CHAPTER TWO

THE STATE OF MINOR HOCKEY TODAY 

If you ever find yourself searching for a topic of conversation that will generate all kinds of emotional reactions from any group of people, no matter where they live or what heir background, just ask them what they think about the state of hockey today.

It doesn’t matter who is in the group. It doesn’t even matter if anyone in the group is actually involved in hockey. Everyone will have an opinion. Unfortunately, most people won’t have much to say which is positive.

The sport of hockey has always generated passionate conversation among followers. This is not something new and it is not something that will ever disappear. That is simply the nature of the beast. Hockey is a popular sport on which everyone has an opinion.

Unfortunately, hockey seems to have entered the 21st century at an all-time low in terms of public image, but strangely enough, the game itself still seems to be as popular as ever. Total registrations are increasing, especially at the younger ages; more professional teams and leagues are springing up in new market regions; corporate sponsorship revenue is up; and television ratings are excellent.

Yet, despite the popularity, hockey is also witnessing an increasing level of violence, both on and off the ice; very unhealthy attitudes on the part of parents; many coaches who definitely do not belong in a role-model position with young children; a serious drop-out rate among officials; and an escalating obsession among players and parents to ‘make it to the big leagues’ at any cost.

One of the main issues facing hockey in Canada and the United States today is demonstrated in an analysis of the enrolment statistics in minor hockey. While we will not spend much time examining the numbers in this book, you will find that the data points out several interesting things that are happening in hockey today.

First of all, there seems to be a healthy growth in the number of young children who are entering the sport.  We have plenty of children under the age of 8 or 9 who are being registered by their parents in special “Initiation or Novice Programs”. These introductory programs concentrate on skill development and having fun. The programs are extremely popular with the parents and the kids have a blast.

Another area that is growing in leaps and bounds across North America is adult recreation hockey. More and more men are coming back to the sport in their 20’s and 30’s, and playing until their 50’s and 60’s. These adult recreational leagues allow men to play once or twice a week in a non-body contact environment where they can simply have fun and compete with their friends.

A third area that is experiencing tremendous growth in numbers is girls hockey, at all ages, but especially at the secondary school and college levels.

However, there is one age group that continues to experience a disturbing drop in enrolment. That is the group of  12  to 17 year old boys.

Despite all of the efforts of volunteers and organizers to provide a healthy, enjoyable initial introduction to the game to children under the age of 10, by the time they have reached the age of 12, boys begin to leave the sport in droves. In fact, over half of the 12-year-old boys will make a decision to quit hockey some time during the following five years.  This is a problem that must be addressed for the sake of the game. And the way to address the problem is to try to find out why they are leaving.

 

WHY DO TEENAGE BOYS LEAVE HOCKEY?

 

Clearly, there are many reasonable explanations as to why we should expect to see some drop off of participation levels among teenagers. Nevertheless, these explanations do not justify such a large drop out rate.

One of the main reasons for the drop off in participation is that after a child enters secondary school, there are so many other sports and recreational options available. High school sports and a multitude of extracurricular activities are provided to students. However, it is still possible for students to continue to play hockey while taking part in these new activities. At least 50% of teenage hockey players continue to enjoy the sport while they are going through secondary school, so it would stand to reason that the rest of them might also maintain their hockey interests.

Part-time jobs also come into play for some students. This would cut into leisure and homework time, so it is another important factor. However, one would expect that it would be possible to find a few hours a week to continue to play at least house league hockey.

Therefore, it would appear as if entry into secondary school, while a factor, cannot be considered the sole reason for the decline, nor can it explain such a large reduction in participation rate. There must be something else which is affecting the rate.

In order to give you an understanding of why we feel young people leave the game once they enter their teenage years, we would like to examine some of the reasons why they join hockey in the first place.

 

WHY DO PARENTS WANT THEIR CHILDREN TO PLAY HOCKEY?

