Posted by: Hannah | 10/16/2013

on why my kids don’t play hockey

It’s hockey season again!

I know this because on at least two occasions recently the evening national news broadcast led with a story about fighting in hockey. And because the morning news features clips of guys saying things like “we played hard and kept our focus”. And because Louis goes home early one night a week now to accommodate his older brother’s hockey schedule.

Here’s the thing.

I don’t like hockey.

The actual sport of hockey, I have no problem with. I used to play shinny on the pond when I was a kid. I love watching Olympic-level hockey (no fights, you see). It’s the whole minor hockey system in this country that has totally turned me off – and apparently I’m not alone. According to Canada AM today, 90% of Canadian parents are not involved in minor hockey.

(Something you’d never know, if you looked at the disproportionate amount of ink, air time, and Tim Horton’s commercials dedicated to the good ol’ hockey game.)

I have always said that I’ll do my best to support my kids if they express an interest in a sport or activity – and so we’ve done baseball, tae kwon-do, swimming, soccer. I buy lots of craft supplies so Ron can indulge his artistic bent and I’ve been slowly teaching Harry to cook.

I draw the line at hockey, though.

It’s expensive. Registration fees for the season seem to be secret here – at least I can’t find them on the Hockey Nova Scotia webpage – but I’ve heard $450. Then you need equipment, and it’s a long list: helmet, faceguard, mouthguard, chin strap, throat protector, shoulder pads, elbow pads, jock, wrist pads, pants, gloves, shin pads, skates, stick. I’m guessing all of that is at least another few hundred dollars. Plus tax. We have three kids. We could easily spend $2500 – $3000 just getting the three of them on the ice.

I feel your pain, Ted.

Then there is the time commitment. Arthur’s first winter of hockey – he was FOUR – he had practices every Saturday and Sunday, all winter long. Louis’ brother has his practices on Tuesdays at 5PM, and I remember there was a tournament once that required him to miss school for two days because there were games scheduled at 2PM on Thursday & Friday. Hockey parents complain, a lot. They complain about early practices, weekends lost to tournaments, Saturday mornings given up to fundraising at the grocery store or neighbourhood bottles drives. I’ve said it before – hockey isn’t an extracurricular activity, it’s a lifestyle. If that’s your bag, great. It’s not for us.

And finally, I have significant ethical issues with involving my kids in a sport where at the professional level, solving one’s grievances with brutal violence is considered “part of the game“. I never, ever allow my children to work  out their difficulties by hitting, or kicking, or using unnecessarily hurtful words. In baseball, for example, outbursts of temper on the field will get you tossed out of the game. Throwing your helmet down in a snit after you strike out? You get tossed and so you should, because you are grown men playing a child’s game for millions of dollars. I want my kids to see professional athletes and aspire to be them. I do not want my kids staying up late to watch hockey so they can see men throwing their gloves down and having a stupid fist fight over a goddamn game.

Look, I hate it when people at the grocery store park their cart on one side of the aisle so that they can read labels on the other side of the aisle. It grinds my gears. And would it make me feel better to drop my list, yank someone’s cardigan up over their head, and then start punching them in the back of the head until they learned manners? Maybe. But I don’t, because that’s not how adults are supposed to act.

Step away from the canned tomatoes. Seriously.

Finally, the danger. At the lower levels there isn’t much chance you’re going to get hurt. I’ve seen how Timbits “skate”. There is a lot of falling, and verrrry sloooowly colliding with your teammates. The kids are so bundled in safety gear that there really is nothing that’s going to happen to you except in remarkable rare circumstances.

But then they get older, bigger, heavier, faster. Concussions are common. Teeth get broken. Spinal injuries are not unheard of. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Ontario alone reported 8,000 hockey-related injuries severe enough to require a trip to the emergency room – in one season.

In today’s overly-protective safety-conscious society, I find it strange that any activity that causes that many injuries to children is still so venerated a part of our national identity.

So! That’s why we aren’t a hockey family. That’s why when George was born on January 6th, we were not as excited as all the hockey dads at Michael’s office. That’s awesome for when he plays hockey! He’ll always be the oldest kid on his team! That’s why we are always well-rested during playoff season and why we don’t care how much tickets to a Maple Leafs game are going for this year.

I expect the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to show up at my door any day now to revoke my citizenship.

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Responses

  1. I agree with all of your points. I grew up in New England where hockey ruled the Winter months. Before I had kids, however, I moved to the NW where hockey is virtually unheard of and I’m just fine with that. We spend enough time and money on soccer, which is FAR less expensive than hockey. Plus the violence thing in hockey is a real problem. There’s nothing like spending the majority of a child’s younger years trying like hell to teach them not to hit or bite or work out problems with violence and then enrolling them in a sport that specifically glorifies violence and wondering why everything is confusing for them. I’ll pass thanks.

    • Exactly. EXACTLY. I just can’t wrap my head around the cognitive disconnect. Some of the hockey moms I know wouldn’t dream of letting their kids watch WWE or MMA, for example…

  2. I don’t like hockey either. But it is my brother’s, and hence my nephew’s, most beloved sport. Awkward.

    • Two of my three clients are hockey parents. It is super-awkward. I think it’s worse for Michael, though. A mom who isn’t a hockey fan is acceptable. A dad who doesn’t like hockey is blasphemy, in this country.

