Why do some parents knowingly put their child at risk?

I’ve been desperately trying to avoid unnecessary blogging about other issues in minor hockey, but in the wake of all the misguided articles and opinions I’ve read, I can’t resist. The topic of RESPECT, body checking and adults behaving poorly (we’ll call them “morons” moving forward), can’t go ignored so I’ve just got to throw my view out there too.

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the discussion continue over the removal of body checking in PeeWee, the behaviour of parents and the lack of respect from adults regarding the game and safety of kids. So it’s time to buckle up, cause here we go again with these two recurring topics.

Let’s talk body checking or more importantly safety of children. It’s completely asinine to suggest that the game of minor hockey, whereby less than 1% continues on professionally, requires body checking at any age (but specifically before the age of 13). Body contact: yes; body checking: no.

I recently read an editorial called, “We should not rush to abolish bodychecking in minor hockey,” in which the author asks the question: should we always protect children and teenagers rather than expose them to risk and experience?

It’s obvious that this person cares more about keeping the game in its original condition, irrespective of the affect on our kid’s safety. I started thinking this is absolutely insane, what is wrong with people? But then my faith was renewed by a comment from Dr. Andrew Lynk, Chief of Pediatrics, Cape Breton District Health Authority. His comment was lengthy, but I’ll share this part of his argument: “the real point is, we should always protect them from unnecessary risk that does nothing to enhance the experience.” Amen.

But further to all the great points Dr. Lynk made in his comment, there’s a major issue with the “facts” as laid out in the editorial, so allow me to elaborate. Dr. Wennberg claims that news media didn’t take up a key finding from Dr. Emery’s research: that, in 13-year-olds who had two years of body checking experience, the risk of injury was reduced by 33 per cent, compared with 13-year-olds who had played only non-contact hockey before. They didn’t pick it up, because that data doesn’t exist. What Dr. Emery’s team revealed was in fact that there were just as many injuries at the Bantam level in Quebec as there were at the Bantam level in Calgary.Put simply, if the age-old argument were true that “the earlier we teach them body checking, the less injuries there will be,” we should’ve seen data suggesting less injury in Calgary (where there still remains checking in PeeWee.) But we didn’t. So that theory needs to be put to rest. It’s just not true.

The second minor hockey issue I want to tackle is RESPECT and the debate over adult behaviour. The ridiculous conduct and lack of respect from certain adults keeps the continual harangue of maintaining body checking in the game, for kids who have no business learning this aspect of hockey at 10 and 11 years old. I continue to wonder why a parent would send their child onto the ice, knowing that the risk of serious injury is 33% greater because of checking. For what? There are no arguments that would support allowing your child to be placed in an environment of risk. In fact, in any other environment outside of the rink, if you knowingly put your child at risk, you gamble for a visit from Child Protective Services.

Now I realize there is a unique problem to the respect component. I have refereed thousands of minor hockey games, I have stood in the stands as a volunteer of thousands of hockey games and I’ve been a parent in the stands of hundreds more. I have seen everything from two moms duking it out, to a dad crawling up the glass. I have witnessed coaches screaming at the top of their lungs at 10 year-old boys; I have witnessed a coach bring a young referee to tears over a missed offside; I’ve seen a coach bench eight kids because his need to win was far greater than his desire to see them have fun and play. And I have seen parents sit on their hands and shut their mouths all out of fear of being alienated as a result of complaining. If you’ve crossed the threshold of any arena within Calgary, you too have bared witness to this moronic behaviour. So, tell me: why shouldn’t any adult wishing to be part of minor hockey NOT be required to either learn or relearn the fundamentals of respect? It seems that more and more these days that people need to be reminded of what respect really means, both on and off the ice.

Here is the solution, and you may find this ironic. But the adults of the game of are the solution! But it’s time to stand up and speak out. Stop the bullies. Speak out against the lack of RESPECT. Tell your hockey association that enough is enough. When you see disrespectful behavior, bullying at any level and absolute craziness in the rink, don’t just sit there and pretend it’s not going on. Behind closed doors, in confidence, I’m told time and again that parents want body checking out. This is your chance; spell it out: we, the parents, do NOT want body checking in the game.

You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.

Learn more about “Safer Hockey Canada,” a movement started by Andrea Winarski. To learn more about other issues within minor hockey, check out “Refocus Minor Hockey.”

© 2013-2014 R. Todd Millar. All rights reserved.

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