An end to hometown minor hockey?
Ontario Minor Hockey Association studying benefits of erasing boundaries
The City and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association are studying the possible benefits of erasing the boundaries that currently keep Stoney Creek players in Stoney Creek, Dundas players in Dundas, and so on. The suggestion seems to be that, in a time of persistently declining enrolment in minor hockey, greater player “movement” between associations might keep more kids in the sport, so a survey has been created to ask parents for their input on the matter.
I can see some benefit in this idea. As a hockey parent, I’m fortunate to be connected to a team where my child is thriving, but I’m seeing more and more kids at the rep level in particular who don’t have enough choice: they don’t make the cut for one team, but they’re better than the next team down, and who knows if there will even be enough players to roster that team? Perhaps, if all the Hamilton kids could try out for any Hamilton association, there would be a better chance of them finding a good fit for their skill level. But it would, make no mistake, be a loss to diminish hometown hockey.
I’ve met more people in my town through my kids’ hockey teams than in any other way. We run into each other at the grocery store, the library … we stitch a pattern of recognition and connection across our community. When hockey parents work together to co-ordinate child care on PA days, or give each other’s kids rides to the rink, their children are learning the benefits that come from helping and relying on people in their community. A child who grows up with a solid sense of place and belonging has, research shows, more confidence and more resilience.
Moreover, the City of Hamilton is a big place: I shudder to think of the number of parents who might find themselves driving from, say, Dundas to Stoney Creek several times weekly. The environmental and logistical ramifications of spending yet more time in the car are pretty dire, especially for a fami- ly with more than one child in afterschool activities. One of the most beautiful things about my hometown is that I can drop one child off for ballet and then simply drive across the road to drop the other one off for hockey. Doublebooked, you say? NEVER! I can be in two places at once! VICTORY IS MINE!
Instead of giving up on hometown hockey, perhaps we should be honest about why there are fewer kids playing the sport.
Rep parents are the canaries in the coal mine of minor hockey — they’re the ones who usually commit the most time and money to the sport. Not all rep parents are highly privileged — for some, the cost is a sacrifice they’re willing to make because they believe in the rewards. If rep parents are walking away, you know something’s really wrong. And that’s exactly what’s happening. While enrolment in OMHA associations is declining, business at for-profit “rogue” leagues continues to increase. I know firsthand that many families are leaving OMHA associations not because they can’t pay the fees or because their child doesn’t want to play hockey any more or because they’re worried about head injuries. They leave because their kids aren’t getting the coaching they need or want, and that’s down to the OMHA’s egregious lack of oversight and lack of responsibility for the product it’s selling.
Minor hockey associations around the province are still tainted with rep coaches who verbally abuse their players (angrily shaming kids as young as six, believe it or not) and throw tantrums on the bench. Even more prevalent are the coaches who can’t actually coach, and therefore f ail to teach kids that when you work hard at something, you improve. Conflicts of interest and favouritism on association boards are commonplace, so bad coaches often stay on the bench. Even if an association is guilty of something as serious as a human rights violation, the OMHA won’t get involved. Over the past eight years, I’ve only seen evidence of the OMHA’s will to improve coaching once, when it insisted that all associations follow the guidelines for its introductory program, for kids in kindergarten and Grade 1. The success of this initiative only increases my frustration: why doesn’t the OMHA show this kind of leadership and oversight more often?
A parent recently told me that she asked her son’s coach what his plans were to help her son improve in some of the basic skills he seemed to be struggling with (along with most of the team). The coach responded that he was “a big believer in The Wave.” This family had spent thousands to join a team whose coach was suggesting that they spend more money and go elsewhere for skill development. No wonder people are leaving. But solving such systemic problems would require a lot more work and expense than simply opening up the gates and sending kids out of their hometowns to try and find their team.
The Hamilton Hockey Survey will be online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ hamiltonhockeysurvey until March 1.
A bantam minor hockey game in Hamilton: Is erasing traditional borders really addressing the core problem affecting minor hockey enrolment?