  3. They’ll have to revoke my citizenship, too, then. Like you, I enjoy the game — the speed! the finesse! — but I am so sick, sick, sick of the fighting, I haven’t watched for years. When I’d see them toss their gloves to the ice and start whaling away at each other I’d just get annoyed. “Oh, grow UP!”, I’d be hollering at those ill-mannered children. (I don’t care how old they are. Anyone indulging in that is a child.) Those sorts of fights, though, the toss-the-gloves-and-commence-to-punching-in-a-bunch are usually just for show. Like gorillas pounding their chests. Childish, bad modelling, moronic, unprofessional, and annoying as HELL, but not generally harmful.

    However. The nasty checks, the completely gratuitous shoving head-first into the boards, the slashing? Those things are *intended* to injure, and injure badly, and those things shouldn’t result in a game or three’s suspension, those things should result in being banned from the sport, and criminal charges.

    Phew. Steps off soapbox…

    And no, my kids didn’t play hockey, either.

    • Oh, I know the fights almost never result in actual injury, because they are as choreographed as any ballet. But the fact that we have players signed specifically to be “enforcers”? What the hell?

      Halifax has a major-junior team – they won the national championship last year. But I refuse to take the boys even though it’s a relatively inexpensive night out because the Quebec league is notorious for stupid-ass fights. The last time I went to a game – ten years ago, now – every time someone ‘dropped the gloves’ the music from “Jaws” would play over the sound system. The sight of dozens of little children standing on their chairs and screaming “fight fight fight!” disturbed me deeply.

  4. I think to have a kid in hockey, you have to have at least one hockey parent. Otherwise, life will be miserable. My cousin has three boys in hockey – two are teenagers now – and his entire winter is spent at the rink. Sounds horrible, but he loves it. He really enjoys spending a zillion hours a week at the hockey rink. Well, different strokes I guess.

    • And I can see someday us spending nearly every summer weekend at the baseball field, because we as a family enjoy it. It’s a fair point. I guess it’s because hockey is the one sport that everyone assumes we must be involved in that it rubs me the wrong way.

  5. Don’t forget out of town tournaments. With hotels, driving and meals, our hockey-involved friends spend almost a $1000 per weekend. And while tournaments are technically not obligatory if you don’t attend them regularly they are socially censured by the other parents.

    I personally enjoyed playing scrimmage hockey as a kid, but I don’t like the Culture of Hockey that has emerged in Canada over the past two or three decades. Not at the local level and not at the national level. I also take exception to our national identity being closely associated not with the sport of hockey but with a commercial operation that generates hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for shareholders who are not Canadian. Translation: CBC needs to stop trying to sell hockey strikes as news stories about our nation being crippled.

    • This entire comment is YES. I agree 100%. (Also, those weekend tournaments? GAAA. How does the average family cope with that kind of cash outlay? Does not compute.)

  6. Well put Hannah. I understand your point about the sport and the fighting. It has often got uglier than you’d like lately. And yes, they are expensive too. But nevertheless, there still are many parents who scramble to get their kids to hockey training camps and teams at a very young age. And I’m someone who did that myself. It is necessary to discourage such behavior on the rink if we are to sustain and improve the interest of parents and kids who join the sport. As if the risk of injuries alone weren’t enough to keep folks from sending their kids to the sport, such repeated instances of brawling is a disgrace to the sport at this level.

    • Interesting perspective. I think my issue with it is that questioning the system – including the expensive training camps – is frowned upon because hockey is perceived to be part of our Canadian culture. I find it strange that as a nation we like to say that we are peaceful unless pushed, and yet we venerate a sport that continues to insist “fighting is part of the game”.

  7. Totally agree. I live in the United States and moved to the SW US recently from Minnesota. I am so tired of the hockey being a lifestyle up there – and thought I moved away from that dim culture. Give me a break. I don;t go around shoving my interest in basketball in people’s faces like the hockey families do. I am married into a hockey family and family times basically suck because of it. It’s just rude and I tired of it.

  8. I’m just a random person who came across this blog entry. Definitely different strokes I guess. I have two boys (soon to be three) in wrestling and hockey. They absolutely love the game and skill it involves. I had friends in high school who played soccer (we were a big soccer school) that nearly wound up out of the sport for good because of nasty shin kicks thrown on purpose. Yes, fights are more in “open” view in hockey but c’mon soccer, lacrosse and rugby are violent sports as we’ll, let’s be fair. Injuries are not caused by the fist fights but by the body checking and the NHL has come down heavy on its regulations as far as that goes. What about football..you know the game where 300+ lbs men run full force into one another. You do also realize tackle football starts at age 7! Or “two a days” and kids dying from overheating? Body checking is no different than a football tackle except body checking in hockey is honestly the safer of the two. Yes, stick with baseball, that’s probably the best choice if you want non violence because when you work so hard for something and are passionate about it, especially in a full contact sport, injuries happen, fights happen. It’s not just hockey. I’m just a little perturbed with all this hockey is too violent nonsense but then again I could never see myself on the baseball field in mid July, full sun with dust kicking up in my face.

