CHAPTER FOUR

THE ROLE OF A PARENT

  

  There was a time in minor hockey when parents were hardly ever a factor in the sport. Games and practices were conducted on cold, windy outdoor rinks that were often within walking distance from home. When parents did show up to watch, they were standing knee deep in snow beside the boards, more interested in keeping warm and hoping that the game would soon end than in what was happening on the ice.

Then we started to play more and more games at indoor arenas with heaters and comfortable bleachers. Parents began to use the game to socialize with friends and neighbors. There still wasn’t much involvement from the stands. Parents pretty much allowed the coach to deal with the hockey program and kept to themselves.

Almost overnight, without warning, we found ourselves in the middle of an epidemic. All of a sudden parents were very much involved, not only in the manner in which they cheered their own children on during the game, but also in the manner in which they voiced their criticism of officials, coaches and opposing players.  Many people are of the opinion that the situation is now out of control. Parents are interfering so much that we are having difficulty attracting and keeping officials; good coaches are no longer willing to accept the abuse from parents and are being replaced by people who have a hidden agenda or who themselves are very angry persons; physical altercations between parents and coaches are making headlines; and low and behold, parents are actually being expelled from arenas. What happened?

There are many theories to explain why the situation has accelerated to the point where a company such as ours, Hockey Consultants International, will have no trouble finding hockey associations which are willing to hire us to help them sort out the “mess” they find themselves in with their hockey program. While it is not our intention to examine these theories in depth in this book, it is important to be aware of some of the possible causes of this epidemic. Without having some idea of the causes of this situation, it will be difficult to arrive at a solution.

IT’S NOT EASY BEING A PARENT TODAY

Today, there are far more parents who are going out of their way to “get involved” in the things their children are doing. This is not just with respect to hockey.  In “the old days”, parents were too busy taking care of a large family and working to put food on the table and a roof over their head. If the kids wanted to play, then the kids were allowed to play and do their own thing. Without the timesaving conveniences such as microwave ovens and snow blowers, it took a lot more time to take care of everyday responsibilities. Parents often did not have time to waste sitting in the stands “watching” their children play games.

Today, however, all that has changed. Young parents have been told that if they want to be good parents they must spend quality time with their children and show a sincere interest in what they are doing. Hence, with both parents working to make ends meet and to be able to afford all of the timesaving conveniences that their own parents did not have, they now have time to run around acting as spectators and encouraging their children. We are also encountering a “time-warp” generation that is attempting to squeeze the maximum return from every single minute in the day. Parents who feel that their children are being short-changed on ice-time allocation; being “picked on by other players”; or being victimized by poor referees, are more apt to shout out their displeasure instead of simply sitting there taking it.

The stress level among parents is not that hard to identify in the stands. When you really look closely, you begin to feel a little bit of empathy for many parents who are “forced to be in the stands” because of societal pressure. They do not want to be there. They feel that they are wasting their time and that they could be doing so many other worthwhile things instead of suffering through another hockey game. It doesn’t take much to make them snap. And if they snap at someone else who is feeling the same way, the results can be disastrous.

Keeping up with the ‘Joneses’ has become a national obsession in modern times, and this is having an impact on the attitude in the stands. Not only do we see parents trying to have the best automobile; the best house; the best clothes; the best job; but now they also want to have the “best kid”. Living vicariously through their children doesn’t just mean that some parents are trying to make up for their own frustrations and limitations when they were young. For many parents, it is a matter of status.

To have a child who is not one of the best players on the team is embarrassing to the family. As a result, we see parents who are extremely hard on their children, constantly shouting directions and demonstrating utter disappointment when mistakes are made. Just watch the faces of parents in the stands. You don’t have to watch the game long at all to identify the parents of the children who are not the stars of the team. They will make faces, hold their hands over their eyes, turn away from the action, throw up their hands in frustration, or simply look extremely angry. Unfortunately, these parents are completely unaware of the fact that their children can see them as well.

