I’ve had my fair share of experiences with all three inevitabilities lately and I can confidently say none have been of the particularly positive variety. I have time now and have earned the license from 15 years in the game to rant one last time on the third of the evil triumvirate, Hockey Politics, before I leave the ranks of hockey fatherdom. I would have hoped after all this time things would have improved to some degree, but it seems each week we read about another minor hockey controversy and here in my own hockey life, I’ve witnessed more bullshit (yup, I said it now the season’s all but over) than I have in recent memory. Behind the scenes, self-serving, back-stabbing behaviour revolving around kids playing what is supposed to be a fun game, or at least I still like to believe this should be the main focus. Yet, all indications point to this more often than not being a minority view. There is a great deal of lip-service paid by those in power and/or those who wish to be in power around the importance of keeping the game fun. However, once those same people have the reins they invariably revert to their true selves. Perhaps this is unavoidable the moment you add human nature to this or any process. Many people, bless their souls, have their own personal agendas tied to “winning”, see their children through proverbial “rose-coloured” glasses or are simply blind to situations, which do not suit their purpose.
The game is certainly not immune to the politics we see all around us in other facets of our lives and I suppose this should come as no surprise to anyone. Momma and I have found politics rears its ugly head in several spots during a hockey year, during coach selection, player tryouts and mid-season emergency call-ups.
Coaches, while generally qualified (which, from my perspective, has gotten a bit better in girl’s hockey of late), are quite often chosen to suit the needs of a particular parent group or association. To be clear, I have been part of a selection committee myself where I did find the process to be fair and equitable with limited politics brought to bear. However, Momma and I have also seen quite the opposite where heads are left shaking at choices made. Where ulterior motives are glaringly obvious.
Meanwhile, the politics can run even deeper when players are chosen with coach’s collaborating to make sure certain balances and dynamics are maintained. I don’t want to sound greater than thou, but I like to think I chose my teams with more of an objective, critical eye; caring less about the politics and more about the players. Here again, as both parent and coach in nearly every year I’ve seen obvious head scratchers where the process has been found wanting. For that matter, I am sure there are parents out there who have tickled their own craniums at choices I have made as a coach. I can confidently say those choices were never made for political reasons, which in their case could have been part of the problem.
Emergency call-ups, particularly at older ages, are a must as players miss games and practices for injury, work or a variety other personal reasons. Teams are allowed to have players fill in from teams below them and quite often the top 1/3 of players from the lower team could quite easily compete on the team above. From my perspective, this process should be used as a reward to players on the lower teams who have shown they deserve an opportunity to play up a level. The result is a chance to play the game at a little quicker pace, at a slightly higher level and generally provides a boost to the confidence of the chosen player if and when they find they are able to fit in, as most do. I strongly believe these opportunities should be given to as many players as possible. This would have the resulting effect of benefiting both players and teams alike. However, some coaches choose to simply use call-ups as a means to improving their team’s chances to win and limit their choices to only one or two skaters (like a single player or two from a lower team could make such a difference). And make no mistake, all of the players from the lower team, who have inexplicably not been called up, are acutely aware of what’s happening. Quite often this can cause rifts as the lucky call-ups are perceived as receiving preferential treatment. The call-ups themselves, depending on the player, can exacerbate the situation by calling attention to their good fortune. What should be a positive organization and player building process actually becomes quite the opposite.
On all counts, I became immune to the crap early on, but have honestly struggled with how it’s affected the players I’ve interacted with; especially the Boy and the Devil. Luckily, the Boy’s last couple of season’s were among his best thanks to a good parent and coaching group who rightly traded the politics for a strong does of minor hockey reality. The Devil, on the other hand, had what can only be described as a rough final year and I’m sorry for that. Not because our team lost a bunch of games, but more so because of all of the underlying reasons behind it. Momma’s had some off-ice hockey battles of her own this year, which have likewise left a bad taste.