    • Thank you for commenting. I was not specifically talking about the injury potential when playing the “game” of hockey – I was talking about the pervasive encouragement of fighting and violence within hockey. Football is indeed a very rough game with a high risk of injury, which is why my kids aren’t going to play football, either. But what professional football *doesn’t* have is condoned and tacitly-encouraged fighting. Nor does professional basketball, soccer, rugby, baseball, or any other team sport – when, as you put it “in a full-contact sport … fights happen”, there are immediate and swift penalties handed down.

      And wrestling; well, that’s different, isn’t it? Participants are taught the holds, the falls, and the safest way to compete. Again, there are penalties handed down for illegal or dangerous contact.

      Different strokes indeed, but in my opinion your arguments don’t hold up. If you’re tired of people thinking hockey is a violent sport, perhaps you need to take a good hard look at why you are saying “fights just happen”. They sure as hell don’t happen on the playground and they don’t need to happen on the ice surface, either.

      • I’m sorry but maybe you don’t know lax that well….slashing and hits are definitely a normal occurrence…back to hockey, kids are taught how to check safely and how to take a check. American hockey has come together with Canadian hockey to be sure our kids are being taught exactly this and they’re very serious about it. Regulations ARE set. How is that different from tackle football? Have you ever been to a wrestling match? I have, parents are yelling “take him out!”, “smash him!”. Kids as young as 5 are getting put in head locks, lots crying to their parents because they don’t want to wrestle another kid in front an arena full of yelling parents and coaches. Exhaustion level at its highest. I was absolutely taken back at the first wrestling tournament I went to. I had not and have yet to see that kind of encouragement to be highly aggressive and mean on such a large scale. It’s not just during the match, it seems to be a lifestyle for some kids and coaches. It’s not my kind of sport but my boys like it, they’re pretty good at it and our coaches are very honorable and understanding of our kids. I’m not going to pull them out because of the bad seeds in the sport. I know that my boys are taught right and they know I wouldn’t stand for anything less than respectable play. My point is, bad coaches happen, redicilious parents happen, kids don’t play as fair as others and fights happen. It’s not just hockey. Also, I’m in ohio, perhaps our wrestling is your youth hockey. You see more examples of this behavior because it’s far more popular where you are. We’re fighting to keep hockey alive here for our kids.

        • I’m not sure why you feel that you need to try and defend your position so angrily on a six-month old blog post that is, I said repeatedly, MY OWN PERSONAL OPINION. You’re not even in Canada, or a Canadian, so my talking about how I feel hockey’s position in the overall culture of my country needs a second look doesn’t affect you at all.

          I thank you for your comments but it’s clear that we do not share the same concerns. That’s fine. You have made your choices for your family and I have made mine.

          • So the sport isn’t for you! There is no need to try to keep others from playing the sport that kids enjoy daily. Also… Wristguards in hockey are unheard of.

            • OK, I’ve been polite, I’ve explained that this is my opinion only, I’ve pointed out that we live in different countries entirely so my opinion can’t possibly affect you… and yet every few weeks you pop up again.

              You’re trolling now and I’m not even sure why. Any future comments will be ignored.

  9. your fight argument makes no sense. it is a part of the game. if some guy just came up and punched you in the face would you just sit there and take it? i didn’t think so.

    • “It’s part of the game” is such a bullshit argument I don’t even really feel like responding to it with logic. Funny, isn’t it, how hockey at all levels seems to be played without fights? And yet at a hockey game with no fights no one ever jumps up in the second period and yells “IS THIS CRICKET? OR STEEPLECHASE? WITHOUT FIGHTS I CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS GAME IS WITH STICKS, SKATES, A PUCK, AND TWO NETS!”

      The only reason the NHL condones fighting is because a percentage of the mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers who watch hockey are unable to appreciate the finer points of a well-played game and only tune in to see people drop the gloves. Go watch WWE if you want to see goons having a choreographed battle.

  10. I feel the same way, hockey is a lifestyle, but moreover it is a “bully”. Hockey requires that you as a family “hockey” and pretty much nothing else, so there is no time after hockey and homework, for music lessons, or swimming lessons or soccer etc etc etc. Maybe wasn’t or isn’t that way in the very beginning, but as things progress your ability to do anything outside of hockey is lesser and lesser. And I don’t want my kids to ever feel that they haven’t been able to try or enjoy something else. As their mum it is my job to show them the world and let them experience as much as I can.

  11. I find hockey morally repulsive. Seeing grown men punch eachother in the face for five minutes while no one stops them is vile behavior. It’s not that other athletes or men in general are or have to be gentlemen. It’s that we have to teach our sons appropriate manners even when another person is wrong. I want no part of such a THUG sport, which screams blue collar lowest common denominator. The punching reveals a dark side: EVENTUALLY THE MEN BECOME totally frustrated and angry. It’s because to get to that high level, they give up everything else but hockey and other areas of their lives are a wreck.


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