Modern day parents are also much more protective of their children than our ancestors were. If an opponent hits their child too hard; or if a coach yells at their child; or if a referee calls a penalty against their child, there is likely going to be some sort of defensive action taken. Parents today really have difficulty allowing their children to fend for themselves. We are also living in a very “legal society” where everyone is a lawyer. It doesn’t matter if their child is guilty, the parent still feels obligated to defend the action. It’s just the thing to do.

We also live in an era where parents are very critical of any other professional or authority figure. This is a societal problem, but it spills over into the arena. During the 50’s and 60’s there was a tremendous economic explosion. People could pretty well select whatever job they wanted and the hiring standards were lowered because of the shortage of workers. As a result, there were many people hired as teachers, police officers and managers who were not cut out for the job. Now don’t get me wrong, there were many, many good teachers, police officers and managers. After all I was a teacher hired in the early 70’s so we couldn’t be all bad. But there were many who were brutally incompetent, and dragged the image and reputation of their profession down. The people who had to deal with these incompetent professionals are now parents with children. And as parents they are very critical of coaches and referees who represent authority figures who are trying to exercise control over them and over their child. Unions and lawyers have become very popular during the past 30 or 40 years mainly because of the need to confront the authority figures that abused their positions of power. So it should come as no surprise that parents are abusive to referees who are administering the rules of the game in which their children are involved. This is not to say that they are right to verbally abuse the officials. It’s just that most parents don’t realize what they are doing until it is too late. It is merely a reflex reaction.

Another reason why we are witnessing such an increase in problems from the stands is that there are so many people involved in negative behaviour.   When one parent in the stands is abusive, it isn’t so bad. Usually, this parent will regain his composure and things will get back to normal. However, the next time something happens on the ice, if another one or two parents join with that first parent, you now have three people yelling. Before you know it, the kind, good-natured gentleman who wouldn’t harm a fly, is caught up in the emotions that are exploding around him. When others cheer, he cheers. When others yell at the referee, he feels that he should yell at the referee too. It only takes one person to start an epidemic that before long spreads to the whole crowd.

A REALITY CHECK FOR MOST PARENTS - YOUR CHILD IS NOT GOING TO BE A PRO!

The first thing a parent should accept is that there is very little chance of his or her child ever making a professional career out of hockey. With approximately 900 players signed to contracts in the National Hockey League and millions of amateur hockey players around the world, all with the same lofty dreams of making it to the big leagues, the odds against any one individual making it to the NHL are astronomical.

This doesn’t mean that you should discourage your child from playing hockey. It just means that you have to keep things in perspective and realize that it is only a game. Help your child enjoy the game of hockey and enjoy the development of skills for the sheer purpose of having fun. Be supportive and encouraging, but keep the focus on realistic goals.

Certainly, there will be some players who shine above the rest. After all, Walter Gretzky was a parent too. When he saw Wayne playing as a 12 and 13 year old, it was clear that there was something special there. If your child is another Wayne Gretzky, then great. But chances are your child will just be another player who wants to enjoy the game. Let him have fun.

DON’T PLACE UNDUE PRESSURE ON YOUR CHILD

The game of hockey should be a source of fun and enjoyment for a child. However, some well-meaning parents actually place a great deal of pressure on their children without even being fully aware of the impact of their actions.

One thing some parents, and grandparents, do to motivate their children is offer to pay them money for getting goals and assists. Some even go as far as paying their child for every penalty in order to motivate them to become more aggressive. There is absolutely no need to try and motivate your child by paying him a dollar for a goal and a nickel for an assist.  Especially don’t pay your child for receiving penalties. Paying money for goals and assists actually discourages team play and forces the child to focus on the wrong priorities during the game.

Criticism, even if it is meant to be constructive, after the game during the car ride home, only adds pressure to the child for the next game. Hockey is a difficult game to master because of the speed and the contact. No one, not even Wayne Gretzky comes even close to perfection. Telling a 10-year old four things to work on for the next game will do nothing for him except confuse him even more.

On the other hand, talking about the good things he did, even if they were few and far between, will do wonders for the child. Show your support by downplaying the mistakes. If your child brings up a mistake, quickly change the topic and talk about a good thing that you noticed. If you begin making a sincere effort to focus on three or four of these good plays during each ride home, it will also affect the way you watch the game in the first place.

