Making hockey fun
I was thinking of the time my wife and I listened to my son's hockey coach explain why two members of the team, his son and the assistant coach's son, played 30 minutes of a 36-minute, frigid, outdoor Pee-Wee B game, an 8-2 loss at that, while the rest of our children sat and froze, playing as little as two minutes, in some cases.
Then there was the day my son got knocked cold and a parent on the other team berated the official for calling a penalty when it was clear (to him) that the motionless player on the ice was "faking it."
Or the time ... Hey, I'm sure you have your horror stories, too.
The bad behaviors aren't limited to hockey. We've all heard parents complain about the administration and conduct of soccer players and coaches. The same is true of organized youth football, baseball and basketball. A screaming-mimi Little League manager burned out what little interest my son had in baseball.
There are times -- in all youth sports -- where the parents take it more seriously than the kids. That can lead to some ugly incidents. With those incidents in mind, USA Hockey introduced a taunting penalty a few years ago because of the escalating on-ice "trash talk." Several states in recent years have adopted or strengthened laws to punish people who assault officials.
Both the Canadian Hockey Association and USA Hockey offer valuable coaching and officiating programs as well as tutorial videos that address not only how to play the game but how to conduct yourself in organized sports. But officials of those organizations, citing the vast difference in size between their staffs and their enrollment, realize they can't police and/or adjudicate every untoward incident or situation occurring on this vast continent.
"Volunteerism is the lifeblood of our sport," said Chuck Menke, Director of Media and Public Relations/USA Hockey, Inc. "The vast majority of people in all youth sports are doing it for the right reasons. It's a small percentage that cause problems.
"In addition to our instructional offerings, USA Hockey encourages codes of conduct that apply to players, coaches and officials as well as spectators and parents. USA Hockey also enforces a zero-tolerance policy when applicable. If someone is verbally or physically abusive during a game on the ice or in the stands, the team with which that person is associated can be penalized. If there is a fan in the stands who becomes verbally abusive to a player, coach or official or another spectator the referee can assess a penalty against that fan's team. At that point, the individual is also asked to leave the facility. From there, it's in the hands of the local league. They will have a hearing to determine whether further action is necessary. The individual has a chance to explain his or her side of the story. Further action could consist of that individual being placed on a type of probation and not allowed to come to a certain number of games for the rest of the season. If that person is allowed to return, another individual might be assigned to monitor their conduct."
Despite the good efforts of local and national associations, the boorishness continues and may even be escalating.
That's why the parents of every youth hockey player should be interested in a program developed by Dan Bylsma, the alternate captain of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and his father, Jay, a former youth-hockey coach.
It does have the benefit of specific focus. While the national organizations have a wide array of responsibilities, including registration, insurance coverage, supervision and training of coaches and officials, conducting tournaments, publishing and running national teams, IT PAYS focuses on sportsmanship.
"Our goal is to make youth sports safer and less violent," Bylsma wrote on his web site, www.danbylsma.com. "IT PAYS attempts to insure a wholesome environment in which children can enjoy ice hockey, learn its rules, and develop their skills toward a lifetime of enjoyment and appreciation for the sport."
There are two guaranteed ways to lose friends and get your child singled out in youth sports: Call for better sportsmanship on the part of everyone involved in your organization and insist on equal ice time for all players. My belief that in organizations with A- and B-level travel teams, the A team should try to win championships while the B team should focus on player development, was generally met with derision. I feel the same way about the roles of varsity and junior-varsity teams. Where's the long-term value to the organization, players and parents in a B-team or JV championship if the coach used a short bench?
Dan and Jay Bylsma have given this a lot of thought. The web site contains many pages of answers to frequently asked questions on the role of sportsmanship and how to benefit all participants in an organization.