I think we can safely assume that for the vast majority of young people the decision to play hockey in the first place was not the child’s. Parents put skates on their young boys and girls almost as soon as they can walk. We have all seen children learning to skate by leaning on a hockey stick or a chair. Therefore, in order to understand why children play hockey, it is necessary to examine why parents made the decision to register their children in the sport.

Of course, when asked, parents will come up with all of the right reasons. During a focus group study we once conducted, parents were asked to provide us with the main reasons why they wanted their children to play hockey. Here are the top ten responses:

 

·                     To have their child learn to be part of a group and develop the ability to work as part of a team in order to achieve goals and objectives which are established by the coach;

·                     To have their child develop good sportsmanship by learning how to accept victory and defeat with poise and class;

·                     To have their child learn to respect elders and figures of authority such as coaches, other parents and officials;

·                     To develop self-confidence;

·                     To have the child learn how to combine sports and school, always keeping in mind that academics must be the top priority; To have the child become physically fit and learn to enjoy hockey as a form of exercise;

·                     To develop effective communication skills and learn how to speak to adults, teammates and hockey officials;

·                     To make new friends;

·                     To develop moral guidelines which will help in a child’s character development;

·                     To have fun playing hockey.

 

One would be hard pressed to find anything wrong with the motives of parents who register their children in hockey for any or all of the above reasons. A visit to the arena when the young 5, 6 and 7 year olds are on the ice will easily confirm to any observer that the children and their parents are in fact having fun and are definitely working to achieve their original objectives. It is a very enjoyable and satisfying environment.

 

SO WHAT HAPPENS ONCE A CHILD BEGINS PLAYING HOCKEY?

So what happens between the ages of 9 and 12? Children seem to maintain a high participation rate through the beginning years at the Novice, Atom and Peewee levels, but clearly half of them will be looking for reasons to leave by the end of their Midget years.

Before we make any attempt to identify the specific reasons why young players drop out after Peewee, let’s take a closer look at the reasons why these children were registered in hockey to begin with. It seems as if the original goals and objectives of the parents were achieved at some point since most children continue to play until the end of Peewee, but what happens after that is the real question.

 

Objective #1: To have children learn to be part of a group and develop the ability to work as part of a team in order to achieve the goals and objectives which are established by the coach:

 

This is a very noble objective and in the early years of development parents tend to sit back and enjoy the coffee and camaraderie of other parents, who themselves are being introduced to the world of hockey.

It is very similar to the situation that exists when parents register their first child in Junior Kindergarten. It is a new experience as they try to be concerned parents with little or no interference with the teacher.

However, after a few years in hockey, and after watching a number of coaches provide instruction to their child, a strange thing happens to a lot of parents. All of a sudden, they become critics. They also discover that the lesson from the popular classic, Animal Farm holds true in hockey. The modern version of the phrase would go like this: “All children are created equal, but some are more equal than others”.

If a child is identified as having ‘raw talent’, he is elevated to a special status above most of the others. Today, Rep team coaches are speaking to you about “moving your child up” to the play with children of his own ability. This certainly makes sense, especially since the school system has been doing this kind of thing forever. In school, children are grouped according to ability and everyone knows who the top group is. Everyone also knows who the bottom group is. The middle group is in a state of limbo. So, for most parents, it is easy to understand that there is a 1st, 2nd and 3rd line and that usually the 1st line consists of the best players on the team. If your child is on the 1st line, his services are usually in demand by a team that plays at a higher level. For example, the 1st line of an ‘A’ level team will catch the attention of ‘AA’ coaches. The 1st line of a ‘AA’ team will be noticed by ‘AAA’ coaches.

Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that when you, as a parent, especially if you are a father, are told that your son is good enough to make the Rep or Traveling Team, it gives you a strange feeling of pride inside. I say a “strange feeling” because it is more than just a normal feeling of parental pride for a father. It is almost as if you are being told that ‘you, personally’ are good enough to make the team.

When I played hockey as a young boy, no one ever asked me to try out for the Rep team. And when I finally made the high school team, I was on the 4th line and hardly ever saw any game time. It was a totally humiliating experience.  Even though I loved the sport and would spend hours on end playing pick-up games on the road or on the outdoor rink, it still hurt a bit that I wasn’t “good enough” to be on a rep team.

