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September 26, 2017

The worst parents in youth hockey; true stories from the ice

Local parents who are out of control when it comes to competitive youth sports can now find a way to dial it down

When a college friend detailed how the police were called to break up a brawl between a parent and a coach during a Little League baseball game two summers ago in Delaware County, he laughed at me. 

“You must see this all of the time in hockey,” he said.

Incredibly, bad behavior by parents in youth ice hockey isn’t commonplace, but it happens. A few seasons ago, my older son’s ice hockey team, comprised of 9- and 10-year old children, only had one goalie on the roster. The concern was what would happen to the team if he were injured or was stricken with an illness. A quarter of the way through the season, a second netminder was added. The goalies split time during a game. 

The new goalie played the entirety of the next game and the other goalie’s father lost it. After the contest, he grabbed his son’s stick and marched out onto the ice. The referees witnessed the bad intent and grabbed the incensed parent, who promptly hurled the stick which struck another dad on the arm. The hothead then tried to pick a fight with the new goalie’s dad, who (wisely) didn’t take the bait. The out-of-control hockey father and his son left the organization the next day.

That story is the exception in youth ice hockey, but police have been called out to rinks to break up fights between parents and, occasionally, players. Police responded to an on ice melee at Hatfield Ice Arena last March. Central Bucks West dominated a Flyers Cup game over Ridley, which responded by starting a brawl late in the contest. Parents duked it out in the stands. Arrests were made. However, physical altercations are just part of the insanity in youth sports.

It’s a very different world for kids who are part of organized athletics today. Parents want what’s best for their progeny, but many young children are specializing in one sport as early as 8 years old. Most elite athletes played multiple sports while growing up.

“I played for my baseball, football, basketball and golf teams until I graduated high school,” San Francisco Giants perennial All-Star catcher Buster Posey said. 

“I don’t understand why you wouldn’t play all sports. If you don’t give your body and mind a break, it’s crazy.”

And then there are the endless games youth athletes play. USA Hockey follows ADM (American Development Model), which offers strong suggestions on how to protect children. The following passage is from the USA Hockey website: 

“Many athletes spend too much time traveling, competing and recovering from competition and not enough time preparing for it...too many athletes are specializing too early on. An early focus on just one or two sports leads to injuries, burnout and capping athletic potential."

A local disciple of ADM is Blue Bell-based ice hockey trainer Joe Garry, who believes less is more with games and that serious players should focus on developing skills. Garry is also not enamored of the endless and expensive tournaments, which are a huge part of youth sports.

“Tournaments require hotels, meals and travel,” Garry said. 

“Not to mention, their child has only been on the ice for a total of an hour or so for about $1,000 per tournament. The time and money would be better spent on focused training because these tournaments provide nothing more than a good story for Monday morning.”

Garry is spreading the word via his websitewhich launches this Friday. Garry’s youth hockey site offers his philosophy on youth training, podcasts and instructional videos on stick handling, skating, skate sharpening and a number of other topics.

“We are totally committed to educating parents so they can make good choices that will help them spend their time and money wisely,” Garry said. 

“We provide real information that is rarely heard but will have a major impact on their child’s skill development. I want parents to recognize that players do not develop higher-level skills playing countless games. I’m hoping to bring a little sanity back to training and youth hockey.”