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Deflections: Benched


A recent coaches meeting hosted by my association reminded me of a wonderful Monty Python sketch from the 1971 film “And Now for Something Completely Different.” It was called “How not to be seen.” Characters would hide behind bushes, trees and rocks, which would blow up (cue sounds of screams), exposing where they’d been. In other words, you can’t not be seen.

Now to the meeting and the litany of ways a coach could get suspended for this and that. The president would have had a far shorter and more productive agenda had he just called it, “How not to be suspended.” For this seems to be the raison d’etre for some minor hockey organizations: We won’t just register your kids, schedule your games, and track results. We’ll also watch your every move. Heaven help you if you overstep your bounds as coach, such as the association has created, to discipline a player. If you do, we’ll suspend you.

One association puts in its rules that a coach can impose only two types of “benching” suspensions. You bench a child for one shift—only once per season! The other is to bench the player (ie. sit him out) for an entire game— also just once per season. Nothing in between.

Now clearly the rules were created to stave off a wave of punitive measures by overzealous coaches who were sitting kids willy-nilly. Utter a swear word and sit. Take yet another silly penalty and sit. Criticize a teammate and sit. In other words, rather than deal with the source of problems and nip them in the bud early on, coaches would resort to the most expedient and easiest approach which is to ride the pine. (Old timers are free here to invoke the “in my day” mutterings right about now, as in, “In my day, you sat if you didn’t behave.”)

However, the two permitted “benching” situations don’t work on a few levels. They don’t solve whatever problem led to the suspension. Purely punitive measures, especially minor ones, rarely do. They don’t recognize that some hockey events are out of a coach’s and even a player’s control. Bad officiating is one. A child may indeed take two straight stick penalties, but maybe both were accidental or the referee goofed. It happens. Sitting the child a shift only causes frustration. Jumping from a one-shift suspension to a coach-imposed one-game suspension, even though parents are apprised beforehand, suggests that the only way to deal with an issue is in a game. In fact, the rules that allow coach-imposed suspensions handcuff the coach, for what’s he to do afterward?

It was even suggested at the coaches meeting that night that a one-game suspension might be warranted for someone regularly not attending practices. Surely there are a host of reasons why a child doesn’t go to practice. How benching him for one game deals with the issue baffles me.

Next week, I’ll take a look at approaches coaches need to take to avoid benching under such rules as well as how to tweak these rules to make them “real world” friendly.

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