 

LIVING MY DREAM THROUGH MY SON

When another coach came up to me and told me that my offspring was capable of playing at the elite level, it was like a dream come true – my dream – not my son’s.  He was only 9 years old. He didn’t know what was happening. He was just glad to be playing hockey.

Living vicariously through your children is not something new, and despite the negative connotation, it can be extremely exhilarating, if not addictive for most parents. When this happened to me, it became a second chance for me to make up for my own frustrations and limitations as a child.

All of a sudden, once you are told that your son or daughter has been identified as having special talents, working as a team isn’t quite as important as it once was. Parents who see a dream coming true want their child to stand out – to play on the ‘top’ line with the other ‘top’ players who will make their child stand out even more. When the coach breaks up his top players so that each line is more balanced, the parents of the ‘talented’ children aren’t too happy. After all, it may be good for the weaker kids to have a stronger line mate who will help them enjoy the game and be more competitive as a team, but what is it doing to advance the skills of the better players? Moreover, what is it doing to make the advanced players get noticed?

This is when you begin to see parents on the team forming little groups or ‘cliques’. The parents of the top kids spend more time together. They offer suggestions to the coach, or even voice personal concerns.  Their confidence level rises because they know how valuable their son is to the success of the team.  Parents become the initial ‘agents’ for their children, concerned about increasing their value even more. Look at the popularity of hockey schools and development camps for evidence of how parents are trying to do everything they can to increase the value of their children.

Parents begin to keep track of how many seconds their child is on the ice, and further, keep track of the ice time of the other kids to make sure that they are getting their fair share.  But, as a parent of one of the top players on the team, they feel that a ‘fair share’ is not the same as for others on the club. They also begin to look around for another place to play. Forget about teamwork. This now about being a good parent/agent for your child. Where is the best place for your child to live out “your dream”? Sorry about that. I obviously meant “his dream”. Right?

 

Objective #2: To have children develop good sportsmanship by learning how to accept victory and defeat with poise and class;

 

This is a very important lesson for children. Just think about it. There is only one team in any league that is going to win the last game of the season. There can only be one champion. Learning how to accept defeat is something which is not only vital in sports, but in life itself.

At the entry levels of hockey programs, winning isn’t quite as important. Parents, coaches and players have a great time. When my own sons were just starting out in hockey, the most important thing to them was getting french fries and pop after the game. Half the time no one even remembered the score of the games. Then sometime around the end of Novice or Atom, at about the age of 9 or 10, winning begins to become more and more important.

There are many theories about this whole issue of sportsmanship and how it seems to be disappearing from hockey. My own theory is that the deterioration of sportsmanship is directly related to the increase in the number of tournaments that teams play during modern hockey seasons. This is obviously not the only reason, but I submit that it is a very important contributing factor.

The issues surrounding tournament play deserve a great deal more attention that we can give in this book, but for now, suffice it to say that tournaments have not done much to enhance the image of hockey. Tournaments tend to bring out the worse in all parties, largely because of the tremendous emotions that they bring out in coaches, players and most of all parents.

In the early years, parents, coaches and players are content to play once or twice a week in their own league, and at the end of the year everyone gets a “gold medal”. However, human nature being what it is, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Hockey is no different.  We want to compare ourselves to other teams, especially teams from other communities. Hence, Rep teams and traveling teams are established where we can put our best against another community’s best. Take it to a higher level and you see why professional teams develop rivalries and why international hockey creates such high emotion.

Now you put your best players up against the best players from neighboring communities; neighboring provinces; and even neighboring countries. When this happens, despite what hockey purists will say about developing good sportsmanship, it is community pride that takes over. Lose the game and you’ve brought shame and humiliation to your community. Win and you demonstrate domination, not only over the opposing team, but moreover, you have demonstrated domination over the other community. The game of hockey merely becomes a ‘weapon of pride’, and the players are the gladiators.

