When my partner’s son, at the age of 8 or 9, decided he wanted to play hockey, it did not fill my heart with joy. My younger brother had eschewed hockey in favour of speed skating and, as a teenager, I had enjoyed watching him race. I still like to watch speed skating; it seems elegant and graceful. At least compared to hockey, quiet. No loud buzzers, no slapping and banging of sticks on the ice, no pounding of the boards by teammates. And, no screaming parents!
However, good stepmother that I tried to be, I did my share of driving, watching hockey practices and games and gingerly removing sweaty gear from the hockey bag. I grew no fonder of it by doing so. That sweaty gear stinks. It’s cold in those ice rinks, and the quality of hot chocolate at the concession stands is poor. I have never been able to follow the game, even in the slow motion of kids playing it.
Having never played team sports myself, I found it all a bit overwhelming. Above all else, I could not understand the aggressiveness of so many of the parents, who observed every game as though it were a world championship through eyes that anticipated wrongs being done to their sons at every turn. The willingness of parents to castigate coaches, refs and other players and their parents shocked me.
I was not sad when league hockey at our house gave way to pick-up games at the outdoor rink in the park down the street.
The next generation
Now I am the grandmother of four boys. I got lucky with the first two. The oldest, at 17, has never shown the slightest interest in any sport at all. I know, this is probably bad for his health, but it has its upside for parents and grandparents who are not sporty types. The next oldest, at 13, is a runner and a gymnast – very civilized activities that do not involve cold arenas, jock straps or, generally, screaming parents.
Just as I was thinking I had escaped a second generation of hockey, my stepson and his partner produced two more grandsons, the older of whom has just turned seven. And, yes, this fall, his parents signed him up for hockey.
With some trepidation, I headed to a game recently. I have to say, it was better than I had feared. The arena had some heat in it. The quality of the hot chocolate was much improved. In my role as grandmother, I did not have to put on, take off or wash the hockey gear. And, truth be told, those six-, seven- and eight-year olds were pretty darn adorable as they stumbled up and down the rink, often completely losing track of what they were supposed to be doing.
Things are improving
The game I watched was better in more important ways, too. First, girls and boys play on the same teams. Second, at this stage, there did not seem to be much focus on scoring goals or winning. Everyone had a chance to play, and the referees were not averse to helping out when someone got into trouble on this ice. At times, there were two pucks in play at once.
Third, the Ontario Hockey Federation, as the result of a settlement reached with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario after a complaint brought by a transgender hockey player, now requires all volunteer coaches to complete an online gender diversity training. Coaches are provided with a glossary of terms and appropriate pronouns as well as guidelines for talking to kids about the topic and how to handle dressing rooms.
In my grandson’s league, and maybe others, parents are required to attend a session on how to behave appropriately when they are at the arena. Parents are informed about what is and is not acceptable and of the consequences to them – and potentially to their kids—it they don’t follow those rules.
As the sign at the arena says: “This is not the Stanley Cup Finals. Respect the game and have fun!”