The recent minor hockey incident in Markham, Ont. is a jarring example of why we need to take our duties as educators of the game more seriously than ever.
This past week has been dominated by news of the Toronto Blue Jays and the incident where a fan threw a beer can in the field during the game, almost preventing the Baltimore Orioles to make a play against our beloved Jays.
While that story of lack of respect for a sport has garnered a great deal of national news attention, there was a second incident demonstrating a lack of respect, this time in the stands of a Bantam A game between the Markham Waxers and Orillia Terriers of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association.
If you haven't seen the news reports of the altercation, long story short was after a very emotionally-charged game involving a plethora of penalties including a check from behind, a fight ensued between the two teams, and the two teams’ respective parent groups.
As a referee, I’ve broken up dozens of “fights” between players. At the peewee-bantam age group, players are just learning to body check, and everyone’s the “tough enforcer on the ice” – at least in talk. At the end of the day, the players are just trying to emulate what they see in the professional levels, while sticking up for their teammates.
If a player tries to fight an opponent, typically the referee will step in before it becomes too serious and send the players to the penalty box. The players learn very quickly that if they want to express their displeasure in physical ways, instead of fighting, they need to take it out on the other team through good clean hard checks.
Am I personally against players fighting and learning from that mistake? No. What I am against is parents getting involved, whether it’s on the ice, or off.
There’s a common misconception about minor hockey in Canada. Minor hockey is not just a hockey program. It’s a leadership program, and we use hockey as the vehicle to teach it.
Minor hockey is about teaching kids how to be good teammates, deal with challenges and overcome them, have courageous conversations, and how to be a coachable not only in hockey, but in life. The hope is that players will take these lessons and apply them to their real lives now, and in their professional lives as they grow up. With such an insignificant number of players making it to the show, the main takeaway for minor players has to be valuable life lessons, not hockey skills.
What do parents teach their kids when they fight with other parents and dare I say in this case, players of the opposing team? They send the message that it’s okay to sucker punch the boss for making an unpopular decision, they send the message that when someone says hurtful words, instead of having the courage and character to walk away and turn the other cheek, it’s okay to fight another person over senseless chirps. They send the message that it’s better to take act on impulse in challenging situations.
It is NEVER okay for parents to get involved with the players during the game, much less with the opposing team. As parents, you have the duty to ensure that your kids have a safe playing environment, and that you set the example and standard for how a decent human being should act.
The OMHA and GTHL have made it mandatory for all parents to take a Respect in Sport program. We need to make sure parents take the lessons from the course seriously so that our players experience nothing but the best of what hockey has to offer.
Players having an issue with other players from the opposing team and having a heated game is one thing, parents getting involved is quite another. If you’re ever faced with a situation such as the one in Markham, take the opportunity to set a precedent and a strong example. No matter how heated thing get, don’t engage. Have the courage and decency to walk away – and know this will leave a lasting impression on impressionable young minds.
In the words of Kenny Rogers:
"Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done.
Walk away from trouble if you can
It won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you're old enough to understand
Son, you don't have to fight to be a man"
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