If anyone wants to argue or dispute this point, I need only bring out the tapes of the 1972 Series between Canada and Russia. By the end of the eight games it was clear that the two countries were involved in much more than a mere hockey series. Canada only won the series by a single goal in the dying seconds of the final game, but that was enough for Canada to declare that it had maintained its hockey supremacy. Many hockey experts have declared that the 1972 Series was a significant turning point in international hockey development. Suddenly, other countries realized that Canada was not invincible and stepped up their programs. The United States hockey program has seen tremendous advances since then as well.

So, once again, it would appear as if the objective of developing good sportsmanship among young hockey players is in jeopardy as soon as competition becomes a priority. Indeed, while we hope that players will learn to accept defeat in a healthy manner, many minor hockey leagues across the continent have decided to eliminate the traditional hand-shake ‘after’ hockey games in order to avoid trouble. What does this say about sportsmanship when responsible adults refuse to allow children to experience an opportunity to demonstrate sportsmanship with a simple handshake? Why do players feel the need to get in a parting jab or punch after a game? Where is the pressure coming from?

 

Objective #3: To have children learn to respect elders and figures of authority, such as coaches, other parents and officials;

 

Once again, this is a very noble objective. Children are always ‘told’ to respect their coaches and definitely to respect on-ice officials. However, it must be confusing for a young 10 year-old to watch the same parents and coaches who have told them to show respect, yelling and screaming themselves at referees. It must be equally confusing for a child driving home from the game to listen to his parents running down the coach and criticizing his particular strategies and policies.

We must remember that most of what a child learns is ‘caught’ not ‘taught’. If you tell a child one thing and then you do the opposite, you can bet that the child will likely copy your actions, not your words. Therefore, if we expect children to respect officials and coaches, we must provide exemplary examples for them to model.

For now, one does not have to be in an arena very long to witness examples of disrespectful behaviour from children and adults alike. Therefore, we must ask, what are we teaching our children?

 

Objective #4: To develop self-confidence;

 

Children who learn new skills will definitely develop a high level of self-confidence. There is nothing quite like helping a child become a better skater, stick handler, shooter or passer. The look of satisfaction in the eyes of the child who has done something well, or who has learned a new skill, is something that is hard to beat.

On the other hand, as children get older, especially as they enter the unstable world of the ‘teenager’, self-confidence takes on a whole different meaning. This is another factor that may be leading to a rapid drop-off after Peewees.

When a child is first registered in hockey as a 5 or 6 year-old, there is so much to learn and positive development is constant. By the time he is 11 or 12 years of age, the learning progression slows down.

As a classroom teacher for 28 years, I saw this time and time again among elementary school children. Research has been done providing significant evidence to prove that by the time a child is in Grade 5 or 6, he has pretty much developed his basic skills. All that remains is to refine and enhance those skills through a wide variety of experiences. Up until that point, learning is quite pronounced and continuous. After Grade 6, advancement is slower and skill improvement is not quite as obvious as in earlier grades.

In hockey, this means that by the time a child is 10 or 11 years old, his basic skill development is almost complete. If he is going to be a good skater, he will be a good skater by the age of 11. If he is going to be a good stick handler, he will be a good stick handler by the age of 11. This doesn’t mean that he won’t improve on those skills, but if he is a poor skater at the age of 11, it likely has something to do with the development of his physical motor skills. We know that some people are gifted and talented in certain fields while not in others. It is nothing against the child – it is just a fact of life.

The inability of young teenagers to continue to learn and develop new skills at the same rapid pace as in previous years, can actually erode self-confidence. It is a known fact that a teenager will avoid anything that is unpleasant, so it is no wonder that so many players drop out of hockey once they reach their teens and have the ability to make their own decisions on this matter.

Hockey is a very difficult game to master. Throw in body checking, coupled with raging hormones, and you have the perfect mixture for a time bomb. Teens are also very self-critical, and despite their often loud and aggressive behaviour, most have very little self-confidence. Once hockey skills stop developing, and once they have trouble showing domination over their peers in the sport of hockey, they naturally begin to drop out in search of other areas where they can excel.

