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Game on, in support of road hockey


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Though nothing like past instances that have provoked national media frenzies, last weekend’s demonstration of support for road hockey was quintessentially Canadian.

Dozens of kids and their parents were out on Porchlight Drive in Elmira Sunday in reaction to the previous week’s move by police to shut down a game of street hockey. Acting on a complaint from a neighbour, police were enforcing a bylaw on Woolwich’s books, one it shares with many municipalities. While officially prohibited, road hockey games are rarely halted in practice, as the bylaw goes unenforced.

Last week’s shutdown brought the issue to the fore, as has been the case in other communities over the years.

Hockey, of course, is our national obsession, a defining part of our character. The sight of kids (and some adults, truth be known) playing pickup hockey in the streets – quieter ones where the need to shout “caaarrr” is less frequent – is familiar to almost everyone. Many grown men (yes, the gender divide is still in evidence) have vivid recollections of countless hours spent turning wooden hockey sticks into splinters in pursuit of a tennis ball.

As with previous incidents, most notably in Hamilton and, more recently, Kitchener, actions taken to shut down road hockey games are seen as an attack on both a national institution and childhood itself, hardly moves designed to make anyone popular.

Safety issues aside, those who object to street hockey have it all wrong. Yes, road hockey can be somewhat annoying in the neighbourhood, especially to the curmudgeonly, but it does provide a recreational outlet for kids. Sadly, the activity appears to be waning as young people become increasingly inactive, opting for electronic diversions – if road hockey was a new game for the Playstation, it would fare much better.

Road hockey is an increasingly rare sight, in line with fewer kids outside just having fun – just being kids, in fact. Certainly the number of young people playing outdoors – whether a game of ball hockey, some pick-up baseball, tossing a frisbee, passing a football or a far-ranging, yard-hopping game of chase – is much lower than it used to be.

There’s more than anecdotal evidence to support that claim. ParticipACTION has long decried the phenomenon, calling the trend hazardous to the long-term health of our children. It’s another indictment of helicopter parenting.

Over-supervising kids or keeping them indoors to ensure they are safe limits their opportunities for physical activity and endangers their long-term well-being. It’s time to get out of kids’ way, let them play outside and give them the freedom to occasionally scrape a knee, the group argues.

We have lost the balance between short-term safety and long-term health. In outdoor play, risk doesn’t mean courting danger, but rather giving kids the freedom to assess their surroundings and make decisions, allowing them to build confidence, develop skills, solve problems and learn limits

It seems many adults have forgotten the simple joy of pure, unvarnished fun that comes with being a kid. Experts argue we should let kids be kids, break out of the over-protective mode and stop micromanaging children’s lives.

Unwarranted safety concerns lead to excessive supervision and keeping kids indoors. But, is outdoor play really something to fear?

What many adults recall from their childhood as thrilling and exciting play that tested boundaries – such as exploring the woods, roughhousing, moving fast or playing at heights – is often called risky play these days. While these activities could lead to injuries, the vast majority are minor. With road hockey, it should be game on.

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