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Deflections: Discipline in minor hockey: Part one – The challenges


A minor hockey body has a curious approach to allowing coaches to discipline their players. A coach is permitted to bench a player for one shift if they don’t abide by the association’s fair play standards. But the benching can only occur once in a season.

From there, the next step is a coach-imposed one-game suspension, which can also only occur once in the season.

The association cannot be faulted for trying to stem the tide of benchings and the like in bygone years. Coaches would play their best players, double or even triple-shifting them, benching kids for inordinate periods of time for the flimsiest of reasons.

In other words, winning was the goal even at the youngest age levels. Without rules to govern how they could use kids, some coaches abused their power and just plain sat them.

Consequently it had to create fair-play rules that effectively put a halt to the abuse. Only in a few cases each year does one now see even a hint of attempts to use only the best players. Coaches know they’re being watched, as they should be.

But the benching of players had, and still has, another prong and this is where the rule falls flat. There aren’t many tools available to minor hockey coaches to deal with kids who present problems. More importantly, most minor hockey coaches function in a volunteer-based system where few have training or backgrounds in dealing with behaviour issues or conflict management.

They see their players just a handful of hours each week. As I often say to coaches in clinics, you’re coaching these kids, not parenting them. Others have that role and you cannot take their place nor pick up where they leave off. In school, teachers know that all too well, though they spend a number of hours daily with children. Which means that when a coach is faced with a discipline issue on a team, in that particular association, you can bench a child one shift. Full stop. And/or bench him one game. Again, full stop.

True, both require documentation and consultation with parents. However, there’s nothing else. This is not to say that benching is the only recourse for consideration; it is but one form of sanction. Yet there’s no guidance for the coach on alternatives. In fact, even to bench a player according to its rules, the association provides virtually no guidance except to say that the child’s actions contravened the fair play code.

How does a coach handle a child who is rude or disruptive? What of the ones who bully or just plain won’t listen? The kid who takes frequent retaliation penalties?

It’s the one question asked of me the most often by coaches: What do I do with this kid…?

Next week we’ll look at some solutions.

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