 

Objective #5: To help children learn how to combine sports and school, always keeping in mind that academics must be the top priority;

 

This is another objective that is easy to accomplish in the early years of hockey. However, as the child gets older and begins play in the Atom and Peewee levels, it becomes increasingly difficult to balance sports and school for many young boys and girls. The school curriculum is getting more complex every year and in order to cover the course content, teachers often expect students to complete a great deal more homework in Grades 5, 6, 7, 8 and beyond.

As mentioned earlier, even though I spent 28 years as a classroom teacher at the elementary school level, once my own sons began playing hockey, my opinion of homework changed dramatically. My wife and I both loved to attend all of the games our children played. This meant that if one of our sons played a 7:00 p.m. game, the entire family had to eat dinner at around 5:00 so that we could be in the car on the way to the rink in time for the game. In larger metropolitan cities, it takes even longer to get to the arena, so there is even less time to get ready.

When our kids were dropped off from school at around 4:00 p.m., they needed time to unwind before dinner, so homework was understandably put on the back burner. By the time the game ended and we had our French fries and pop, it was often after 9:00 p.m. before we returned home and it was time for bed. We wrote many notes to teachers during those years, explaining why homework was not done.

I soon discovered that it was extremely unfair to expect a child to complete up to two hours of homework after spending six hours in the classroom during the day. Furthermore, I saw how homework created extra stress on family life if one parent had to remain home to help with homework while the other took one of the children to play a hockey game. Teachers do not always recognize the negative impact of homework on the life of a hockey family, and indeed, it was something I wasn’t aware of until I experienced the problem myself. Needless to say,  once my own children began playing hockey, I stopped assigning homework to my own students. When questioned about this personal homework policy I merely pointed out that a child’s family life is equally, if not more important, than his formal education and that I had no right to impose on that part of their life by assigning homework.

So where does that leave this noble objective of helping children learn to combine sports and school? Because of the imbedded commitment to ‘the team’, when it comes to choosing between the two, school and homework often lose out.

Tournaments also force children to miss up to five or six Fridays per year. In order to make money, organizers want to register as many teams as possible in their tournament. This means that games must often be scheduled on Thursdays and Fridays. An out-of-town game on a Friday morning means that a parent often must take a child out of school on Thursday to travel. If the family accompanies the child on the trip to the tournament, which is often the case, not only does the ‘player’ miss school, but so too do his brothers or sisters

When it comes to placing school as the top priority, children soon see that it is only a top priority as long as it doesn’t interfere with hockey. In the battle between hockey and school, hockey is definitely in first place and it gets a stranglehold on this position as a child gets older.

This, therefore, becomes another reason why there is such a high drop out rate among children as they enter high school. The demands of school begin to conflict with the demands of the team. Something has to give. For players who are at the elite level, the dream of a lucrative professional contract sometimes takes control. For others who see that they will never “make it” as a hockey pro, the decision to leave the game to devote more time to schoolwork is one that they see is necessary at the time.

Currently, it is often the case that as we get to the more advanced levels of hockey, such as bantam and midget, teams experience an increasing number of games and practices each season. Perhaps reducing the number of practices and games would be one way of decreasing the drop out level at this age. It seems as if the demands of hockey and school are both increasing at the same time. Since a teenager spends five hours a day at school, it is only natural that school will play a significant role in his/her life. When push comes to shove, hockey seems to be the loser. While children are younger, school is not seen as significant in the eyes of most parents, so hockey is the winner. Hence, the participation rate drops out once children make up their own minds whether or not to remain in the game. It seems as if as children get older, they are able to determine for themselves what is in their best interest. Parents who are obsessed with hockey often have their vision blocked by the ‘silver lining’.

