Minor hockey is now $12 more expensive and takes up an extra hour of time for many parents in the Ottawa area. It’s because of an online course for parents that organizers hope leads to friendlier interactions between parents, coaches, officials, players and everyone else involved in the game.
Many of us have seen the newscasts and videos from other parts of Canada showing parents fighting in the stands, threatening each other and being just all-around belligerent. Hockey Eastern Ontario executive director Debbie Rambeau says there have been no problems of such magnitude in this region, but adds that organizers are trying to prevent such things before they happen.
“We just want to be proactive in giving families the tools in case something arises,” she says. “We’ve been really lucky in this branch in that we haven’t really had any issues, but there are other branches across Canada that you might have seen affected.”
For example, on Vancouver Island earlier this year, the situation of parents yelling at on-ice officials, other parents and opposing players escalated to the point where some parents were being banned from games. The Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association happens to be implementing this same online course for parents for the coming season.
“We’re hoping that if an issue arises, this tool will help combat some of those issues,” Rambeau says.
It’s called the Respect in Sport for Parents program, and at least one parent or guardian of initiation (ages five and six) and novice (ages seven and eight) players in an association falling under the jurisdiction of HEO will have to take it before the next season starts, as well as parents of all new players up until midget (up to age 17). Girls’ hockey leagues are not subject to this, as they are not governed by HEO.
The course deals with several topics, such as the appropriate level of pressure to put on child athletes, as well as interacting with referees, coaches and other parents. It has already been implemented in several other jurisdictions throughout the country.
HEO officials say there are indications that in Alberta, where it is part of hockey programs throughout the province, there has been a decline in unwanted incidents involving parents.
A memo sent from HEO to hockey associations throughout the region says the course is intended to be “a positive program to make good parents better,” and that it is “not a reaction to media reports or a tool for discipline.”
Rambeau says the course can teach parents how to cope with situations even when someone else – perhaps a coach or another parent – is the problem.
“A parent may be yelling at their child,” she says. “Maybe you can go and just say something politely to that parent like, ‘Really, it’s a game. Let’s just have fun.’”
Nepean’s Grant Bifolchi has experienced minor hockey as parent of two sons and as a coach of various age groups at both the competitive and house league levels. He says he’s seen several examples of inappropriate conduct among parents.
“I have had parents that are belligerent to their child on and off the ice, nagging and pushing hard in an effort to motivate or embarrass,” he says.
As a coach, Bifolchi had to field late-night phone calls from parents complaining about their children’s ice time. One year when he was not coaching, a teammate of his son had a father who was often inebriated at games, and he once took this parent to the in-rink restaurant “with the promise of buying him a beer so everyone else could watch the game in peace.”
Bifolchi says a program like Respect in Sport can be helpful in dealing with parents who cause problems. However, he doesn’t agree with it being applied as broadly as planned. He would prefer to see a course like this in place just for parents who cross the line.
“I can see this being a valuable tool as a corrective measure,” he says. “The coach should be able to hold a parent accountable if, and only if, there is cause and it is ongoing. Perhaps let’s institute a policy where if a parent has some control issues, the league would approach them and ask them to take the course so their child may continue in the program.”
Bifolchi points out that hockey is already a sport parents have to invest a lot of time and money in.
“Hockey is already so expensive and intensive for parents and kids,” he says. “We need to make it less so, not more so.”
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