Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hockey Parents Need to Fight the Good Fight

Dave Ferguson

    R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I guess we should sing that to our kids every once in a while, especially after they've watched the pros go at during a hockey game. How do we resolve the conflict of letting our kids take in the beauty of watching the pros play with the ugliness that erupts when tempers flare and cheap shots are taken?  Nationally known sports commentator Dave Ferguson was kind enough to take some time out for this hockey mom who is struggling with this dilemma. He's an expert Of The Psychology of Athletes and is host of the popular sports radio show BEYONDtheCheers

Most major sports ban fighting. Why not hockey?

   At the NHL level there is no intention to address the long standing tradition of fighting in hockey. According to Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the NHL, there is no demand from the fans at this point to make the change. The NHL will make any necessary adjustments to the game and or the rules when it sees fit. So basically the NHL is being more reactive than proactive. However with more information coming out from the medical research community on multiple blows to the head, the more those in a position to make changes at the major league level will listen. Gary Bettman is attending a conference on this very matter in November put on by the Mayo Clinic where they will present information on fighting in sports. The NHL is being hypocritical in that they crack down on head shots from the shoulder and elbow but not in fighting. In my dictionary both are blows to the head. That said the NCAA, US Hockey, OHL and other leagues are becoming firmer with regards to fighting. Longer suspensions and penalties are being levied. So some leagues are getting the message, but in the world of hockey that has a long standing tradition of fighting in the game it will take time and catastrophic events to make the changes more swiftly. I am not defending fighting, but keep in mind that hockey is a constantly moving game unlike any other sport. There aren’t many stoppages in play to allow players to cool down. There is less respect between players now today then years ago. Eventually it will be almost completely eliminated, we can’t control the adrenaline rush of players that feel it necessary to even the score to punch someone in the nose despite the possibility of loss of playing time.

Can't talent instead of thuggery attract new fans?

     Yes, in fact the Olympics are a great draw for old and new hockey fans because of the venue, the level and caliber of play and the sense of pride for their country.

 If the NHL banned fighting, would hockey lose much of its fan base?

    No not at all. There have been two small studies, one in Canada and one in the US where over 2,000 fans polled came back with 60% for banning fighting and 40% for keeping it in the game. In my opinion the ones that do leave, which may be small numbers, don’t care about the players or the game. They just go for the fights. So they are watching the wrong sport for that.

There's no question fighting can influence the young ones. I've seen it. What advice would you give to us hockey parents who are struggling to raise respectful kids in a sport that on the professional level includes violent body checks,illegal hits and fights?

    Hockey, like other sports teaches many things that include self-confidence, team philosophy, sense of achievement and many more skills that they carry with them the rest of their lives. Watching their role models at the pro level do set a bad example which carries over to kids playing at any level of hockey. I am a big proponent of handshake lines before and after the game as it shows that regardless of what happened during the game, is just that, it was a game. It shows that even after the game players can still be civil and shake hands which teaches sportsmanship. It can be tough for kids that see what goes on in the NHL but the only way to clean it up is not tolerate it at the kids level, which hopefully carries them through their hockey careers. Parents can play a key role as well since numbers of them encourage poor sportsmanship, illegal hits and so on. Many leagues only allow three words at a sporting event to be yelled out during a game. “Good, Go, Great” Anything else they are asked to leave. Coaches, which in many cases are volunteer parents, play a role as well. Even if a penalty is not called the coach can sit the offending player and let him or her plus the parents know that this type of behaviour is not acceptable on the team. Coaches need to have a parent/player meeting at the beginning of the season to lay out the groundwork as to how they coach, the rules, procedures, policies and so on. I did this for years and only had one parent complain during 18 years of coaching. However the local league needs to buy into this as well. Parents need to let their kids know that winning at all costs is not acceptable. Illegal hits put them at risk of injury as well, since they wouldn’t know or be taught how to execute those hits. Parents need to let their kids know that fighting is not acceptable in society as a way to resolve anything. Again this puts kids at risk for being a bully and could end up skating with a target on their back putting them at a great risk for retaliation injuries.

As I overheard a Squirt teammate tell my daughter after he got away with a  nasty check , "You try what they ( the pros) do. They do all sorts of things and get away with it." So, how do we impress upon our kids that the goal of the game is to score a goal?

    The pros get away with it because the league lets them. Typically the rules in minor hockey have more severe penalties and most leagues track them. So if there is a child that has two or three infractions, like fighting or checking from behind the third strike is suspended for the season. If it is not in place it should be as most minor leagues are adopting this rule. I believe they should be stiffer penalties and hopefully one day that will come. Let them know that adults playing at the pro level make mistakes, and most (if not all times) when they injure another player from any infraction, the player feels bad, apologizes and carries that weight he has done wrong for a long time. Again player respect at the NHL level is very low and can’t be compared, at least I hope not, to minor hockey. 4. Could the NHL eliminate fighting, without putting a ban on it? No, there will likely always be fighting in some capacity and hopefully can count on my hands (no more than 10) how many fights occur in one NHL season. However that said I believe that if the NHL was serious in reducing fights they would have stiffer penalties like a ten game or more suspension for a fight along with a $100,000 fine for the player and a $500,000 fine for the team. This would be a good starting point and would certainly go a long way to reducing fighting in hockey. However that said respect needs to be cleaned up immensely and the only way I know of this is having an enforcer like they did when Wayne Gretzky played. Since the officials don’t always make the correct call or turn a blind eye like they do in the playoffs. An enforcer sets things right. That said this introduces a component of fighting in the game. Respect for every player must return and I don’t have a secret recipe for that except stiffer penalites, fines and suspensions. The new rule about keeping the helmet on for a fight is ridiculous. If a player removes or has it removed for him during a fight only gives the player an additional two minutes. A risk that most players will take for the two minute penalty. Any other good parental advice you can add, would be awesome.

     Parents can help their children by not coaching them to and from the game. If they want to help out, stand behind the bench, help coaches during practice and take a role on the team. Kids need to have fun and enjoy going to games and practices. If they don’t want to go anymore take them out and never force them to play. Remember "Good, Go, Great" Teach them to respect each other. Teach them to cut down the angle and force the opposing player with the puck to the boards. Ride out that player into the boards and take the puck to create your own offense. Make sure your league is using a professional person to teach body contact rather than one you played occasionally and appears to know how to do it. There are many ex NHLers and other professionals that can teach the proper way that reduces the risk of injury. Keep their heads up at all times as a hit when you are not expecting it can be detrimental. Don’t rely on bolt on devices to the helmet as to letting you know of a possible concussive incident as they create a false sense of security. When it doubt check them out. A direct blow to the head from anything or a blow to the body that causes a whiplash affect to the head can be a concussive incident and check it out. Concussions are an entirely different topic, but ere on the side of caution as two concussions in one game can be fatal. Most importantly, let them have fun and enjoy the game without pressures from coaches, parents or peers.

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