It is only natural to notice the mistakes we make in life. During some of our seminars we conduct a simple experiment with our audience. We place an overhead projection on the screen and ask the people to read it to themselves. In the text, we deliberately make a noticeable spelling mistake. It doesn’t usually take very long before someone puts up his hand and points out the mistake. Upon that cue we enter into the lesson about how human beings are experts at pointing out mistakes that have been made by others. We then enter into a brief discussion about how this is not just a sign of a person’s lack of confidence, but also a reflection of what our culture has imbedded into us through television. The most popular shows are about putting people down and pointing out their imperfections. We merely incorporate this into our everyday life and have become very skilled at pointing out mistakes that are made by others.

We go on to point out that in some sectors of life, making one mistake can be critical. For example, I certainly want my pharmacist or my surgeon to be perfect at al times. I want a musical composition to be perfect, with every note in its proper place. But is it necessary for a 10-year-old child to be perfect in hockey? I don’t think so.

The example we use in the seminar clearly indicates that even though one hundred words are spelled correctly, the only one that stands out is the incorrect one. No one ever points out the fact that 99 words are spelled correctly. Remember this lesson.

If you, as a parent, make a conscious effort, each and every game, to spot and remember five or six “good plays” that your child makes, you will soon discover something. You will find yourself downplaying the mistakes because these are not the things you are concentrating on. You will find that in order to remember the plays for your ride home, you will be going over and over them in your mind. Before long, you will be so proud of your child that you won’t be able to contain yourself. You will look forward to the ride home so that you can pour out the information you have stored in your mind. Imagine how good your child will feel when all you want to talk about are the good things he did on the ice.

Statements such as “You were skating really fast out there tonight.  Good hustle out there!” or “That was a good shot on net on the 2 on 1. How did you see such a small opening to get the puck past the goalie?”  These are the kinds of statements that will encourage a child to get into the conversation.  If he feels that he didn’t skate fast or should have passed the puck on the 2 on 1, then he may want to talk about it, or even state that next time he will try to pass on the 2 on 1. In most cases, the child knows what he did wrong. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, then don’t force the issue.

To demonstrate the importance of this positive feedback and encouragement, let me share with you a little story called “Animal School”.

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something to meet the problems of a new world, so they organized a school. They adopted the activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying and, to make it easier to administer, all the animals took all the subjects.
 

The duck was excellent in swimming – better in fact than his instructor – and made passing grades in flying, but he was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running he had to stay after school and also drop swimming to practice running. This was kept up until his web feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming.
 

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much overwork trying to compete in the swimming area.
 

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the tree-top down.
 

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there. 
 

At the end of the year an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.
 

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the ground hogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

The point of this little story is to drive home the damage that can be done when we focus on the weaknesses of a child. So next time you feel like talking about one of your child’s weaker areas, think about “Animal School” and see if perhaps your child has a real talent or skill that should be the focus of your discussion instead. It is a well-known fact that if we focus on the things that we are good at, we will soon improve on our weaknesses. However, if we focus too much on our weaknesses, we often hurt our strengths.

Another way that parents put undue pressure on their children is by putting the child in a situation where he is torn between listening to the coach or to his parent. The coach is trying to develop a system of which your child will be a key component. Telling your child to do something different from what the coach has told him will only confuse the child and make the coach get upset with you child if he listens to what you have told him. Chances are your child will listen to you over the coach, not because it is necessarily a better strategy or play, but because he knows that he has to go home with you, not the coach.

One year when I was coaching at the minor peewee level I had to call a meeting with all of the parents after a particularly difficult game. Many of the parents of the players on the team had the habit of shouting out directions to the players. They would often shout out “pass the puck” or “shoot the puck” as soon as one of our top three players touched the puck. In the dressing room I had to tell them in no uncertain terms that I didn’t want to hear those comments coming from the stands any longer. I had to explain to them that I had instructed the three players that unless, or until, there was an opposing player in the way, or they were the last one back, they were to ‘carry the puck’ as deep into the opposing zone as possible, going towards the corner if necessary. This would allow the slower, less skilled players time to get to the front of the net where they could have a chance to receive a pass or get a rebound and an opportunity to score. The weaker players were having trouble taking passes and when a long pass was sent their way, they often lost the puck. So, in order to avoid that problem, the entire team knew that we were going to use a basketball strategy and have our more talented puck handlers bring the puck up for a set play. When the parents were screaming, “pass the puck”, they were simply confusing the players.

