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Deflections: Killing flies - and volunteers - with shotguns

Out my way, one minor association’s rulebook states that if a coach uses an ineligible player, the coach will receive an automatic 5-game suspension.

We can only guess why the rule was created. Somewhere, sometime, a coach chose to grab a kid from a nearby team for a game. Likely the kid was a decent player. Probably, too, he was not affiliated with the team he was called to. Maybe he was a neighbour or a nephew. Maybe it was happening often and teams were complaining. As a result, an administrator figured a slam on the culprit coach would discourage future abuses.

All rules can be appealed. One reason for doing so, according to this particular body’s constitution, is if the penalty is too harsh. However there’s no judgement coming into play here. There’s no sliding scale of justice, as one would get in civilized society, where the coach could be reprimanded or dealt one game, two or even the full five. Even if you burglarize a house, there’s an array of punitive measures, including restorative justice. Not so in minor hockey.

Now consider Fred, a house league coach in this association. He was called out of town at the last minute to deal with a gravely ill relative and left his assistant in charge. The team played a game during Fred’s absence and the assistant used a player who was not on the affiliation list. When Fred returned, unaware of what had happened, he was charged with the five-game suspension. No board member would even consider hearing his explanation. You should be aware of the rules, he was told. Please note the team’s season is 28 games long.

Fred is seriously reconsidering his wish to coach again.

Then there was Sebastian who was coaching his son’s novice (age 7) house “C” team. He’d never coached before but had helped out the previous year with his boy’s Initiation Program group. He was short players for a game and elected to call a neighbour’s son who was a year younger and in the IP. He’d never been told about rules or affiliation or that IP kids were not “on cards.” So he used the child in a game.

His association, a different one, suspended Seb for one game for using an ineligible player. He had, but knew nothing of the rules and tried to explain this. No one listened. He quit coaching at the end of the season.

In a mad, often nonsensical and entirely illogical dash to punish transgressors of hockey’s rules, people are wondering why bother. Of course we need rules. Like society’s laws, they exist to protect against the small minority who don’t want to abide by what is right. But in that net we inadvertently catch then punish those who meant no harm. To what end? 

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