February 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of our Hockey Mom community and website (my fourteenth year as a Hockey Mom, but it took me a few years to get going on our community).
Our website, www.canadianhockeymoms.ca is in its third reincarnation. It started as Hockey Mom in Canada, and once the website was large enough and had enough followers, I was contacted by CBC lawyers letting me know I was infringing on their copyright, so change it, or else.
So, we became Canadian Hockey Moms. Fitting really, because I am only one Hockey Mom in Canada, but we are all Canadian (or American, or European) Hockey Moms.
I’ve been asked dozens of times over the years why I started this website, but I’ve never told the full truth. I’ve said some things that weren’t lies; that my children were getting involved in hockey, there were no resources at the time, and that I was interested in using my education and background in community psychology to see if I could build a community of hockey moms online. These reasons are certainly true, but the website itself wasn’t even a thought until a fateful Novice game at our first Silverstick tournament in Wasaga Beach.
The truth is, I started this website when my 7-year-old son had only one shift in an entire game and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
For the record, for a long time, I told no one that was why I started it.
I actually started the website anonymously, as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or those around me, and I have never talked about that on this website until today. My intention then and now was not to humiliate or blame or rage, my intention was and genuinely has been to try to figure out how to stay sane and rational in an often-irrational hockey world.
I am a rational person who was struggling to make sense of a very strange world. I needed help from others, Hockey Moms who had been through things, to do it.
Those of you who have witnessed the dreaded shortening of the bench for your children may have had a visceral reaction to my statement about one shift by my 7-year-old, meaning you probably FEEL something because you remember what it felt like when it happened to your child. It might be the tightening in your throat, increase in blood pressure, anger, sadness, resignation.
It does not feel good when you know that your child has been chosen as part of a team but is hearing loud and clear,
“You aren’t good enough.”
To be clear, I am well aware that my son wasn’t the first child to go through this, and others have probably experienced even worse. But this was my experience.
My oldest son was a “first-year” novice, he had turned 7 in October and was playing with a very talented team of mostly 8-year-olds. Though I had been around hockey and rinks growing up, it was my first year with a child in competitive hockey (although it was a DD centre, small-town hockey at its core, you can’t get much smaller and still be considered competitive hockey).
My son was learning the defence, younger, and lacked confidence, and was arguably one of the weaker kids on the team at 7 years old. His ice-time reflected that in the first month, and even after being benched for the entire third period in a tournament final two weeks prior, his father and I said nothing, recognizing (we thought) that “this is what happened when you played rep hockey”.
I will say, by the way, that at the time there were not a lot of alternate views on the topic.
We went with it, choosing to use the opportunity to talk to our son about hard work, different roles on the team, and just keep doing your best. That was until we went to a Silverstick tournament and in game 1, watched our son play one 20 second shift in the entire game. His first shift was about 4 minutes into the first period, he got scored on (I recall the turning over of a puck and my son being caught in a 2 on 1), and the rest was history.
The challenge with this is that my son didn’t realize he was never getting back on the ice. So, he would move down the line to the door, get close and have the defence coach push him (gently) by the helmet back to the centre of the bench.
I remember everything about that day. My new white coat, my favourite boots and jeans, my brown sweater, the snow outside, the smell of the potluck in the hotel hallways, and the sight of my son curled up in a ball on the bed not really understanding why he didn’t play, because, well, he was 7.
Again, his father and I said nothing, until the coaches called us in for a talk the following Saturday because they “knew we were upset”.
At that age, at that level, I think most of us would agree that what happened was wrong. But it was the first time I experienced not knowing how to handle a problem with a coach, worrying about speaking up in case it impacted my son’s future ice time. I was also seriously worried about ruining friendships (all the coaches were friends of ours) and I didn’t want to be “that” parent.
I worried that other parents would think we thought our son was more skilled than he was (I didn’t want to be that parent all) and worrying that they agreed with the coach’s decision. Like many of you, I was concerned we would lose friends (as a side note… this is a very rational concern in hockey, as many of you know).
Mostly I just worried about my son. My biggest fear was that he would become frustrated and abandon hockey, a game that he loved.
At the same time, there was something else completely different taking place on our team.
Juxtaposed with my son’s and our family’s experience, I watched opponent fans scream at our top player who dominated the play. Opposing parents screamed intense, angry things, like PUCK HOG, GET HIM, or TAKE HIM OUT!
The player they were yelling at was eight years old.
That seemed as absurd to me as what happened to my child.
This player was out every other shift and more. I didn’t begrudge him that, but I was disturbed by the behaviour of opposing parents, and had this thought, “I wonder how Trina Crosby dealt with these types of parents”.
And therein lies the greatest contraction in hockey.
One 8-year-old player was yelled at by adults for being too good. I really felt for him, and his parents, and especially his mom listening to the fans yell terrible things at her kid. Meanwhile, my 7-year-old son was benched for an entire game on the same team, and I hurt for him, too.
And there was no help to deal with any of it.
Almost 10 years later, I’m still not convinced we handled the one-shift incident correctly. When the coaches asked to talk to us, we initially said no.
They did not like what we had to say.
I remember two key things from that meeting. One was that one of our key points was the importance of developing all players and fostering a love for hockey, especially at such a young age. We had lost in OT in that tournament, and when the players left the ice, they went to the dressing room and were all in tears, there was no celebration of making it there, it was doom and gloom. They came out of the dressing room feeling even worse when they heard they had not played well.
The second was leaving the meeting with the coaches when we were asked by the coach “remember how you said it was a big accomplishment to get second in the tournament and the kids should have been proud?”
Yes, we remembered.
Then he said it, “Well maybe if your son had played more we wouldn’t’ have done as well.”
That one line has stuck with me over the years. Not only because it was insensitive (and not necessarily true), but because underlying that comment is a larger issue faced all the time in hockey, about team vs. individual success, and when does it become ok to sacrifice players’ self-worth for the “good” of the team.
Surely not Novice DD hockey. But when does it become ok? Atom? Peewee? Competitive? A? AA? AAA?
That was just one of the questions I wanted to ask people who knew more than me.
A researcher through training, I like questions, and I felt that a good way to learn more about how to handle all these situations was to ask Hockey Moms who had been there. And that’s where all of you come in. And that’s why the website was formed.
10 years later, I’ve come a long way,
My three children have now played on a combined 32 teams (from house league to AAA and girls’ hockey) across 6 associations. I’ve managed 17 of the teams, I’ve been on the bench as a trainer, and I’ve been on our minor hockey executive for 6 years, the past three as president.
And, our Canadian Hockey Mom Community has over 40,000 hockey moms across our social media platforms.
I’m now a veteran hockey mom, with three kids still in hockey, and I’m still trying to figure some things out. Having been around for a while, I feel that I’m in a position to give my opinion (but not advice) in a way that I wasn’t 10 years ago, in a way that I sought the opinions of moms who came before me.
So, buckle up! We have a lot in store for you, as we enter this new decade. We have a new website on the way, giveaways, guest blogs, and I’ll even be throwing my opinion out there occasionally, because trust me, I am confident that I know stuff now.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been a part of this community for 10 years, and contributed your thoughts, opinions and made me laugh. I’d also like to thank all the moms who have become part of my hockey family. I learn from you and celebrate your children’s joy in hockey with you.
Note: I’m happy to say that my son navigated that issue and every other issue that life and hockey have thrown at him. Today, 10 years later, he’s the assistant captain in his final year of midget headed into the OMHA semi-finals this weekend. I could not be prouder of the young man he has become. XOX