10-year old Jeff Bilton, of the Tim Hortonís Minor Atom Valley East
Rebels, is all smiles as he sits out a two-minute penalty during one of
his recent hockey games. Jeff enjoys everything about the game of hockey,
but so do most other players at his age. So what happens to kids like Jeff
as they get older? Why is there such a high drop-out rate among hockey
players in Canada?
I donít think we have to look much
further than the adults in the stands to find the answer. We have recently
heard of a man in the United States sentenced to six years in jail for
killing another man in a fight at an arena. A bantam game in Toronto had
to be halted because of an altercation between two coaches. And during a
tournament last year in Valley East, witnesses overheard one parent
threaten to kill another father and his son at the end of the season.
During Minor Hockey Week in Canada we heard stories about parents trying
to attack referees; coaches almost coming to blows with each other; fights
in the lobby after the game; a linesman being speared in the leg by an
angry high school player; referees walking off the ice; and accusations of
teams trying to use illegal players. George Armstrong, a former Toronto
Maple Leaf Captain who grew up in Skead, was recently quoted in the
Toronto Star, "Hockey in Canada will be in good shape when parents
decide that it is being played for the childrenís benefit and not their
As we head into each new season of
hockey, with great expectations and excitement, it is important that we
keep our priorities straight. Therefore, I think it is time to once again
bring out one of my favourite letters. I rank this letter right up there
with "Yes, Virginia...there is a Santa Claus". This letter too,
first appeared in a large metropolitan newspaper and hits right at the
very soul of every parent who reads it. Take a few moments to reflect upon
Dear Mom and Dad:
Donít get excited. Iím not running
away or anything. I hope you wonít be mad that I left you guys this
letter, but I donít have the guts to say all this stuff in person.
Itís about our hockey team. I was
really excited to make the traveling team this year. The uniforms and
hockey bags are pretty neat and we get to travel all over the place. But I
know you are disappointed in me.
It started when Dad called our coach
after the second game to tell him he was taking me off the team. I know
you used to like to tell the guys at work how many goals I scored last
year in house league. I guess you havenít got too much to tell them this
But after the coach talked you out of
taking me off the team I was really nervous to go back. The coach told me
he thought I was good enough to play on the traveling team and not to
worry. He told the other players I got sick and they all kept asking me if
I was feeling better.
I know you really like it when I score
goals. I guess thatís why you said youíd give me five dollars for a
goal and a dollar for an assist. But the coach says an assist is as good
as a goal. The coach wasnít too happy when I told him you gave me two
dollars for a penalty though.
I try to be more aggressive, like you
said, but the other guys skate pretty fast. You told me to carry the puck
more, like Jimmy does, but I canít seem to go fast enough to get away
from the other guys.
You should see me play street hockey
though. When they pick teams I always get picked nearly first and I score
a lot of goals. The other day I hit one of the guys in the elbow with a
tennis ball and we couldnít stop laughing for about a year. But before
our real hockey games I always get so nervous.
You know a lot about hockey, Dad, but I
just canít remember all the things you tell me in the car on the way to
the game. By the time we get there, I always feel sick in my stomach.
I donít mind you screaming at the
games because all the parents scream. But donít yell at John to pass the
puck more. Heís the best player on our team and without him weíd be
After our game yesterday, I felt bad
when you yelled at the coach for not putting me on the ice in the third
period. It was a close game and he wanted the best players out there. The
coach is a pretty cool guy really, and he doesnít get any money or
anything for coaching us.
I know you were both pretty upset after
we lost the game. You were surprised when I started crying in the car on
the way home. It wasnít because of when I got hurt in the second period,
like I said. I just couldnít help it.
I love you both a lot, so I think I
better quit hockey. Itís costing you a lot of money, like you said, and
you guys donít seem to enjoy coming to my games any more anyway. I canít
go back to house league, because all of the guys would laugh. I hope you
understand why I canít play hockey anymore. I think itíll be the best
thing for you guys.
If you are a hockey parent, do you
recognize yourself in any section of this letter? Have we forgotten why we
put children in a hockey program to begin with? Is the pressure really
Let us pause to reflect about what we,
as adults are doing to our children. We may have all the best intentions
in the world, but what do our words and actions portray? Could your child
have written this letter? If so, itís not too late to change. Do it for
Letís remember kids like Jeff, and letís
try to keep the smile on their face for many years to come.