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Hockey Parents, We Need To Talk: Looking at You, Paul.

Okay, we need to talk.

There’s a big problem in youth sports, which has now bled into professional sports: Parents. So much so, that minor sport organizations are now making parents sign documents adhering to rules such as, “I will not yell or verbally abuse the coach. I will not yell at my child while they are playing. I will not exhibit demonstrative behaviour.”

Are you kidding?! Do we really live in a world in which these types of documents are necessary?

I’m not talking about the parents who are laid back, take their kids to practice/games and allow their child to have fun. No, these are the parents who get thrown out by officials, constantly call the coach, yell like a lunatic on the sidelines and absolutely berate their kids post-game, in the car.

You guys; you’re the problem.

This started a while back, probably just a little before I got seriously into competitive sports. I’m not just saying it is hockey parents, either. This stems to dance, cheer, soccer, football, everywhere. Back when my parents played, they played for fun.

Let’s focus on hockey: There was no insane pressure to be the next Crosby or McDavid. No one trained 12 months a year, and no parents were paying $15,000 a year for hockey. Bobby Orr, one of the top 3 hockey players of all time, said it best, “Kids play far too much. Kids are playing 12 months a year – little ones. They don’t need it. Play other sports. Have other coaches. Hang out with other kids, other parents. I think that’s all healthy. Parents think their kids have to play for people to see them. Look, if your kid can play, they will find you.”

If Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky, who echoed Orr’s sentiment, think your kids are playing too much…your kids are playing too much.

At some point, hockey became about who was watching, who was being scouted, and who was training with who. Want to know what I didn’t list there? Fun. Teamwork. Friendship. Parents are far too focused on their kid being the next Crosby, and not on whether their kid is having fun, learning the importance of being part of a team, and making friends. That’s what it should be about.

In talking to a bunch of ex-players, I couldn’t help but notice a trend. Not a SINGLE ex-pro hockey player, with a child playing competitive sports, is the type of lunatic I’m describing. There may be some out there, but I haven’t met one. When I ask why…the response is some version of this: “Why would I? It is about having fun. My kid wants to work hard and maybe make it? Sure, go ahead. But I want it to be because they want to, not because I want them to. It does me, nor my kid, no good if I’m yelling at them, their coaches, or anyone. It isn’t fun. They’re going to be in pressure situations enough as adults, just let them enjoy being a kid.”

Those are PROFESSIONAL hockey players discussing why you shouldn’t scream at your kids because they turned the puck over, or didn’t score. When do these parents get mad? They get upset if their kid doesn’t show good sportsmanship, or isn’t a good teammate. That’s a valid reason to get upset. Not because they didn’t score, or finished a game as a -2. They are professionals, meaning that they KNOW what it takes to make it to the NHL. And if THEY don’t think that yelling at their kids, or training them 12 months a year, is necessary, then neither should you.

So, why now?

Patrick O’Sullivan wrote a book on how his father treated him coming up through hockey. It is extremely appalling, to say the least. But, there’s a certain hockey parent who’s getting a ton of attention lately in Toronto. I’m looking at you, Paul.

Years ago, Paul Marner was featured in a news clip, where you got a glimpse into how hockey parents treat their kids from age 10. The video shows Paul screaming at Mitch for various things. Here are some examples:

“You better f**kin skating Mitch, I swear…You just gonna tell your Mom it was another game. Yep, just another game, eh?” Ugh…ya, exactly! You know you have lost the plot when your peewee-aged son has a better ability to see the forest for the trees than you do.

Paul even admitted he gets too involved, “People have this vision that their kid is going to go somewhere and they get really involved in it. It’s like we’re living our lives through our kids. If we could all stay a little calmer, it would probably be better for our kids, as well.”

YOU DON’T SAY! So you’re telling me, you recognize that you are doing this, and yet, you continue to do it?

Fast forward, almost 20 years later, and Paul is front and centre in his son’s negotiation. This has been going on for nearly two decades. If you read Paul’s quotes in the media, they are truly something to behold. Saying he is annoyed that Marner isn’t compared to McDavid? Really, Paul? You’re upset that your son isn’t being mentioned in the same breath as a generational talent? This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about.

Mitch actually made the NHL. He is a star. What about all the kids growing up with the same type of Dad (there are lots), who never made it? Odds are, that kind of parental behaviour is what drove them away from the game. There are a significant number of kids who quit sports because of the pressure their parents put on them; the yelling and screaming, the constant training. It all adds up and the kid gets driven away from the sport.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’re doing your kid, others kids, volunteer coaches, and many others, a disservice by exhibiting this kind of behaviour. So many kids who are 25 and under can’t even play another sport because all they’ve done is play hockey. I have many friends who are elite hockey players, but they can’t hit a baseball, shoot a basketball or throw a frisbee. Why? They’ve spent their entire life focused on hockey. Summers were spent doing dryland training and sessions on the ice, rather than diversifying by playing soccer or just simply getting together outside with some friends.

That’s no way to grow up, and kids are being robbed of their childhood.

As someone who was once an elite athlete in a sport other than hockey, I can tell you this: I didn’t do it because my parents forced me too. The truth is, my parents knew nothing about my sport of choice. They dropped me off, picked me up 6 days a week and travelled to competitions to support me. I trained in the summer because of the level I was at, but I also played soccer and swam. There is no level of hockey at age 8 that requires you to train 30 hours a week; no national team, nothing.

So, it shouldn’t be happening. Frankly, it shouldn’t be allowed. Minor hockey associations shouldn’t have their tryouts until September. That way, coaches wouldn’t be able to run practices, or team sanctioned dryland, or whatever else they can think of. At least until age 13/14.

The bottom line is, there are a ton more kids who quit hockey because they have a parent like this than kids who make the NHL. You are more likely to drive your kid away from the sport than to reap the benefits of your child making an NHL salary. If your kid makes it, have it be because they wanted to train, they wanted to be pushed, and not because you wanted to be front and centre when your kid made the NHL (and stay in the spotlight once he did).

Along the way, do your kid a favour. Encourage them to play with friends, try other sports, and most of all, have them focus on being a good teammate and having fun. That’s what it’s about. Maybe hockey parents should take Paul’s advice, and he should definitely take his own.

“If we could all stay a little calmer, it would probably be better for our kids, as well.” You said it, Paul. Not me.

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  • lb71

    Nice to see you here Rachel. Great article. In hockey now, at least where my kids plays, not only do you parents have to sign an anti-abuse form, there is an online course (“Respect in Sport”) that at least one parent has to do before your kid will be allowed to play.

    I agree with the play different sports during the year. My son loves hockey but I put him in other activities during the summer. I also don’t want to sit inside during the summer. Talking to my friends with older kids in rep hockey, they would tell me if you didn’t play/train all year, you were behind come the start of the season. Plus, the rep coaches put on these all year training and it was expected that your kid participated. It was a source of income for the coaches. Lot of pressure for the kids to participate. I saw it with my youngest this past hockey season. He wasn’t on skates since March, and come evaluations in September, he was a step behind. But it didn’t take long for him to catch up.

    Two things I read that always stick with me. First, researchers interviewed high performance athletes. They asked what their favourite and least favourite memories were growing up in that environment. Least favourite was the ride home after that game. Most favourite was when the grandparents came to see them play. Eye opening stuff. (I told this to a parent of a high performing athlete once, and the look on their face was priceless. I think a light bulb went off his head at that moment.) Second, if your kid is playing the sport as an adult, you have done your job.