The good, the bad and the stupid: A weekend of youth hockey

team photoA few weekends ago, I willingly monitored 29 Squirt hockey games. It involved about 40 hours of watching other people’s kids play hockey and eating rink food while inhaling Zamboni fumes, but it was mostly fun. In many ways it was a snapshot of everything that is right, and everything that is wrong, in youth sports.

What was right:

Skill stood out
With speed and some slick passing, a team of undersized kids made it through the quarterfinals, semifinals and on to the championship game with smart, skillful, creative play and not much else. No dominant scorer, no wall of a goalie. Just skate, pass, pass, pass and shoot. Worked like a charm.

Money didn’t always win
A ragtag group of kids, with mismatched helmets and jerseys that were not even from this decade, beat three teams outfitted in the best matching bags, helmets, jerseys and warm up suits that money can buy. It was the Mighty Ducks movie playing out right in front of me. But sadly, no flying V.

Good sportsmanship lives
It was nice to see gracious winners, enthusiastic and supportive fans and generally good behavior all around. Someone wins, someone loses and everyone gets a Slushee after the game, just like it is supposed to be.

What was wrong:

Stupid parents are still stupid
One dad got thrown out for vigorously and repeatedly sharing his opinion of the refs, then refused to leave and had to be given the “get out or I’ll call the cops” speech. Later, following one team’s loss, I saw a player tell his father to “stop yelling at me” and “you smell like beer.” No Parent of the Year awards there, but I did admire the way the little guy called BS on dad.

Loss of perspective
After each championship game, I got to hang medals around the necks of winners and runners up. That should be about 150 or so sweaty hockey players. But in this case, it was 149 sweaty and 1 barely damp player. Barely damp, because in the 3rd period, with the championship on the line for a team of 9 and 10 year olds, coach didn’t play this guy much. He wasn’t injured. He was the victim of an adult’s overdeveloped desire to win. It was honestly the saddest thing I saw all weekend.

An lack of appreciation
In years past, I’ve seen many coaches and parents acknowledge the efforts of the volunteers, refs and minimum-wage-earning rink staff to provide a good experience for the teams in league play. This year, not so much. It was disheartening and directly speaks to the difficulty in recruiting volunteers to keep leagues and associations running. Saying thanks isn’t hard to do and it means a lot.

I don’t think much has changed over the years, but it does seem to have intensified. There is a perception that more is at stake because more is invested–more time, more money, more attention–and that’s a little scary to me. It was nice to see that, in many situations, it’s still about kids staying active, having fun and parents supporting that.

One Comment on “The good, the bad and the stupid: A weekend of youth hockey”

  1. John Birchler says:


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