Parents are always welcome to shout encouragement from the stands. What you have to be careful of is what you are shouting. Comments such as “Good shot; Good pass; Good Check; Go, Go, Go” are all great things to generate atmosphere at a game. Shouting directions or encouraging violence is not something that is going to result in anything good.

The following letter written by a young hockey player further reinforces the negative influences that parents can have on their children, often without even realizing it themselves.

Dear Mom and Dad:

Don’t get excited. I’m not running away or anything. I hope you won’t be mad that I left you guys this letter, but I don’t have the guts to say all this stuff in person.

It’s 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 haven’t got too much to tell them this year.

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 that’s why you said you’d 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 wasn’t 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 can’t 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 couldn’t 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 can’t 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 don’t mind you screaming at the games because all the parents scream. But don’t yell at John to pass the puck more. He’s the best player on our team and without him we’d be dead.

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 doesn’t 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 wasn’t because of when I got hurt in the second period, like I said. I just couldn’t help it.

I love you both a lot, so I think I better quit hockey. It’s costing you a lot of money, like you said, and you guys don’t seem to enjoy coming to my games any more anyway. I can’t go back to house league, because all of the guys would laugh. I hope you understand why I can’t play hockey anymore. I think it’ll be the best thing for you guys.
 

Signed
Your Son.

Every now and then you should ask your child if he is having fun. It sounds like a simple question, but it is possible that your son or daughter is simply playing the game to please you. Children do not want to disappoint their parents. It can be a very tough task for a child to tell his parent that he wants to quit. It can be especially tough on a child who seems to be doing well at the game. Sometimes it is the best player who is having the least amount of fun because of the added pressure of being a leader on the team. Your child will answer the question honestly. If he says he is having fun, then leave it at that. If not, ask how you can help.

REDUCING THE NEGATIVE INFLUENCE OF PARENTS ON THE GAME

No one is going to dispute the right of parents to be in the stands. Neither is anyone going to try to convince me that parents do not have a right to provide input into the hockey program in which their child is registered. To say that parents should mind their own business and stop interfering with the coach is like saying that parents should stay refrain from interfering in the education of their child. However, that being said, one of the biggest challenges facing minor hockey today deals with how to reduce or eliminate the negative influence that parents can have on the game.

Parents can exert a negative influence in a number of key areas.

For example, when one or more parents begin yelling at the referee, it becomes infectious. We all know how easy it is to catch a virus. It only takes one person with a virus to spread it to everyone in the room. Some are more contagious than others. Yelling at referees seems to be the most contagious thing there is in hockey.

As soon as one person begins getting on a referee it seems as if others in the vicinity assume that the official is ‘fair game’. We could spend a great deal of time on this subject because the practice of shouting criticism of referees could merely be a reflection of some of the deep-rooted problems generally found in society today. Shouting at an authority figure from the stands is nothing more than a senseless act of cowardice. It is embarrassing to all around, does nothing to help the situation on the ice, but more importantly, it seems to bring out the worst in hockey parents.

There are some arenas where the parents must watch the game from inside a glassed in observation room. They can yell all they want, but the only people who will hear them are other parents. Their behaviour has no impact on the players. While it takes away a bit of the atmosphere by not having any fan noise, it certainly has a calming effect on the players.

When players hear their parents yelling at the referee, one of two things will happen. They may get upset with their parents and act aggressively to take it out on other players. Or they will become upset with the referee and act aggressively to take it out on other players.

Notice that in both cases, the child becomes upset and begins to act aggressively. This is when the game becomes difficult to manage. A referee does not enjoy his job if every time he makes a call people are shouting their disagreement. Even the most senior referee finds this annoying and distracting. Some officials simply say “Fine, if that’s the way you want it I won’t call any more penalties and the kids can go ahead and kill themselves.” Others take the approach of, “You think I was calling penalties before, let me show you what I can really be like.”

