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Trying to inject some respect back into hockey

Hockey parents are something of a different breed. The yelling and cursing at referees has only been getting worse in recent years, an issue that’s highlighted in a new report that says 60 per cent of Canadians believe unruly parents are a threat to the benefit of community sport.

The Sport Moves Us report states “83 per cent of Canadians believe community sport can instill character in youth by teaching them values and positive life lessons.”

But when asked which are the biggest threats to achieving this, poor parental behavior came out on top, ahead of lack of access (48 per cent) and violence (48 per cent).

Kevin Kraemer, president of Twin Centre Minor Hockey, said they’ve already had three or four incidents this year with parents. From a local level there’s not much they can do because they don’t have control over the parents. Coaches are volunteers and arena staff are often teenagers.

“Two weeks ago we had to have a meeting with a parent that stormed the penalty box and demanded the referee’s name and then stormed the referee’s room,” Kraemer said. “When we were disciplining the parent, we told him he had to comply or we’d suspend his child. He talked to his lawyer and said that it was illegal to suspend the child because of the parent’s behavior.”

The Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) and Hockey Canada came together this year and created the Respect in Sport program to help educate parents on proper arena etiquette. One parent for each child must complete it before their child can be registered.

Still, issues persist. He says 7,500 referees were trained across Canada in the last 10 years. Compared to 2004, there are 1,000 fewer than there were then, something that can be partially attributed to the lack of respect.

“It’s definitely getting worse,” Kraemer said. “I was at a meeting at a coaching clinic in Toronto in November and they identified it as a big issue. It’s on Hockey Canada’s radar.”

The report comes in conjunction with RBC Sports Day, an event on November 29 that aims to encourage participation in local sports across the country.

“When community sport is based on the True Sport values of excellence, fairness, inclusion and fun, there are almost no limits to what sport can do,” said Karri Dawson, executive director of the True Sport Foundation.  “It is every parent, coach, referee and athlete’s responsibility to defend and celebrate a positive sporting experience for all, because good sport can make a great difference.”

While there will always be parents in every sport convinced their six year old is the next Wayne Gretzky, the intensity of parental aggression is unique in hockey.

Kraemer is also involved in baseball and says it’s a totally different atmosphere.

“People will say something to the umpire [about a bad call], but the same parent at a hockey arena would be using the f bomb to explain how bad the ref is,” Kraemer said. “I don’t see from my end that there is a whole lot of improvement but it really depends on the group of parents.”

He thinks an issue is people aren’t embarrassed by their behavior and they don’t seem to care as much what other people think.

“The only way to fix it is not let parents into the arena. That would make it go away,” Kraemer said.

The report indicates that Canadians value community-level sport, citing benefits such as instilling character in youth by teaching values and positive life lessons, providing opportunities to pursue excellence, strengthening our communities by helping to reduce crime, supporting newcomers, bringing people together and bolstering the economy.

Kraemer hopes rude hockey moms and dads will be embarrassed to act the way they do in the future, and programs like Respect in Sport will continue to draw attention to the lack of respect in hockey.

“I understand some of these initiatives but it’s engrained in our culture that it’s acceptable to behave this way,” Kraemer said. “Until we change that I don’t think it’s going to change at the arena.”

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