In retrospect, I guess it’s naive to think things will ever significantly change if the needle’s not moved in nearly two decades. I’ve heard it from other parents in other leagues so I know we are not alone in this. Please don’t get me wrong, I still love the game, warts and all. It’s nearly time for Momma and I to take a break from competitive minor hockey. I’m hopeful it’s just the “competitive” part we’ve grown tired of; the part which brings the less attractive side of human nature to bear. I’m also not suggesting for a moment we can or should take the human aspect out of the game; just try to smarten it up a little.
Here endeth the rant.
A friend and I have talked about coming back to coach “little kids” somewhere down the line; you know….Just for Fun. Yeah, that’ll be the ticket…a couple of non-parents who’ve been through the wars, altruistically tasked with showing young hockey prospects the ropes. Surely there will be no rose-coloured wearing, next-Gretzky-growing fanatics among that parent group to worry about. We’ll have to wait and see how those plans sound after we’ve had a chance to decompress away from the game for a bit. Ahhh, we’ll always have Death and Taxes……
Quotes courtesy of http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_politics.html
Image “Skating Away” by Karol Livote courtesy of http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/skating-away-karol-livote.jpg
Hey folks, the weather round this part of the world has been on the downright frigid side for the last few weeks. Fortunately, with the Devil’s minor hockey career coming to a somewhat premature end (more on this topic later), we have not had to endure too many cold rinks. However, I know there are legions of hockey parents who are braving the elements to stand in sub-arctic temperatures to cheer on their progeny in arenas across th. With it being the Season of Love, I’ve decided to run a small contest with much thanks to a fellow devoted hockey parent (see @kimi8 on Twitter) who has generously donated the hand-crafted wool infinity scarf you see wrapped around yours truly. I am going to randomly draw a single name one week from today from those who can use the Comment box below to share a short story about the coldest they’ve ever been at a hockey practice or game.
To get you started and perhaps prime painful memories you’d rather leave locked away, I have two frosty recollections of my own to share; one from my youth and one from my days as a hockey dad.
The first frozen tale is set around a game played on an outdoor rink on an Indian Reservation somewhere in Northeastern Manitoba (where I’m fairly certain Winter was invented) on a February afternoon. The thermometer stopped recording accurately after it hit -45º Celcius. I think the mercury may have actually frozen. A wee lad of 10, lacking in much-needed body fat, was wrapped from head-to-toe in equipment, extra socks, extra gloves, a balaclava and I believe even a scarf around the whole lot (albeit not nearly the fashion-statement of a scarf pictured above); all of which were decidedly insufficient based on the depths to which the temperatures had fallen. About halfway through the game, our hero battled for the puck against a much larger competitor (who may have even grown a full beard as an evolutionary barrier against the harshness of nature) and was swiftly dumped on the hard, frozen sheet of ice. A few moments passed as he lay there, not really feeling anything as the weather had an understandably numbing effect. A few more seconds ticked by as he weighed his options of getting back on his feet to continue playing in these frigid conditions or simply faking an injury in order to retreat to a warm sanctuary. Said sanctuary was merely a plywood shack with a wood-burning, pot belly stove, but it was a whole helluva lot warmer than where he currently lay. When the trainer arrived in the corner to check on our beleaguered protagonist, the little fella started laughing hysterically, but was able to relate to the onlooker he was too friggin’ cold to move. He was eventually helped back up to his feet and stalwartly finished the game against his better 10-year old judgment. The ride home saw our tiny trooper bawling in the front seat of his dad’s car as his frozen feet slowly, painfully thawed with the stabs of a thousand sharp needles. I’m also fairly certain his dad showed little to no sympathy as he himself stood stoically outside for over an hour watching his kid play a game. Hockey dad’s are like that.