 

Objective #6: To have children become physically fit and learn to enjoy hockey as a form of exercise;

There is no doubt that hockey is an excellent source of exercise. Well-organized practices can keep players moving constantly for up to an hour and a half. Most teams today also expect their players to follow some sort of off-ice exercise routine. Add to this the fact that teams often play in excess of 80 games during a season, counting exhibition, league, playoffs and tournaments, and you have a lot of exercise over the course of approximately eight months.

Keen observers, however, may have noticed over the years that there seems to be a problem with the exercise component of hockey. On the one hand, practices that are organized by expert coaches are simply wonderful to watch. Players are moving all the time and they use the entire ice surface. At the end of the practice the players have been in constant motion for a full hour.

At the younger age levels, you often see many volunteers working with small groups of players, keeping them active and developing their skills in a number of areas. Parents love to see their children having so much fun and so active.

But, alas, there are very few expert coaches around.  And as you get into the older age categories, the number of assistant coaches and volunteers on the ice diminish.

Ice-time has also become very expensive. So it makes me wonder what is going on when I see a team of players lying on the ice doing stretching exercises, push-ups, sit-ups, etc. for ten minutes at the beginning of a practice. I ask myself why this couldn’t have been done in the dressing room or the lobby where the ‘rent’ is much cheaper.

I also see many coaches spending as much as 50% of a practice session talking to players and providing them with graphic instructions. They will stand by the side of the rink with a chalkboard, discussing strategies and plays with the players, or have the entire group watch a demonstration put on by two or three other players. All of this is done with a gaping empty ice surface behind them. It is nothing for players practicing at the peewee level and above to spend at least half of the time standing around doing nothing.

As for the game itself, a 90-minute game slot loses 20 minutes for flood time – five minutes at each end and one in between two of the periods. There are usually three 13-minute stop-time periods. I often wondered about stop-time periods. This leaves 39 minutes of actual playing time. Therefore, out of a 90-minute time slot, an amazing total of 51 minutes is devoted to flooding the ice surface, warm-ups and changing lines. Only 39 minutes is actual playing time.

When asked for suggestions on how I would utilize ice time more efficiently, I tell people that I would allow 10 minutes for flooding (five minutes at each end) and a four-minute warm-up. The remaining 76 minutes would be played straight time with no change of ends and only one period. To further maximize the actual amount of time playing the game, I would only allow changing of players on-the-fly. There would be no line changing during stoppages of play and the hurry-up face-off rule would be in force. Players would have to rush to the face-off circle. This is one way of making sure that a larger percentage of time is spent in game action and not simply standing around or wasting valuable time.

Don’t get me wrong – I still think hockey can be a tremendous form of exercise. When we played our four-hour road hockey games we were in great shape. It just seems as if the more advanced we get with respect to the development of coaches and elite level players, we actually spend more time “talking about the game” rather  that “playing the game” .

Objective #7: To develop effective communication skills and learn how to speak to adults, teammates and hockey officials;

When a young child is registered in a hockey program, parents are hopeful that the child will benefit positively from having other key adults in his or her life. It is also an opportunity to make friends with children from other neighborhoods who may come from a much different background.

It doesn’t take very long before parents realize that their children are developing communication skills all right. It’s just that these communication skills are not necessarily the ones they want in their children, nor are they ones that will be socially acceptable other than on satellite movie stations.

I have always maintained that communication is a sign of respect. However, there are many coaches who want to be ‘buddies’ and see no problem with 6 and 7 year olds calling them by their first name. They also see no problem using gruff language, more conducive to what you would expect to hear coming from a drill sergeant in the army. Stand outside the dressing room door, and you will certainly see that your child is developing an ability to communicate with his teammates.  You may wish you hadn’t. Listen to what opponents say to each other under the umbrella of ‘trash talking’, and you will see what kind of communication is taking place on the ice. I don’t think we even have to mention how players speak to, and about, hockey officials.

Objective #8: To help children make new friends;

Hockey is a wonderful activity for meeting and making new friends. Old hockey teammates often get together and discuss the “good old days”. When parents put their kids in hockey for the first time, they recall how things were when they played hockey and how much camaraderie there was on the team.

