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Behind the bench

Trust everyone enjoyed a happy holiday experience with family and friends. It is indeed a wonderful time of year, when all the stars are aligned, and everything seems right. We get a clean slate and are ready to start over once again. It’s up to us what we do with the year ahead.

Most readers will have noticed that I haven’t written on minor hockey for a number of weeks - and that is indeed unusual. Well, it didn’t take long for the subject to come across my desk once again. During the Christmas celebrations, I had two individuals approach me with disturbing stories about the “fun for kids” activity.

The first had to do with a parent going on the ice to accost an official (referee), this at a peewee invitational tournament. The second had to do with a parent threatening a coach with serious physical harm. Why, there was even consternation over player selections for a girls’ representative team. Just the kind of conversations and incidents that inspire my faith in some parents of minor hockey players, and more important, in the game itself.

For more years than I care to remember, I’ve faced head-on the problems in minor hockey. The unfortunate part of all this has been that most parents appreciate what I try to instill, for the good of our youth, but there are those few, in every association, that wait, for whatever reason, until their kids get to bantam or midget divisions before they see the light and take the game for what it is — a game. A game to be enjoyed by the kids, not to satisfy the egos of parents.

Listening and discussing the game with those two individuals, my thoughts went back to earlier times, to other conversations and situations I’ve either heard or observed, and there have been many. As well, I thought about the many conversations with minor hockey people of every stripe, from Hockey Canada to the smallest grass roots association, expounding on what is wrong with the game, and more importantly, how to improve it.

I remember a few years back I asked readers to tell me, in their own words, a couple of issues facing minor hockey in their community and/or association. It appears times have not changed that much, and many issues of eight years ago remain today. I offer these in no particular order. You will see duplications, which only reinforces how widespread that particular problem really is.

— Too much emphasis on winning and not enough emphasis on just having fun. We need to give the game back to the kids and let them play. Coaches need to develop all the kids. It’s not worth winning the game if there is one emotionally hurt kid.

— Teaching parents that it is just a game, and that their kids should learn to enjoy it as a game, and not as a life or death struggle. I have seen far to often a concerned parent leaning over the boards hollering, not only at their own kid, but other members of the team. It makes me sick!

— Player registration coupled with increased ice cost has drastically reduced the amount of available ice time. This delays player development.

— Keeping referees, especially the young ones, in the game is essential to ensure the long-term viability of the game. Abusive coaches, players, and parents, drive young officials out of the game.

— The experience is first for the kids. Too many teams or parents have lost sight of the primary focus: Fun and skill development first - winning at the expense of fun and team development is wrong.

— Players, coaches, parents, and referees do not respect each other enough and therefore inappropriate behaviour is commonplace, and this needs to be addressed.

—Too much emphasis on winning at all cost. For example, playing only the best players rather than using everyone in all situations, to develop all the players.

— I understand that minor hockey is having more and more difficultly attracting officials because the experience is becoming less and less fulfilling. If minor hockey is going to attract a higher caliber of referee, they must identify, address and correct the reasons why people are leaving the game.

— Coaches and volunteers benefit so much from instruction, which improves the experience for the kids. Some of the courses are difficult to attend when they demand 2-3 days in a row around family and work obligations. Perhaps more frequent, but in smaller increments of time, would make it easier for coaches to improve their skills.

— Need a more concerted drive to support the Fair Play initiative - Coaches and parents are giving it lip service only!

— Coaches trying to teach systems rather than creative play at an early age.

That’s just a smattering of some of the replies I have received over the years, there are many duplications of the above, from all over the province, and yes, the country. Just let me add, if the right atmosphere is created on the ice, on the bench, and in the dressing room, your kids can still have fun (you as well), despite everyone’s mistakes, including your own! Anyone with any issues, feel free to contact me. And the beat goes on.

That’s 30 for this week.

Remember, “it’s easier to build a child than mend an adult and an ounce of pluck is worth a ton of luck!” Until next week.


Don Winsor is a former recreation administrator now living in Happy Adventure. He can be reached at (709) 677-2422 (voice/fax); or by mail at Box 26, Site 6, Happy Adventure, NL, A0G 1Z0, or by e-mail at


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