Fast forward nearly 30 years to another February and a little, old-fashioned, rural rink with barn doors and icy player benches, where in a weak moment, a hockey dad turned assistant coach made the fatal flaw of choosing paper-thin Chuck Taylor high tops as footwear covering a single layer of sport socks. It was a very cold day (not Northeastern Manitoba cold, but cold enuff) and the parking lot of the rink was a slushy mess following a snowfall the night before. Undaunted our devoted, if not fanatical, puck father trudged through the slush in his inadequate attire to dutifully take his place behind the players’ bench, where he would stand for the next 60+ minutes on ice-covered concrete; all for the love of the game and his little Devil on skates. If challenged, he’d have no idea what happened in the game or the final score. His sole focus (pun fully and ingeniously intended) was on the cold-induced, near hypothermic pain emanating from his lower extremities. He could not recollect ever having been quite so bone-chilled. Then, on the ride home, it hit him, like the stabs of a thousand needles from days gone by in the passenger seat of his dad’s car. Once again he received little to no sympathy from his little Devil or her better equipped Momma as a 30-something-year-old father simply oughta make better winter attire choices.
So here I am giving you the choice and special opportunity to both shield yourself from the elements and make an unparalleled fashion statement in exchange for a few of your own chilly child or parenthood memories. Be the hot envy of all the other hockey dads and moms in their passé store bought accoutrements.
Keep warm y’all!
CCM Hockey Gear image courtesy http://www.honeymoonprojects.com/ccm-hockey-gear-embrace-the-cold-print/
Time is ticking down on the Devil’s season, her minor hockey career and a major focus of our family’s life over the past 14 years or so. While this season has been a challenge on and off the ice for the Devil and I, there is still no substitute or equal to going to the rink and watching my kid play. And whether I like it or not, those chances are fleeting. While I coach the entire team, I also root for her to do well…for her to have fun in these last few weeks; regardless goals, assists, wins or losses; just fun playing hockey like she did when she was 4. I know, what say we just roll time back a while?
This past weekend the Devil and her teammates played their final regular season game, in which they needed to a secure a victory in order to advance on to the playoffs; albeit in the last spot, which would in turn mean a date with the number one squad and their 20-1-1 record. I told the players before our last game all I wanted for them was a playoff chance, having been part of an upstart Cinderalla team a few years back. Unfortunately, the somewhat anemic offence, which put them in their must-win predicament, would once again be their downfall. The team played hard from the start, but found themselves in a 1-0 hole after the first period. They out-played and out-chanced their opponents throughout the second period and the first half to the third and yet the scoreboard read 2-0 bad guys with 7 minutes left in the match. Our side was even the beneficiary of a couple of powerplays, including a 5 on 3 advantage, yet could not find the back of the net. As the clock rolled down around the 5 minute range I decided I would go for broke at the next opportunity and pull our goaltender in favour of an extra skater. The opportunity would not present itself for another couple of minutes and I saw the season winding down along with the chronograph. My last ditch attempt only served to make the final score 3-0 as their side found its way behind our defence with an open net before them.
So now all we have left to hang our hopes on is a best-out-of-3 series with the aforementioned 20-1-1 side as they also happen to not so conveniently be our regional provincial playdown foes. Did I mention in three games this year our aggregate score against this team is 21-3 and we’re on the wrong side of the equation? Realistically, we need a monumental effort if we wish to advance. Cue the pre-game speech from “Miracle” or some other such call to arms. My all-time favourite movie is Henry V and maybe it’s time for a pre-series viewing of the St. Crispin’s Day speech, as our early odds of victory are somewhat similar to those of Henry’s overmatched charges preparing to take on the French.
I do, as always, hold out hope for our band of underdogs. Hope they can rise to the occasion and pull off an upset. Hope we get to watch a few more games. Cuz I, for one, am still not quite ready for it all to be over. We do have a whole buncha practices between now and the end of March, but those just ain’t the same when there are no actual games to prepare for and no tryouts for next season on the horizon. Then again it’s time on the ice, which is better than the alternative and we’ll make the best of it…try to get a few chuckles in along the way. Tick, tock…
One more high-strung idiot doing his best to give the rest of us hockey dads a bad name. I mean, really dude? Way to go Paul!
