This winter I have been able to watch a lot of minor hockey. What has made these last couple of months even more enjoyable is watching my twin sons play and watching other games with them.
Now there are many horror stories about hockey parents. They are out of control, screaming at officials, other players and coaches. Well from my experience this last couple of months nothing could be further from the truth.
The parents and supporters watching the minor hockey games I've attended cheer for their team and maybe once in a while shake their heads at a questionable referee decision. However they have everything in perspective. Despite all the stories the parents are respectful and supportive.
There was one situation the other day though that bothered me. A player on my boy's team took a hard hit from behind. It was the kind of play we have all seen many times.
The young defencemen put himself in a vulnerable position by turning his back at the last second to avoid a check. His opponent could not stop and put him into the boards. There was no call from the ref, the young man was not hurt. In fact he stayed on the ice.
A face-off ensues and the play heads up the ice. The boy that was hit makes a beeline for the young man that hit him and chops him with a high stick that would have made the producers of Slapshot cringe. He then jumped on the fallen opponent and began to rain punches on his head.
So the kid gets kicked out of the game and is heading to the dressing room. His father is standing by the glass right outside the room and I am standing in the same spot separated by a couple of feet.
His Dad asked him why or what was going on. The kid complained about the hit from behind and smiled about his reaction. In fact a few minutes later the pair enjoyed a laugh, over what I don't know.
Maybe I'm wrong but as a parent I think this Dad made a huge mistake by not chastising his son for a dangerous and malicious overreaction.
I would not have reprimanded my son in the rink in front of everyone but I certainly would have conveyed my disapproval and not laughed things off.
In the car on the way home I would hope a responsible parent talked to his child about the self responsibility not turning your back to an opponent. Shouldn't we expect that a mature adult would have talked his son about taking your stick and slamming it over the head of an opponent shows that you just shouldn't be playing hockey because you have no impulse control?
As a life lesson shouldn't the Dad have made his son personally apologize to the player he struck and to the coaches of both teams.? I hope in no uncertain terms a father would make his son understand that his actions were unacceptable. Maybe this Dad did, I hope so but based on his initial reaction I don't think he did.
The other day the boys got into a game against a team that was much faster, more skilled and so much bigger I thought we should check some birth certificates. The game was very physical but not out of control.
The boys team were unprepared for such a tough game and overwhelmed. Some including me would characterize them as intimidated. It is very hard to play the game scared.
Now I try very hard not to coach the boys after the game. After the 6-0 loss it was a quiet ride home. The next day, one of my boys, Davis asked me how do you play in a game with a team that is bigger, stronger and more physical without being scared.
I told him, "you don't!"
I explained to him that the only way you get over the fear is to keep playing. To play in more games and situations that test your physical and mental strength.
I told him that I believe we all get into those competitive situations where the butterflies are doing laps in your stomach. But that was normal and not something that should stop you from battling the challenge.
In fact I even stole a line from Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa. It is one of my favorite inspirational speeches from the movies.
"...it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It's about how much you can take and keep moving forward."
Yeah I know it was a bit cheesy but I believe it to be true. Real toughness is taking a hit to make a play. Real courage is the willingness to take the punishment and not let it back you down.
I reminded Davis that Coach Todd McLellan always talks about "Will is just as, if not more important than skill."
As he walked away I kept thinking that sports doesn't automatically teach life lessons but it is a vehicle that provides us to have the conversations with our kids that hopefully they will remember and take what they need to make them smarter and stronger in their day to day challenges.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving.