Of Death, Taxes and Minor Hockey Politics


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.


Man is a Political Animal - Aristotle


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.


Politics - Niccolo Machiavelli


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……


Skating Away by Karol Livote



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

8 thoughts on “Of Death, Taxes and Minor Hockey Politics

  1. Pingback: Thanks for Everything Hockey - I'm a Hockey Dad I'm a Hockey Dad

  2. One of the main reasons politics is such an unavoidable aspect of minor hockey is because of the boundary rules. People can’t vote with their feet. You either play where you are told or you don’t get to play. This gives the power structure in clubs (and every club has one) unprecedented abilities to manipulate the situation to their advantage and nobody can do anything about it unless they want to leave the game.

    To fix the power problem in minor hockey they have to allow free formation of clubs and remove the boundary restrictions. The power structures will react very quickly when faced with competition.

    Slowly (very slowly they don’t get government support) but surely soccer associations are building the facilities they need to play year round, and the arena version of indoor soccer is as fast and creative as hockey. Even in Canada soccer has been more popular than hockey for those under 14 for almost 20 years! Hockey is still number 1 if you count only boys but not by much. So far as I can see there are a few reasons for this: Cost, violence, and soccer does not have boundaries so the power structure must be responsive to the balanced needs of all of their players.

    I’d like to make a comment about violence in passing but it is a side point. Yes, there will always be hitting in hockey and it is part of the game. Non-contact hockey works to though so that proves hitting isn’t always necessary. What needs to change in hockey right up to the NHL is a total ban on fighting as you find in all other contact sports except actual fighting, and similar rules as you find in the CFL, NFL or Rugby regarding unnecessary roughness or contact after the play. A clean hit to get the puck should be allowed, but boarding someone who has already passed the puck away should not. An open ice hit on someone who does not have the puck should result in ejection. Sure, American football has blocking, but it’s nothing like what they do in the NHL. And a fair game of NFL football is arguably much rougher than hockey, but when was the last time you saw a fight? Hit the kicker or the thrower after the ball is gone? Penalty. It still happens and it will in hockey too but it needs to be policed. The other contact sports have a code of conduct and sportsmanship expectations that hockey clearly lacks.

    • I agree with you re: the power that the boundaries give. However, it’s not something that will disappear. Still, why not have anonymous evaluations for all levels of hockey. Coaches are free to run the drills they choose on the ice and a group of qualified coaches from other age groups are anonymously chosen to show up and grade the players. Then after the evaluations, the teams are made up by those evaluators(who have no skin in the game) based on skill and handed to each of the team’s coaches. The Team Head Coach doesn’t know who is on his team until he’s handed a roster, outside of their child. All of the assessing has been conducted based on skill and politics have been pushed out of it. What pisses me off is seeing people take positions in the association and on the board and then using that leverage getting their “C” kid onto a A/AA team which pushes kids with real talent who are working for those higher spots to lower tier (and often house league teams) where they lose interest in the sport (which is happening now at a record level). If only #HockeyCanada would start paying attention to the issue at hand.

      • Hey Joe,

        Good overview of the state of things in minor hockey and suggested solution. However, from my personal experience, the challenge will is finding those qualified coaches from other age groups who are willing and able to help select another team. Further, impartiality and objectivity is always in question as in most small towns everyone knows everyone. It would great to be able to pull in complete outsiders and some associations have tried this, but there are only so many evaluators to go around. Good luck with your son/daughter wherever he/she ends up playing.

  3. Oh and one more point I wanted to make this time addressing some of the author’s comments on team selection. One of the reasons soccer is powering ahead in Canada while Hockey is barely holding it’s own and attracting no immigrants is because, well, immigrants don’t know hockey and they aren’t going to pay for it. But while I have to admit that the point I wanted to make is that in my experience soccer clubs tend to evaluate players using paid technical staff only, arrive at a 1-48 (or whatever the number is) ranking for each player keeping it as anonymous as then can, form the teams based on ranking only, and then they look for coaches. The trend these days is to use paid coaches (usually graduates of the program young people in university) if coaches can’t be found based on the strictly numerical sorting of players. There is no “lock and pick” or “coach selection” like you have corrupting hockey evaluations. In hockey, “lock and pick” is so bad most kids shouldn’t bother to evaluate. You are either locked and often don’t even have to attend all the evaluation sessions, or you are picked and don’t have to attend any, or you may as well go home and buy a pair of soccer cleats.

  4. And I want to tell a story because it made my blood boil. So my son played novice rep for a club that had 3 teams let’s call them A, B and C. (The tiers varied depending on the strength of the teams.) In first year he was put on the C team but I was not concerned that is where you expect most of the first years to be. We had a great coach and even though it was a lot of driving and money and time it was a good season.

    In second year, he placed 20 after technicals. I knew this because I had coached (assistant) most of the players who ranked in group 1 (top 24) and the coordinator forgot to alphabetize the list before he sent it out and if I was asked to rank the players I probably would have sent it back in the same order he sent it out. There were a couple of players I didn’t know but other than that it was pretty much in order.

    So ranking 20 isn’t going to get your son on team A, but it looks pretty good for team B he is 4th and should be a lock.

    So he skates with group 1 and I have to admit he was pretty invisible even though he didn’t play bad. Just the case other kids had the puck and there wasn’t much for him to do if he didn’t want to steal the puck from his own players (which a lot of kids who end up on team A do). So rank from that skate could have been as low as 24. Down to group 2 he goes.

    He skated twice in group 2 and kicked ass and took names. Goals practically whenever he was on the ice.

    Then the results came in and he was placed on team C, the only returning player who was. That means his overall score could have been no better than 33.

    Let’s look at the math, and see if it works.

    (20 + 24 + X + Y) / 4 = 33.

    See if you can figure out what he must have ranked in group 2 from 25 – 48. I’ll save you getting the calculator, it’s 44 both times. Almost all of the 1st years had to beat him even though he had great possession of the puck and got multiple goals. He was almost unstoppable.

    Hockey evaluations are a joke, at least at this club. But boundary restrictions mean there is nothing that can be done.

  5. Oh I need to make a correction. The coach’s (from the previous year) daughter was also placed on team C but he pulled her out before I even had a chance to talk to him. She had also skated with group 1 before being punted to team C, again impossible with math. So it was the 2 of them and then rumors started circulating that the coach “had quit”. Wouldn’t you know it the team B coaching staff and manager all had 1st year kids on the team, looked like they came as a package. So it looked a lot like players were being place according to coach selection. But I think coach was plenty capably of running team B and I would have helped him, and one of our other assistants, who happened to be a goalie coach of all things how great is that, was also on the team so we would have had at least 3. But even goalie coach was told his services weren’t required. And PS in year one coach brought our team from tier 5 to a re-tier in 4 and then we made the playoffs. He was no shit head he played pro sports for a while. But he got punted.

    • Thanks for the detailed and articulate rant Art. The only thing I will add is there is just as much politics in soccer as there is in any other sport or competition where parents are involved. Too many go in believing their child is the next BIG thing. Human nature tells me this is something you’re just not going to avoid when it comes to competitive anything. All we can do is encourage our kids to love the game, whatever it is, and have fun.

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