not played a single minute of playoff hockey, and now suddenly they expected him to play.  In his mind, he was the player told not to dress for games, and now suddenly being asked to play was setting him up for failure.  If he didn’t play well, or made a mistake, he knew that would be benched, or not play at all as happened to him the entire season.

I convinced him it would a positive experience for him and with minutes to spare, we went to the game.  He played.  He actually played well for a kid who had not seen a second of playoff hockey, and he was paired with the team’s top defenseman, which was a really smart move just in case he just was not good enough (this would have been a great move from the start of the season if there were concerns).

Then suddenly as the 2nd period rolled along and as the team was winning 5-1, he stopped getting shifts.

5-2

5-3

5-4

5-5

He never left the bench again.

His team did win 6-5 thanks to a last-second goal, but the damage was done.  Instead of being happy at the opportunity, he was really upset.  He felt he could have stopped the opposition from scoring when it went from 5-1 to 5-5.  He felt that if his team mates who the coach likes much more than him couldn’t have stopped it, how did the coach know that he couldn’t?

He wanted the opportunity to prove to his coach that he could play.

If he failed, then he failed.  He knew in his heart that would succeed.

We chalked it up to him doing the right thing and it became very obvious that throughout the entire season the coach did not learn anything about him as a person, or as a player.

What made this situation worse was when the coach was overheard telling a parent that this game “meant nothing”.

In my son’s eyes, he felt that this was the reason he was played, not as a reward for doing the right thing, but because it was a meaningless game, which explained why the “back-up” goalie was played, and why some other kids who have stood on the bench all playoffs were getting shifts.

This was why they asked him to play…

Fast forward to the next playoff game, the semi-finals, and the team was short players.  I suspected he would need my son there, and the other 4 players on the team who have dressed for games however not played – some not even a shift.  These players stand on the bench in full uniform and watch the game, while 9 kids play the game.  This, of course, violates league rules because shortening the bench to this extent goes against the spirit of the game.

Personally, it made me wonder why those kids parents didn’t speak up, or how these kids were going to develop if they don’t play…

Back to the playoff game, I had not heard anything and I didn’t want a last minute situation ,so I reached out to the manager.

She emailed me back and told me that my son was welcome to come to the game, be in the dressing room and be on the bench to “keep stats” but that he was not going to play!  She indicated it was as a result of “roster management”.

I was confused, frustrated and now my frustration was turning to anger.

I pressed, and she was not willing to explain to me what was really going on, so she offered to have the coach call me.

After 25 minutes on the phone with the coach, I passed the phone to my wife, who spent another 45 minutes on the phone with him.

The coach admitted that he was calling up a player from the select team a year younger because he needed a player for that game.  The fact that my son was available and told not to play meant that calling up a player violated the rules of the league – let alone the organizations fair play rules.

He defended his interpretation of the rules regarding 15-players on the bench, and he agreed that by not playing our son throughout the season, he hampered his development.  He also said that he never told me there was no spot for our son next season and he said that our son was brought on to the team – very clearly – to share a spot with another defenseman, as an alternate!

When I questioned the need for this kid over my son, it was explained to me that it was purely based on the fact that my son is a defenseman and this boy is a forward.  When I reminded him  that halfway through the season he switched my son from defense to forward (explaining to me just weeks previously that “other kids complained that he was a liability”), he was at a loss for a response.  So he thanked me for my input, in that tone which says I don’t care how right you are, I’m the coach and doing whatever I want to, and he played that child and my son stayed home.

Again, I contacted the league and this time they quickly shut down that experience as apparently cheating is not allowed in it’s most blatant form.  The league, however, was very concerned to learn that kids were being benched, being told to stay home in the playoffs and being given less than equal playing time in the regular season.

Turns out no one complained… ever.

I suspected it might cause a problem, but in that conversation, the coach made it very clear to both of us that my son would not dress for the rest of the playoffs.

I Understood.  I do not agree, but I understood.

Contrary to what the league was telling us now, the coach would continue to play 2 forward lines and 4-5 defense for the playoffs no matter the situation which meant that the other kids on the team would dress but not play.  No matter the situation.

Did I mention this is only select hockey?

Low tiered select hockey, as well.

Could it get any worse?!?

