Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Playoffs are exciting! And in Canada, hockey playoffs have the added fun of ushering in spring and the culmination of months of dark early morning practices, long drives to games and nagging injuries that may sideline crucial players. It has also been replete with nagging parents and the ever-looming promise of the NHL. Who knows when a scout for the Pittsburg Penguins may be in the stands?
– Spoiler – the answer is never when they are eight years old! Now relax and simply enjoy.
We are in a rural Alberta Novice Tier 1 league! It is a competitive league and therefore winning is one of the objectives and also means our kids were born in 2006 / 2007; they are between 7-9 years of age and attend grades 2 or 3. The commitment they have shown to three practices and two-games per week is as impressive as their parents’ commitment to driving hundreds of kilometres on icy roads, to stay in pricey hotels while trying to avoid fast food.
Perhaps due to this commitment and the nature of competition, one could understand a slightly higher level of intensity among spectators. Yet during our 2pm game on Saturday, February 21, in our hometown of Canmore, Alberta, a male spectator (and presumable father), supporting the Okotoks team was removed from the stands by the RCMP. Yes, really. It happened. We all watched. I may have laughed that ‘embarrassed for another person’ laugh.
All Canadians have heard these stories, but this is the first season I have lived it. At best we are a marginal hockey family and after spending last year in South America we returned to novice hockey as one of my son’s activities in this healthy mountain environment. At age eight, he already had two years less hockey experience than most of the kids, but he did ‘make the cut’ to the A team after what seemed extremely vigorous try-outs. As one imagines a few parents have been vocally displeased about where their children ended up …
It’s Just For Fun!
As the season slowly draws to a close, the positives are numerous: great team environment, quality family time travelling to points throughout the province and good, presumably healthy competition with lots of excitement. Hockey in Canada ranks in importance with literacy and my son may now enjoy formal and informal play for the rest of his life. The team environment forces cohesion between players – and families – that may not always be natural, thereby building community and camaraderie.
Indisputably there is a downside. Hockey is a huge time commitment and particularly expensive. Not just all the gear, but fuel, hotels, food and the opportunity cost of not participating in other activities. All of this may be weighed up as a cost-benefit if one’s child is a fit with the sport. But screaming parents, swearing coaches and utterly unreasonable expectations can ruin the game. Clearly this is true! Dropout rates increase quickly with age and for our part, we really considered not going to the Sunday rematch in Okotoks. We did go; I was the dad who yelled; “remember this is for fun,” and I clapped when the other team scored. I did so because I enjoyed the play and your kids’ enthusiasm.
They Really are Little!
Looking at NHL.COM there appears to be 832 players in the NHL. In the world there are somewhere around 2.5 million registered hockey players, thus giving your son or daughter roughly a 0.00033% chance of making the NHL. In real numbers Canadians do play the most hockey and it is a wonderful sport. But to those aggressive, abusive parents who feel the need to bang on the glass and swear at the young ref’s; “what is your plan B if your little superstar somehow doesn’t make the professional leagues?” And more specifically “what are you hoping to achieve with this huge commitment?”
He (or she) is doing their best and hopefully having fun. Nobody likes you when you are mean, nobody thinks you are a good parent when you scream and games will be cancelled because young referees will be too put off to officiate under threat. Just relax, have fun, hug you child and know no one – from the coaches to the officials, to the other parents – are out to get him! The friendly community arena in Indus, AB has signs posted on their doors reminding parents of the five most important words to offer your young hockey player: “I love watching you play.”
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