However, it doesn’t take very long to realize that unless you are one of the top players on the Rep or Traveling team, the chance of being on the same team for any length of time is negligible. House league teams are usually subject to an in-house draft system in order to balance the competition. The elite players tend to remain on the traveling club for many years, so they have a chance to develop the old-time bonds, but even they may have trouble getting close to their teammates since some are being ‘brought up’ to higher levels or moving to other communities.

One of the problems with hockey teams today is that the players often come from all over the city. The territory is so large, that it is virtually impossible for players to get together in between games and practices. They may not even attend the same schools. In fact, they may only get together for 20 minutes in the dressing room before practices and games. Much of that time is spent immersed in loud music and the rest of the time is spent listening to the coach give them the pre-game talk. Then they play on a line with two other players, but there is seldom any time to talk during the game. After the game they have to rush out so that their parents can take them home.

Coming together for a hockey game has almost become like a job. Children meet as a group and are given instructions by the coach on how to play the game. They go out and do their job to the best of their ability and then go home when it is over, waiting until the next game or practice. They do this three or four times a week, go on a few out of town tournaments and then try to beat each other out during tryouts for the next season. It is hard to make friends this way.

On the other hand, when children get into high school, they meet up with new friends and experience other forms of recreation and personal fulfillment. They spend six or more hours a day with these new friends who may actually live within walking distance. Suddenly good friends become more important than ever and hockey doesn’t provide that kind of fulfillment. Once again, this is the age at which the participation rate in hockey declines rapidly. This could be one of the reasons.

Students who play on the high school hockey team have the best of both worlds, and this may be something that should be looked at in the future. Players on the school team often come from the same part of town and certainly go to the same school. They spend a lot of time together and develop strong friendships. Perhaps we should be promoting hockey programs at the school level instead of at the ‘club level’ to eliminate some of the concerns which have been addressed in minor hockey.

Objective #9: To help children develop moral guidelines that will help in character development;

        It’s hard for me to understand how this objective was included in this list. The whole issue of morality in hockey deserves a lot of serious attention, but I guess it is understandable that parents would see hockey as a stepping-stone to building and developing a child’s moral character. Among the younger groups, this is something that is easy to identify.

However, once again, after a few years of play, the words hockey and morality are seldom used in the same sentence. Children soon learn that hockey is about two main things: 1) doing whatever your coach tells you to do if you want to play, and; 2) doing whatever it takes to win.

In order to get players “up for the game” coaches often come up with cheers that are meant to intimidate the opposition. Parent behaviour in the stands has become anything but moral with respect to their language and comments to officials, other players and other parents.

I have always been amazed at how young hockey players can come walking into the arena dressed up in a nice shirt and tie, and then 30 minutes later be acting like a mad-man on the ice, armed with a wooden stick and filled with intense hatred for their opponents. Then after the game they return to the lobby with shirt and tie, acting sweet and innocent. I’m not sure where character building comes into play in the actual game. Perhaps it is from their interaction in between games, but as we discussed earlier, they spend so little time together that it is hard to see this as building character.

Objective #10: To have fun playing hockey.

Most people will agree that hockey is supposed to be about having fun. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?

If you examine the previous 9 objectives, it is clear that if those goals and objectives guided hockey programs at all age levels, it is likely that there would be a very small drop out rate among hockey players.

The potential for personal enjoyment and satisfaction through the sport of hockey is tremendous. Indeed, the popularity of the game among old-timers (men over the age of 25) is worthy of investigation. With no body checking, no slap shots, and no fear of being cut from the team, old-timer clubs seem to have found the secret of what hockey is supposed to be all about. Fun seems to have returned, and it is not uncommon to find old-timers playing until they are in their 60’s.

What we will try to do during the rest of this book is find out why hockey loses its ‘fun quotient’ after the age of 10 or 11. We will also attempt to provide our readers with some food for thought on how to address the challenges that face this wonderful sport and perhaps begin to turn the tide a bit. What a wonderful place this would be if hockey could become an activity that retains its place as a form of recreation that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.