Of course it could!

In the final game of the semi-finals, with a commanding lead in the series, and now I’m sure the coach and manager have had numerous conversations with the league, convenor and league president, I received an email from the team manager, which CC’d the coach, and it read; “You son is welcomed to dress for the game.”

I read that as dress and not play, but after all that has gone on, and all the conversations we’ve had, and that for almost the entire season I have said nothing, been as supporting as possible and understanding, but having been lied to, watched the team cheat, and come to the realization that they happily took my money, and sponsorship for the team, but did not develop my son at all, there is NO way that they would ask him to come to the game and not play, right?

So, we cancelled our programs for our other kids, moved around another appointment, and I took him to the game.  To be sure that he was ready, I took him to a skills training session before the game, and at this session, he was flying.  He was so confident and so happy.  Now he was ready to play and make a difference.

He got to the game on time, the coach always tells the kids they have to be at the game on time or they’re not going to play, and here we are, one hour before the game, and only 3 of the 15 players were there.

It’s been typical for the coach and manager to threaten the kids and not follow through with consequences, like the multiple times he threatened the kids about being on time for practice, then with a week before the end of the season, he made 4 kids sit out half a practice because they were fighting in the dressing room and missed the start of practice.

They were fighting because the coach got dressed, took his kid, and went to the ice early, leaving 12 kids in the dressing room on their own.  Some needed help with skates, goalies needed help with pads, and since the dressing room is typically chaotic, the kids fight with each other.

I was helping the goalies, but still I walked over a couple of times to tell the kids to stop fighting and get ready, but I needed to get the goalies on the ice, so I couldn’t be the only parent who cares that kids are fighting with each other, half dressed in the changerooms…

At the game, the coach was overly pleasant to me which felt very uncomfortable, however the team manager would not look me in the eye at all, and she kept walking by me giving me the stink-face.  I was not getting a good feeling at all.

The game started… and ended… and my son never left the bench.  Not one shift.  He just stood there, being supportive and a team player until he couldn’t.  He turned to me as the 3rd period was starting and he had tears in his eyes.

He was embarrassed.

He was hurt.

He didn’t deserve that.

The coach broke him.

The manager broke him.

I felt so bad for him.  Horrible.  I shouldn’t have brought him to the game.  I should have known they were going to do this to get back and us for calling out their cheating to the league.

Typically, after games, parents are not allowed in the dressing room so that the coaches can re-cap the game, but I couldn’t let him be in there, so upset and so hurt, while the coach talked about how great everything was, so I walked into the change room, asked him to get dressed so we could leave.

“Don’t do this now”, the coach said to me.

“Why?” I replied?  “It is because you don’t want me causing a scene in front of the team?  You lied to me.  You made my son cry.  You asked him to come to the game and you couldn’t play him for one single shift.  You embarrassed him.  You hurt him.  You lied to me and you lied to him.”

“He was supposed to play” was the coaches response.

“You are the coach.  you decide who plays.  You chose not to play him.  You made him come here.  He missed school, we cancelled events, and my other kids missed programs because you asked him here to play, and you let him sit on the bench.  Shame on you!”

At this point in time, an assistant coach told me to cool down.  I was not yelling, I was not screaming, but I was certainly not happy, and I don’t do public drama.  I’m a behind the scenes have a conversation in quiet kind of guy, but this coach lied to me, and was doing it again.

Then from behind, I finally here the manager speaking to me, as she said; “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I turned to her, looked her right in the eyes and said; “I’m not leaving without my son.  Your coach couldn’t play him for one shift.  You couldn’t even look me in the eyes before and during the game.  You knew this was doing to happen and you allowed it.  You could have just asked him to stay home.  That is so cruel.”

She left the dressing room.

It was time to parent.  I was not leaving without my son.  He was SO hurt.  So embarrassed.  They screwed with him all season and were doing it again in the playoffs.  They don’t care about these kids, about the team, or about teaching kids to be kind, respectful people.  They only care about winning.  They played 10 kids the entire play-offs.  They had 5 kids stand on the bench so the team wouldn’t get fined, and they told another kid to say home, so they could call up a better player.

What message does that send to the kids?  To the parents?