When I was coaching I hated having the parents from my team stand behind my bench. One day after a game during which a few parents were getting on the referee, I called another one of my many parent meetings. For a while during the season the parents automatically went to the meeting room after games, simply because they expected me to call them together for some reason. During this one meeting I told them that if any of them wanted to yell at the referee, it was going to be very difficult for me to leave the bench and come into the stands to talk to them. So I simply told them that if they had to yell at the referee to do it from the other side of the rink with the parents from the opposing team.

One would think that it wouldn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that referees don’t like being yelled at.  One would also think that it wouldn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that if you yell at a referee, he may take it out on your team. That is why I was adamant that if our parents had to yell at the referee, they do it from among the other team’s parents.

Whenever I was personally refereeing a hockey game during which parents were getting “on my case”, I would position myself so that the players’ bench was in between the boisterous parents and me. I would wait for the right moment, when some ‘overly demonstrative parent’ yelled one of his more intelligent comments about my abilities, and then I would turn and give a bench-minor to the coach. The coach would usually look extremely startled, and then I would come over to the bench to explain that I didn’t appreciate the fact that he was criticizing me out loud. When he pointed to the fans to plead his case, I would simply say that it sounded to me like it was coming from the bench and if I heard any more I would toss him out of the game. The yelling from the parents usually stopped after that. Eventually coaches caught on and refused to allow their parents to stand anywhere near the bench when I was refereeing.

REDUCING THE PROBLEM IN THE STANDS

In order to reduce the problem in the stands we need only follow what works in the case of preventing the spread of a virus. If you want to keep a virus from contaminating other organisms, you remove or quarantine the virus. Therefore, if we want to reduce or eliminate the negative influence of parents who like to yell at referees or other players, you remove those parents or have them quarantined.

This can be done in a number of ways. We can encourage referees to exercise their authority by stopping the game and having the offending people removed from the arena. This is a drastic measure and few referees want to go through the problem of having to find someone to track down the arena manager and deal with the commotion that follows.

If the fan is being particularly threatening, the referee has the right to approach the home team and demand that the person be removed or the game will be forfeited to the visitors. The Home team is responsible for providing a safe and secure environment. This again can be difficult to administer since it is not always a parent from the Home team who is causing the problem. In that case the offending parent from the visiting team could actually be responsible for the victory.

A simpler solution is available, and we are working with a couple of hockey organizations to pilot a special initiative with this regard. At the beginning of every game, the coach will identify five parents, in order from #1 to #5. The coach will have to identify those parents before the beginning of the game. The players of those parents will also be identified on the scoresheet. During the game, if a referee or linesman feels that comments are being made which may have a negative influence on the game, the coach will be informed. The coach will then be given 30 seconds to have the first parent on the list removed from the spectator’s section of the arena to watch the remainder of the game from the lobby. The child of that parent will be forced to sit out a bench-minor penalty.

Each time this happens, the next parent on the list will be removed and the child of the parent will serve a bench-minor penalty. The third time it happens, the coach will be ejected from the game.

At first glance, this may seem a bit harsh and a little unfair on the child. It may also seem even more unfair since the parent ejected may not have been the one yelling. However, after a few games, the parents who always yell will undoubtedly be the ones who are listed on the score sheet. And eventually, it will be the child of the parent who will control of his mother or father. It will also be the other parents on the team who will exert control over the parents who like to yell.

The net result of this initiative will undoubtedly be the virtual elimination of a negative influence from the stands in a very short period of time.

THE DYNAMICS OF CROWD CONTROL - UNDERSTANDING THE BROKEN WINDOW THEORY

Before addressing the issue of how to control unruly fans at minor hockey games, it helps to understand the roots of the problem. In other word, how can seemingly normal, well-adjusted citizens go from being responsible, law-abiding adults one minute, to raging lunatics the next. And then, revert back to the law-abiding, God-fearing citizen at the end of the game.

