Hockey is an emotional sport, and most of the time we value the strong feelings that the national game can arouse.
But the passions that bring us together can also drive us apart. Hockey leagues across the country have a problem with disruptive parents who can’t control their feelings at the rink, and now they’ve decided to fight back – with a compulsory behavioural training course.
This week Hockey New Brunswick became the latest provincial organization to require parents of young players to participate in the Respect in Sport program, an online course designed to elevate reason over passion at the minor-hockey level – at least in the stands.
Children between the ages of four and eight will be allowed to play in the 2013-14 season only on the condition that at least one family member takes the hour-long program, which aims to teach parents better self-control and make the game more fun for young players.
Overbearing parents are undoubtedly an unwanted distraction in hockey, compromising the enjoyment players ought to get from a sport while antagonizing fellow fans who know it’s just a game. While violence is rare at the rink, tempers rise in the heat of the moment, and too often kids’ hockey is played in an atmosphere of intimidation and threats.
This is wrong, even shameful. But it’s simplistic to think that a generic online course can solve a more complex social problem, and patronizing to treat all parents as if they were equally responsible for the problems of a few.
Most parents will play along with the Respect in Sport program, even if they don’t respect it, as the cost of getting their children into organized sport. If sports are in part about teaching life lessons, that is a cynical message to send. Participation in children’s sport should be tied to the love of the game, not to a broader exercise in group psychology and behaviour modification.
Hockey leagues rightly want to reduce pressure on children, and keep overemotional parents at a safe distance. But there are more effective ways to do so – such as studying what it is about a kids’ game that causes rational adults to lose control, and then remake the sport in a way that shifts the emphasis to player development and a purer spirit of fun.