If you’re good, we’ll play you.  If you’re not, you’re not going to play and don’t say anything or you’ll be benched.

So much for development.

I’m all for doing what’s best for the team, but my line crosses at cheating the system and cheating the kids, and all these lies!

Now for those of you who think I over-reacted, I will tell you this… I have never done that before and likely never will.  It’s not in my character.  When part of a team, we do what the team wants, but when the coach started violating the rules, and referred to kids as “horrible” then I have problems.  If it wasn’t my kid, I would still be as upset as I was last night.

In fact, it wasn’t just my kid.  It was my kid told to stay home, but 4 other kids who stood on the bench, never played, and their parents thought it was okay.

The league said it was not okay.

As a coach, we have to complete the “Respect in Sports” course and as a coach we have to comply with the rules of the organization we coach in.  Just because no other parent has spoken up doesn’t mean it’s okay to do what he has done.  The coaches job is to develop the players.  If the coach felt that there were 5 kids who were not progressing as he would have liked, he should have spoken up earlier and not waited until the parents came to him.

Some people coach to teach and support kids.

Some people coach so their kid won’t get cut.

This was the latter, for sure.

While on the phone, the coach told me, and told my wife a story about how his oldest son was on select but played “way less than your kid” and after 4-years was cut from the team.  That story told me that he was doing whatever it took to keep his kid from being cut from the team even though his kid was not one of the top players, he made his kid the first-line centre, and the captain.  His focus was not on the development of other players or on team play, but one his own interests only.

A prime example occurred when at a practice a player was clipped from behind and hit his head on the ice very hard and apparently some of the kids, including the coaches son laughed at the boys and accused him of faking it.  As the player was waiting for his parents to get him, the coach and his son were leaving the arena when the coach made his son apologize.  The boy apologized with a massive smile on his face, and when the injured player refused to accept the apology, the boy broke out in laughter and said to his dad – the coach – “HA!  See I told you it was a waste of time!”

Then they left the arena.

The injured boy and a bunch of other kids were still there – thankfully I was there – because someone had to explain to this boys parents what happened in case there were concussion issues or worse.

If that were my kid, I would want to know.  Wouldn’t you?

As the finals began, the convenor of the league contacted us and said that if our son wanted to come play, he “guaranteed” that he would play… A lot.

We never received a note from the coach or the manager.  They never reached out to apologize for what happened at the game, to at least have an opportunity to explain that it was not intentional but they did not.  They never asked him to come to the games.  He would  not go without being asked.  That was what the coach told him before the playoffs.  If he were needed / wanted, they would let him know.

He didn’t go.

The team won.

In the final game, one of the kids who barely played in the playoffs was given a regular shift and was the player of the game.  I’m sure the coach was shocked because in his eyes, certain players just don’t have it – how he would know this without playing the kids is a mystery to me.

Then nothing.

No trophy.

No “Champs” hat, that everyone else got.

Silence.

The convenor wanted to sweep this under the rug, and did.

Then we received an email from the manager offering us $500 back off our league fee because they had to.  They told the league that our son was an alternate, and that they could not play him, however, they charged him the full fee, he came to every game he could attend – there was no question that he was a regular member of the team – and the overriding league did not have him listed as an alternate, but as a regular member of the team.  But they figured they could get away with telling him to stay home, pulling in the alternate card, and get away with it, because they have before.

That offer did not come with an apology.

We accepted it and let them know that without an apology it is meaningless, however we were going to donate that money to a charity for kids who want to play hockey but cannot afford it.  2 days later that money was donated.

I think the coach, manager, and convenor think this is over, and that a refund is enough to stop this duo from mistreating the players who they are volunteering to develop, train, and lead.

It’s not over.

We are clearly not going back to that team, that coach and that manager next season.  The team had a skills coach / assistant coach assigned to them, and upon learning of the situation, he was fired.

I can’t let it go because of the 5 kids on that team who never play, are never developed and who the team happily accepts their money but won’t put any effort into their development.

And for the other kid who stood on the bench all playoffs but his family quietly removed him from the team in the semi-finals because their son was upset – the coach called him horrible.  The assistant coach called him a “fucking pussy”.

