Sunday, January 14, 2007

Don't forget about the kids

As Hockey Day in Canada 2007 comes to an end, an article featuring some interesting observations on the state of minor hockey in the Great White North. The Hamilton Spectator asked a number of participants, both adult and youth, to take a look at where the game is today and how it can be made better.

It makes for some good reading and offers up some important suggestions for those who may have forgotten what the spirit of Hockey Day in Canada is all about.

Hockey Day in Canada
Those who love the game have plenty of solid suggestions
By John KernaghanThe Hamilton Spectator(Jan 13, 2007)

You're going to see lots of warm and cuddly images today as CBC's Hockey Day in Canada dominates the public network.

And that's OK. The game has plenty of upside at all levels to enjoy and cherish.
But it is flawed, deeply in some cases. We asked people close to hockey what they would do if they could be god of the game for a day.

Dale Hawerchuk, former National Hockey League star:
"Get rid of the nutbar parents."

Hawerchuk, who will play a charity game Feb. 18 at Copps Coliseum with the Legendary Hockey Heroes, says banishing overbearing parents will allow their kids to have more fun and make them better players at the same time.

"Kids enjoy and get better at the game when their parents back off."

In fact, Hawerchuk says many players make it to the NHL because they've had parents who have stepped back and let them grow naturally within the game.

Peter Martin, president of the Hamilton Minor Hockey Council:

Make all rinks in North America Olympic sized, lengthen the season for AAA players eight to 17 years of age and space out games and practices to let them and their parents have a life outside hockey, return entry-level hockey to unstructured play.

"If we're developing high skills, give the players a bigger surface to showcase it," says Martin of the Olympic rink dimensions.

He said a severely compacted AAA season limits the social life of players and means many leave the game after age 14. Also, Martin believes throwing kids into highly structured games early means many rarely touch the puck.

"Our young kids have one game and one half-ice practice a week. That means nine minutes of competition, often with few touches of the puck, and perhaps three minutes handling one in a practice."

He believes in letting children to age 11 play free-form or shinny hockey instead of strictly coached games and learning skills in practice with tactical aspects being introduced from 11 up.
But as Martin points out, parents are highly resistant to unstructured play, no matter that it's more fun.

Sue Clark, president of the Hamilton Hawks Girls Hockey Association:

"More exposure for the girls. The media doesn't offer much about them. Women's hockey is developing quite fast and there is little recognition."

Don Lever, head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs: "Go back to wood sticks. The new ones are way too expensive for kids and families."

Lever says that he'd get rid of the composite hockey sticks, even at the professional hockey level.

"They're always breaking and they're so light pucks just bounce off them."

Rich Cooke, past president of the Hamilton Minor Hockey Council:

"Put an end to parents crapping on minor hockey officials."

Cooke, who also chairs a discipline committee for the council, said abusive and whining parents can drive volunteer coaches and low-paid officials away from the game.

"It seems that at this time in our society parents think their kids are never wrong."

Devin Landry, 10, atom hockey player:

"Make penalties for hitting from behind at least a two-game suspension instead of one."

Adam Brown, 11, Stoney Creek minor peewee hockey player:

"There should be a suspension for hits to the head or hits with the hands up over the shoulders."

Jeffrey Beattie, 10, Hamilton atom hockey player:

"Everybody should wear visors in the NHL and if young players can't afford to play someone should help them."

Jack Beattie, 9, Hamilton atom hockey player:

"No-touch icing in the NHL and skills competitions for atom players so they can get better."

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