This was originally published December 22, 2010 in the Metro, a neighbourhood weekly in Winnipeg. Substitute “soccer” for “hockey”… hockey season is over, but the sentiment is no less relevant on the pitch than in the rink.
It is the scourge of minor hockey. It can create and destroy friendships. It can be the determining factor in a child’s decision to quit or keep playing. It is the politics of minor hockey.
It is insidious. It starts with a minor difference of opinion or an offhand comment that offends someone. Soon, it blows up into conflicts and personality clashes that rival those schoolyard quarrels that gets kids (and parents) hauled to the principal’s office.
Hockey politics are manifested by disagreements and clashes among and between parents, coaches, team managers, and league organizers. Requests are made for a child to play at a certain level, with (or not with) certain other children. Which colours to wear, which tournaments to enter, who does canteen duty? Sometimes requests can be accommodated; when they can’t, the team can be in for a very long and unpleasant season.
And it doesn’t really matter why those parents don’t want Johnny to play on Jimmy’s team. Johnny and Jimmy just want to play hockey, and they don’t really care who they play with. Politics are always the parents’ issues. The problem is that those issues inevitably affect the kids. They sense tension. They are disappointed about suddenly not playing on the same team as their friends. They watch their role models dealing with conflict in really unhealthy ways. It can ruin the experience of hockey for them.
Maybe the conflicts arise from parents’ unreasonable expectations of their children. It can be hard to remember that 98% of the kids playing hockey at age 9 or 10 will not make a career of it, especially when you are convinced that Little Johnny is the next Gretzky.
Face it. Chances are, your kid is not Wayne Gretzky.
I resisted the idea of hockey as long as I could. Not growing up with team sports, competition to me still feels a little unsavory. I was overruled, though, and I’m now a Hockey Mom. And, despite the politics, it has been worth it. Maybe we lucked out, getting in with a good group of parents. Maybe the kids’ love of the game has insulated us from the worst of it. But really, it doesn’t matter. Even if he doesn’t make it to the big leagues, he might play long enough to make it to the beer leagues. He’s active, having fun, and developing skills and friendships that should last him a lifetime.
If we play it right, we, the parents can develop skills and friendships too. Just leave the politics out of it.