And because just hours before calling my son to play and not playing him a single shift, the coach was on the phone with that family, telling them that he was wrong to have not developed their son, and it was wrong for him to have made him stand on the bench for 5 games without playing him a shift…

Then he does it to another kid.

He lies.

The team lies.

The league swept it under the rug.

It’s not about the money.  It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about doing what’s right, and when you take on the role of a coach, that you do what is asked of you, and treating all the kids equally, with respect.

This team is broken.

The way the team is run is broken.

The league is broken.

So what is wrong with hockey?  A lot!

Teams being carried year over year.  Coaches with bad intentions.  Coaches who cheat.  Coaches who lie. Leagues that don’t care. Organizations that don’t care.  All of this is clouded with the unwritten rule that you don’t speak out or the coach will bench your kid or cut him from the team.

It’s a game.  A sport.  It should be fun, and everyone should get the opportunity to learn and develop.  We pay money to have volunteer coaches help our kids learn to play this game better on their own and within a team environment.

So where do I get my opinions on hockey from?

As I mentioned, I have coached hockey for 6-years, and coached a ball hockey team for 25-years.  One year coaching house league hockey we made the finals against the team that had the convenors son on it.  They had 5 select players and we had 2 and of our two, one had a really poor attitude and the other couldn’t skate.  He was one of the weakest players on the team – but had a new player who could not skate.  This boy was a delight in the dressing room, but he and his parents knew that he might have been the weakest player in the league.

League rules required that we rolled the lines every shift as required, so we gave him a role, had players on his line to support him, and did the best we could to get the most out of him.

In the finals, with the game nearing an end and the score 0-0, this boy’s father came to ask me if he wanted me to take his son from the game so we could play someone stronger for our last shift – he would tell the convenor that his son was sick, or hurt.

“Absolutely not!”, I said.  “You win as a team and you lose as a team.”

So on this last shift, as the play was leaving the oppositions end, and as our weakest play was trying so hard to get into the play, the puck was turned over, and suddenly, this player is at their blue line with the puck, and the other 9-players on the ice are at our blue line.

Needless to say, on the breakaway our player was so scared that they would catch him that he fanned on his shot – caught the puck with the heel of his stick – which surprised the goalie and the puck trickled between the goalies legs and into the net.

Game over.

1-0 win.

In tears, the father said to me that this was his son’s greatest moment in his life, and he was going to give up hockey because he knew he wasn’t good at it, and he would never be able to top that moment.

I told the father to keep his son skating and get him ready for next year.

Everybody deserves the chance to be a hero.

Everybody deserves to be a part of the team, no matter how good, or bad, or who their parent may or may not be.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game or last game, the first minute or the last minute.

If this was my son’s select coach, that boy would not have come to the game or would not have played, and we might have lost the game.

Where ever that boy is now in his life, some 20-years later, he can always draw on that experience of fairness to help him in similar situations.

I can’t say that lesson was taught to any of the kids on this year’s team.

And that I have a problem with!

 

UPDATE:

We returned to our old league, signed up for house-league, and attended the select tryouts, and after 2 very strong tryouts, he made the team!

At the parent’s meeting, the coach and manager preached development, and that every child will grow, develop, learn and be challenged and that it is the teams job and the coaches job to ensure that the season is a positive one for each and every player.

What a difference!

As a result, my son is still doing the drop-in skills sessions at Creative Hockey Development, and he’s getting better each and every time he’s on the ice.

Seeing his rapid improvement it makes me question what last season would have looked like if the coach just gave him a chance…

Oh well.

I’m still waiting to hear back from that league… Not holding my breath!

 

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My Son Was Traded This Morning!


I know hockey and I love hockey.  I’ve never played ice hockey but I have coached ice hockey – 6 years while in my early 20’s because my sports physiotherapist needed someone to open and close the bench doors.  I had always thought it was because he didn’t like the 6am and 7am games!

I learned to skate while teaching the kids how to play the game, and how to be winners on and off the ice.

In those 6 years we won one championship and made it to the finals 5 times because we never had the best players in the league, nor the top select players, but we made these kids buy into the team concept which meant all the players, no matter how good, bad or new to the game, were a key part.

Hockey is, after all, a team sport!

