Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sticks and Stones...

     You don’t need me to tell you hockey is unlike most other sports – especially at the highest level. Only in hockey is there a designated roster spot for a vigilante –the enforcer.
   For all of Wayne Gretzky’s magical 2,857 career points, The Great One would be the first to admit, many of them would have never come to pass without big, bad Marty McSorley there to stave off opposing bullies.
    Teams facing Gretzky knew better than to try to get too physical with the diminutive dynamo, for that meant a not-so-pleasant meeting of the minds with McSorley (more appropriately, McSorley’s fists-meeting-one’s-mind).
   While we can certainly debate the merits of “the enforcer” in pro hockey, for our own Aspirational Great Ones, when faced with bullying in the locker room, it falls on them to be their own “McSorley,” without ever dropping the gloves – something far easier said than done.
  “No drama.”  That was always the number one locker room rule for Skaneateles, N.Y.  High School Athletic Director Mike Major, who also always counted on his hockey team captains to help reinforce the strict no-bullying stance on and off the ice. While captains serve an important mentoring role, experts will tell you it’s the coaches who need to monitor the pulse of the team, keeping an ear to the ground, in lines, on the bench, and in the locker room.
    “A coach needs to set up consequences for bullying and enforce them – even if it means benching or terminating the best player on his team,” says sports psychologist Dan Saferstein.
    “Bullying doesn’t just hurt the victims of bullying. It weakens the entire team and creates a culture of fear and cowardice.”
    Westchester County, NY Youth Hockey coach Stacey Wierle believes coaches, players and parents sometimes have a hard time differentiating between a prank, a joke and bullying. Wierle recalls a bullying incident with a Pee Wee skater, who was small and somewhat reserved, an easy target. His teammates threw his sneakers in the toilet. Swift action followed with the coaches suspending the players who were part of the “prank.” Once the suspensions were over, the coach hosted team dinners and fun off-ice sessions to create a strong team bond which prevented any additional situations.
   Social media is also a huge concern. “ If bullying is happening in the locker room, you can almost guarantee it is happening via text, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook,” says Wierle,” Coaches must acknowledge this possibility and encourage parents to check phones and be aware of these dangers.”  We have a parent collect all the phones before they go into the locker room, to cut down on the chances of a theft and inappropriate snapchats.
    Bullying in athletics is real, and occurs across all general lines, at all levels. And when addressed, it can quickly cause its victims to loathe not just the harassment, but the sport itself. “The scars of bullying can run deep,” says Saferstein. ”I would do whatever it takes to empower your child and not let any bully poison his love for hockey.”
    In other words, do for your child what McSorley did for Gretzky – drop the gloves on bullying, and empower them to be great.
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