Been a little while since I wrote anything here and there’s a whole bunch of reasons/excuses I want to convince myself are responsible as work, life and hockey have collided on multiple fronts of late; the good, the bad and sometimes ugly as they say. This is by no means meant to be a pity party, however, there’s been a bit more of the latter two conditions than the former for my liking. In years past, hockey has always been the escape mechanism. Hitting the ice for practice, watching either the Boy or the Devil kids play games and just having fun playing those games has provided welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of everything else. Unfortunately, the last month or so has seen the hockey and everything else getting all mixed up in one big blurry mess. To the point, where I can honestly say for a bit there I wasn’t really looking forward to visiting the rink. Rather, I was welcoming a short Christmas break from the everything. Aaand, as luck would have it, my stocking was filled with a nasty case of the flu rendering me virtually immobile for a week (insert sympathetic gasps or groans here). So bad, in fact, I missed three of my own rec hockey games, though the last may have had something to do with the dramatic final game of the the World Junior Hockey Championships between Canada and Russia. I was schedule to make my return to the ice at 10:30pm last Monday night. At 9:15pm, the score was 5-1 Canada and I had my hockey bag at the door and was ready to return to rec league action. A mere 10 minutes later, Russia cut the lead to 5-4 at which point the Devil asked, “You’re not really going to miss the rest of this game are you Dad?” Nuff said and I remained couch bound until I heard the Canadian anthem denoting a triumph for the home side after a nervous final frame.
On the other personal hockey front, I knew before we started there would be on-ice challenges with our team this season, but I was hopeful and optimistic of an overall successful campaign on the strength of having a good group of girls; who I and my staff would work on getting on the same page. To date, and particularly lately, there have been more challenges than successes. Anyone who knows me, or has read my ramblings over the last few years, knows hockey success for me is not synonymous with winning. Rather, I just want to make sure I’m keeping the team on an even keel, providing a positive influence and seeing to it the majority of players are having fun. The last couple of weeks haven’t been much fun. Of course, winning a few games here or there or at least competing has a way of making things a whole lot more enjoyable. In the last 14 games we’ve only managed one of those ever-elusive Ws, combined with a whole bunch of less attractive Ls; many of which are have been of the lopsided variety. Losing has become a bit contagious. Once behind, momentum quickly becomes our greatest foe. An antidote is admittedly becoming increasingly difficult to concoct. The optimal place to work on a cure is practice, however, those have been sporadically attended, perhaps likewise due to the lack of on-ice success. Losing breeds apathy, particularly in older teens who have a bunch of other ways to occupy their time (see school, jobs, boys and families).
A few weeks ago, I and one of my assistants decided to lighten the mood by staging a shaving-protest who’s end is contingent on two consecutive wins for our side. Much to Momma’s ongoing chagrin, by Decembeard continues to flourish well into Januhairy. I do continue to hope to become reacquainted with a razor sooner rather than later. Perhaps a little help from the Hockey Gods is in order.
One of the primary frustrations with this team has been the promise and flashes of brilliance they’ve shown from time-to-time. Our biggest enemy has been consistency; which is to say, three full periods of hockey played by the entire group at a level these girls have proven they are capable. As a coach, I can’t help but feel at least part of the answer hinges on motivation; meaning my/our ability to motivate consistent effort, at the heart of which is positivity. I can and have hearkened back to a previous team who went from worst to first in a relatively short period of time.
Back in real life, the first weeks of the New Year has dealt a couple of sobering shots across my mortal bow, reminding me of the importance of making hockey fun the priority; for me and my players, particularly the one wearing #8. The Devil remains the primary reason I want to go to the rink, regardless the Ls or Ws. Hockey, he says to himself knowingly, is and must be held high as pure fun balanced against sometimes harsh work/life realities.