My wife found it unusual that with my love and passion I hold for hockey, I never pushed my kids into the sport.  I tried, trust me, but they didn’t like it.  They hated staking, they didn’t like watching the Leafs and they had no desire to shoot around a ball in the basement.

Then something changed…

The school my kids attended arranged for skating lessons during the day, and my middle child, Stewie’s class was full of top ranked hockey players, kids who could skate, shoot, pass and play the sport better than other kids their age and Stewie always felt awkward skating around his classmates.  He’s a tall kid for his age and watching him stand on skates reminded me of a newborn giraffe trying to stand for the first time.

I was there, on the ice with him at his school’s skate day when his classmates skated over to him and instead of making fun of him, helped him stand, brought him the on-ice support and were giving him tips to be a better skater.  I could see in his eyes that he was very appreciative of their support and he was determined to skate without support.

From that day came lessons after lessons, plus a learn-to-play hockey program and finally this season a debut in house league hockey.  He’s a much better skater than 2 years ago, and his hockey sense is quite high for someone who refuses to watch the sport.  He continues to get better and better each game, practice and lesson and he knows he has a long way to go.

He also knew that on his 0-7 team there was a very good chance that he was going to be traded.  Not only were a lot of the kids on the team together from previous years, but he understood that to get new players, better players, you would have to give up your “lower-skilled” players (his words) and not the “worst” players.

Then came the news!

He was traded.

From a 0-7 team to a 7-0 team.

He’s not all that pleased about it either.  You see, he is worried that his new teammates will not know that he’s just learning the sport, but they will see a very tall kid who tries very hard but is not the fastest, not yet able to deke players out, or who can raise the puck.

He’s worried that they will think he sucks and that the best players left the team because of him.

UGH.

So I have reached out to the convenors, trying to get the new coaches contact information so I can let them know that they are getting a kid who wants to learn the game and who will do whatever he can to be better and make the team better.  It’s been 2 days and no one has reached out, oh, except his old coaches who have asked for his jersey and socks back.

So what would I do in this situation?!?

I would do what is right for the children!  I would have a really long look at the coaches who have volunteered to coach these teams to make sure they are looking after the kids best interests and not their own.  I see teams playing poorly in hopes that their team won’t be broken up by trades and wonder aloud who does this help?!?  Does that coach get an award for stocking his team while other teams struggle, or worse, what message does that send to the kids when they see a coach trying to lose in order to protect the core of the team…

I would rather the league NOT make the trades, but instead work with the coaches to teach the children to play as a team.

Sure, little Johnny can only score 3 goals, then any goals he scores after that do not count, but does it benefit the kids on either side if Johnny still dekes the entire team, then stands by the side of the net waiting for a teammate to skate to the net so that Johnny can pass to him or shoot the puck in off of him?

Does it benefit the kids that the league will not post the score when it exceeds a 5-goal differential?  Nope, the kids know the real score so they might as well post it, but would it hurt the other coach to take his better offensive players and teach them defense, or passing instead.  By doing that, his team learns proper positioning and the defensive team can also learn proper positioning.  That would be a win-win situation!

Instead, we let the coaches run wild, we make the better kids feel special and we make the lower kids feel useless all in the name of hockey instead of using this special position of leadership to teach the kids to be good teammates, and to help their team win without rubbing it into the faces of their opponents.

I’ve applied to be a part of the convenor team because of how strongly I feel about the opportunity to teach kids to be better kids and win, lose or draw.

I guess I know who will be coaching next season…

No trades please!  We’ll be fine.

My Boys Will NOT be Soccer Stars… or T-Ball, Hockey, Karate…


This topic is a sore point for me.

Not as sore as I thought it would be, but it still bugs me…

My kids have zero interest in sports… in anything that requires competition, not counting who can annoy the other quicker. That, they are great at!

Take soccer, for example… For the past two years both Linus and Stewie have done SportBall soccer. Linus spent the better part of both seasons chewing on his soccer jersey and holding the hand of the female coach. If he wasn’t doing that, he could be found sitting on the grass picking weeds, while the other boys and girls chased the ball.

Stewie, on the other hand, loved being outside and running – he was the fastest and biggest of the 2 year olds last year – but when it came to playing… Well, he would watch a lot but never actually go to get the ball. Then you could see the expression on his face get more and more upset until he would start sobbing that he didn’t get to touch the ball. This approach has not changed… More on this later.

