It can be difficulty to watch our kids take centre stage, or centre ice. We find ourselves holding our breathe as we hope for the right note, the right line, or the right pass. It’s not that we will be disappointed or less proud if our child makes a mistake, rather we are taking on their self-worth – hoping that their often fragile egos are untouched by embarrassment or shame. I have seen my kids shine in their public appearances, and I have seen them stumble. I watched the crowd cheer and laugh as one son hammed his way through a school play. I heard the congregation gasp in horror as another son dropped the cross the first time he served as crucifer in church.
Hockey life is no exception. We want our kids to do their best and have fun, but our human nature craves that they do well in the eyes of others. That they don’t mess up. It can be difficult to rise above this desire of the flesh and accept mis-steps and mistakes. The first time I watched my now 11-year-old son Sasha play in net I was a basket case. I was so nervous for him – afraid the shots would be more than he could handle. Afraid of what his teammates would think if they didn’t win. Afraid of what the parents would say if he let in a soft one. I was fiercely protective of his self-worth – I wanted him to know deep in his soul that his best was enough, that I would always be proud of him. Thankfully he is blessed with a healthy self-confidence and a fun-loving spirit. He stays cool under pressure. Last season there was lots of pressure – his team was strong and they won the provincial final in their division. The boys were very determined to come out on top. But some of the parents were over the top. Some took these games of nine and ten-year olds way too seriously. I tried to bite my tongue and send up prayers for patience and mercy as I listened to adults berate children. I just about bit my tongue clean off when one of the siblings in the crowd lamented to her mother, “Oh no, Sasha is in goal today.” I can’t fault her - she was simply a sponge soaking up her parents’ attitudes and voicing their criticisms. It was a harsh reminder of how we shape and affect the attitudes and beliefs of our kids for better or for worse.
If I thought being a goalie mom was a challenge, I was hardly prepared for the stress of being a referee mom. The first game my oldest son Finn reffed was probably harder for me than it was for him. I knew he was prepared – he completed the officiating clinic and tests, he had played hockey for years, he watched games, read the Hockey News, memorized stats and discussed the game with anyone who would listen. He was fully qualified and ready to go. But I knew how referees were treated – I wanted to put him into a bubble to deflect anything that could potentially hurt him. Even if he made all the best calls, someone would be upset. I’ve watched and cheered enough minor hockey and NHL games to know that even the most trained and eagle-eye officials are taunted, jeered and blamed for bad calls, non-calls, biases and blunders.
My son was reffing six and seven-year-olds, hardly NHLers… maybe the fans would be more forgiving? Sadly not. During that first game I was treated to a rant about the poor officiating from one of the player’s grandmas, a woman I went to church with no less! When I am a hockey mom I am easier to identify – sitting with the rest of the team parents cheering on the kids. As a referee mom I am camouflaged – it’s not like I wear a black and white striped jersey and shout “Great call! Way to go ref!” from the stands. So there is no filter from the complaints and criticism. I get to hear it all. It can be heart-breaking.
As a minor hockey parent I, along with all the other parents, am required to complete an online course, Respect in Sport. It teaches the importance of good sportsmanship as a player, parent and coach. We are told that in no uncertain terms that we are not to rebuke anyone in the game – not the players, not the coaches, not the referees. But all this positive teaching seems to fly out the window in the heat of competition. Apparently kind and caring neighbours and friends turn into armchair officials and seem to forget all the lip service to fun and encouragement. The refs become targets. Even 13-year-olds. Many coaches and parents bully and berate officials for their call of the game. And guess what their kids learn to do? And the cycle continues.
So what are we to do? Well, we are called to live out our faith in thought, word and deed. Love our neighbour as ourselves. Acting with integrity, compassion and honour in the arena isn’t always easy, but it goes a long way to model good behaviour to those around us. The game can get intense, and I have certainly got caught up in the competition before. I’ve said some things I regret. But I try to treat others the way I want to be treated. More importantly the way I want my kids to be treated.
Sometimes I find it hard to justify my love for the game, with all the fighting, the poor sportsmanship and just plain lousy behaviour, on and off the ice. But there are moments – when a teammate skates by Sasha and taps his pads after he lets in a weak goal. When a coach genuinely thanks Finn for reffing a good game. The big grins after a hard-won game. The support of respectful, encouraging and passionate parents, coaches, players and fans. We can teach our kids to be positive role-models and honourable people, who play their best, have fun, and know how to forgive. We want our kids to grow up to be kind and compassionate, not critical or cruel. So to you all hockey moms and dads, and grandmas and sisters too, let’s commit to supporting a generation of hockey fans that love each other as much as they love the game. That is when hockey will truly be the best game you can name.
Happy Hockey Day in Canada!