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……