If you’ve been to a hockey game, you’ve seen them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s midget or peewee or all the way up to the AHL — it doesn’t matter if it’s even the relatively low-stress house league.
The adult behind the glass, yelling at the referee or at one of the players. And not yelling encouragement, either. Eyes-bulging, neck-vein-distended fury, yelling at the top of their lungs about what’s nominally a game.
There are lots of reasons, chief among them the adults who feel they could have been a contender, men who now live vicariously through their children’s ice time. But it’s not only men — you see hockey moms sometimes, right at the gate where players come off the ice, berating their high school aged children about a missed pass or check, succinctly piling on the guilt while the player walks the five or six strides to the safety of the dressing room.
There’s also plenty of rage for the referees. They also have to make the end-of-game walk to their own dressing rooms, a walk that can include a gauntlet of parents and others who want to hammer their point home — and often act like they are about to do some of that hammering with their fists.
Now, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) is going to require hockey parents to take a course on how to behave at the rink; it’s an online course, and it will take parents all of an hour to finish. But it’s a start.
“Were not going to stop it 100 per cent,” HNL’s Jack Lee told the CBC, “but we think by doing this, it’s a step in the right direction to make sure that people understand what the game is all about — fun.”
It’s just as important to let parents know what the game is not about.
It’s necessary because referees who leave the system say that persistent verbal abuse is often part of their decision to leave.
It’s necessary because no one who has a youngster in hockey can say they haven’t seen a parent in abusive overdrive — with some parents, it seems like it is their constant state of existence at the rink.
There are other, more serious options that could be used. Parents with a record of abusive behaviour can be excluded from games. After all, rinks constitute private property. In some leagues, teams can be penalized on ice for their fans’ off-ice or off-field behaviour.
There have to be clear ways to keep coaches, refs and even players enjoying the game —
otherwise, they’ll stop, and everyone loses.
First, an online course and an attempt at a change in attitude. Maybe a penalty box for obstreperous parents will have to come next.