In order to shed some light on the matter, I would like to refer to the “Broken Window Theory”.

The Broken Window Theory is used by criminologists to explain crime epidemics. Now, admittedly, we would hardly call hockey fans criminals for yelling insults at referees and opposing players, however, it is abnormal behaviour and has led to criminal actions in some occasions. The most important thing to remember is that this behaviour has a negative influence on the children playing the game, and so it is as much an epidemic as street crime in large cities.

The Broken Window Theory simply proposes that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon more windows will be broken and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. This theory says that crime is contagious. It can start from a broken window and spread to an entire community. This theory also says that a crime epidemic is not caused by any particular type of person, but rather by an event or something physical. This theory has been tested and proven by social scientists. In other words, there are certain times and places and conditions and instances where you can take normal people from good schools and happy families and good neighbourhoods and powerfully affect their behaviour merely by changing the details of their situation.

Let’s see how the Broken Window Theory applies to hockey.

Hockey is a game of emotions. It is a fast, hard-hitting game which is being characterized more and more by a decreasing level of individual playing skills among players,  coupled by the development of an advanced level of ‘system’ play which relies on players utilizing ‘equalizing factors’ which are largely illegal in nature.

The National Hockey League is the only place that has been able to afford to implement an effective solution. At this level they have introduced the two-referee system that means players have much less chance of getting away with anything, and they have also implemented the video replay. On top of that the league executives can hand out suspensions based on the videotape of the game, even if there was no penalty called on the play. As a result, there is more control over the game and skilled players are able to entertain the fans without as much interference by players of less ability.

At the minor hockey level, both players and officials are developing their skills, under the watchful eyes of experienced coaches and critical parents. When an opposing player commits an infraction against their child, the parent may be predisposed to shout out his disapproval. It may be that the parent is usually a mild-mannered person in everyday life, but when his off-spring is struck blatantly by another kid, he reacts vocally to this incident. If the same thing happens to another child, another parent may shout out. This eventually leads to a number of parents being extremely vocal, and before you know it, their attention is not on the game, but on finding fault with the official who is supposed to be taking care of their vulnerable children.

Therefore, the fact that some parents are very vocal and may even be downright threatening in their comments during a game has nothing to do with the type of person in the stands, but more with the situation in which they find themselves. An entire crowd can almost immediately turn ‘ugly’ as a result of one simple play on the ice that prompted one single parent to shout out in disgust.

On the surface, it would appear that if a referee could call all penalties then there would be no reason for parents and fans to yell. Anyone involved in hockey knows that this is not the case. All parents are capable of yelling and starting this epidemic. Some parents are better at delivering the message. For example, if one of the parents happens to be a respected coach of an elite level hockey club, and he shouts out at the referee, everyone else may think he knows what he is doing and so they too will begin to get on the referee’s back. A parent who knows nothing about hockey may yell at the referee and no one pays attention to him. The coach may begin yelling at the referee and be physically demonstrative in his disagreement with a call. Parents, upon seeing that the coach is upset, will usually think that there must be something wrong and begin to yell as well – often without knowing what they are yelling about.

There is no referee in the world who can avoid this type of scenario, for you never know what is going to trigger the epidemic in the stands. You can be calling the best game of your life and one hit from behind can start the whole ball rolling. One gesture from the coach can get all of the fans on your back.

The only solution is to remove the “broken window” so that it doesn’t encourage others. How this is done will be the subject of many studies and consultant reports over the next few years. The end result could possibly move things closer and closer to a complete ban of parents and fans from minor hockey games. It may also mean a complete overhaul of the coaching certification program. Things were much better before we began educating coaches. The less coaches knew about coaching techniques, the more fun the players seem to have had on the ice. Perhaps this is what we have to return to. Instead of teaching young players the basics of skating, passing, shooting and stick handling, maybe we should teach them to have fun first. This method works for younger children, why not for all ages.

After all, we are not in the business of developing players for the NHL. We are in the business of providing a form of recreation for our children. Let the NHL worry about developing their players when the kids get to midget and junior age. Until then, children, and their parents, should be focusing on the right priorities.