I have tried teaching them about the sport, practicing with them and telling them to go get the ball (it’s not going to come to you), but they have no interest whatsoever, other than getting into their uniforms and catching some rays.

I have actually become that dad that I hated when I was coaching ice hockey in my younger days, who yelled at their kid(s) to do something… anything. Now I yell at them to run, kick the ball, come back and play defense, stop playing with the weeds, grass, bugs, sand, plyon, shoes… Need I go on?

Linus ended his Sportball soccer career with his friend / neighbour passing the ball to him, then him passing it back and that boy scoring. It was the first pass he had ever made. Three years of SportBall, one pass, one assist. He’s done.

So after the soccer fiasco, we took the boys aside and asked them what sports they want to play. Hockey?!? Nope. Basketball?!? Nope. T-Ball… Yes!

So this spring, Linus “played” t-ball. In a league when at 5 1/2 he was one of the youngest and smallest, he managed to find a sport that he can tolerate… For about an hour.

He loves hitting – basically since the bat is heavy and him not that strong, he just slices it into the infield and runs, in a very goofy manner until he gets to the base. Once there all bets are off. He plays with the rocks on the baseball diamond, he picks grass and looks around at the world. Kind of what he does when playing defense. Only twice did he manage to stop the ball and throw out runners. Most of the time he’s too tired or wants to hold my hand. (I coached his t-ball team).

Besides these sports, both my boys do karate (our choice, not theirs), for discipline. This has not gone smoothly either… Essentially, for the last year and a half, Linus has been a lost cause. He’s in karate to learn to defend himself (not to KO his brother as he may think – which is why Stewie needed to be there too… To defend himself). The sensei came up to me the other week and said that she sees a ton of improvement in Linus and that “teaching him was so challenging that it helped me become a better sensei. It’s not that he is a problem-child, but he likes to talk to us and he makes us laugh. He’s very social, and doesn’t like to focus on the moves”. Really? I think that’s why he’s there!

Now he has a new sensei and we asked her to be very tough on him. He’s excelling but still gets very tired / bored during the class and looks completely disinterested.

So let’s fast-forward to the present. After getting the go-ahead from the boys, both kids are playing soccer in a local Toronto Soccer league. I am coaching both teams. Neither boy likes going to the games. They hate their cleats and detest the shin pads. They mope around the field in their cute uniforms, too tired to kick the ball, too disinterested to actually try, but plenty happy to rip out the grass and race 200 years to the water fountain.

Frankly, it’s killing me.

Not that I was a sports star as a kid, however. I was 250 pounds by the time I turned 13, but I carried my baseball glove and tennis ball everywhere I went. I used my hockey stick and net in the street in front of my house numerous time a week. I adored tennis balls, growing up.

I used to toss around a football, I LOVED tennis (still do, but don’t play that much) and rode my bike everywhere.
I never learned to skate, nor play ice hockey, but as an adult joined a ball hockey league and have played on and off for the better part of 19 years (the “off” part comes when we have children).

My kids…

… Not so much.

The boys and I took skating lessons and they were a disaster. Neither boy liked it and after 5 or 6 lessons with them laying on the ice wailing, I got them to participate and try the sport after promising them cookies from Tim Horton’s after they had tried in the class. That worked, but they have no passion to learn to skate on their own. Linus has two friends who LOVE to skate and both now play hockey.

Sure, my little one loved being on the trampoline and asked me just yesterday if he would take gymnastics again. Said he loved the somersaults…

And my older boy… loves swimming and is getting much better at it, but it’s not a “sport”, right…

So it is with that, that I reach out to you, my readers for some insight or success stories to help me cheer up.

I really do want my kids to like sports and I want them to focus and play hard. While I do not want them to have a career in sports, I want them to have fun, learn to compete and want to play catch, or ride their bikes, work up a sweat…

Update:
At Linus’ soccer last night the league arranged for a roving instructor to come spend some time with the team and he said that Linus likes to play but has zero confidence and I need to teach him to be competative… I envision a plate of candy and him doing drills until he gets all the treats. Not that I would ever do that, but I’m running out of suggestions… HELP!