“The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely the one who dropped it.” —Lou Holtz
You must have been annoying tattletale in elementary classroom, the teacher’s pet, the kid in the playground that kids ran from because you were mean-spirited and vengeful. At least that’s how we think of you when we meet you at the rink.
EVERY SEASON YOU REMIND US THAT this season will be just like that last one, and the one before that. In your humble opinion, every two or three years as a new hockey guy steps into the head coach role promising better results, claiming that he has the tenacity to withstand parental complaints, and assuring us that although others failed, he—and his team—will be able to teach these kids system that will take them to the finals. But, by December after dozens of frustrating practices, a couple of tournament losses, even more regular season game losses, parents like you start complaining. It starts with a bit of grumbling about game losses, but it quickly progresses to bitch sessions at practice. Then the name-calling starts. Parents, like you, downplay their kid’s weaknesses and dismiss other kids’ strengths. They whine about the new systems these kids are expected to execute. And like you, they complain to the coach until their son gets the ice time he deserves. But, they are not really looking for an equal amount of ice time. They, like you, want more.
Sound familiar? If not, this may:
Ice time. Your kid has been on the PP, off the PP, on the PK, off the PP, on both, and off both. He has lost ice time; he has gained ice time. It is cyclical, and by the end of the year, he will be even-Steven. But the way you see it, and you’ll tell anyone standing near you—at the glass, in the rink lobby, in the stands– the better (and best) players ought to play on special teams. It’s the good ones, like your kid, who ought to get more ice time during playoff games. Let’s keep the goalie that is hot between the pipes, you say. This is not house league, you remind us. This is triple a hockey, for goodness sake. The kids are no longer six-years-old. Although you’re not interested in listening to our response, you ask us why you should have to watch other kids fumble the puck, take stupid penalties, or try to skate through traffic, while your kid skates twisty-turvey at the blue line holding back an offside call? Get a grip, you say, as you turn the conversation to your favourite topic: your kid’s crazy-smart hockey sense. It’s not long, before your kid goes into his seasonal slump, and that’s when you stop bitching about the other players and start bitching about the coaching staff, again.
A sweater letter. The way we heard it, you harassed the coach until your kid got his a letter on his sweater. You must have, we reasoned, how else did he get chosen as a captain over our kids? You were spotted, more than once, by more than one team parent, yapping every chance you got about your Jonny’s leadership qualities and his goal-scoring ability—neither which materialized. Yet, you pontificate on his extraordinary and in getting him a letter, you pissed-off parents on the team, and illustrated the lack of fairness and equity on the team. Your bought your kid a letter with incessant complaint and by campaigning. The coach just got tired of listening to you. And you made things worse when you were overheard bitching that so-and-so’s kid “is not as good as he believe he is. There are no scholarships in his future, no Junior A hockey, no OHL draft, no NHL career.” Ironically, it is your kid who is the one of the kids on the bubble of being cut; not quite AAA quality. But, our association regularly releases kids, so the good ones go to other teams so our talent pool is shallow. Your kid made the team by default. Believing that your son ought to play AAA does not make him a triple A player, and it most certainly does not make him a quality player. There are lines—first, second, third, fourth. The coaching staff decides who belongs where, and for how long, and while you may be unable to admit that your kid s barely AAA material, you can be sure that other parents are not shy at pointing this out to one another. He may have been a standout at seven, and passable at ten, but the competition is getting stiffer and at 15, he’s is past his AAA prime.
Favouritism? We do not know what you are doing with, or for the coach. Because you’re a woman is the former; because you’re a man it’s the latter. We do not know what the coach is thinking, or why he is putting your kid on instead of ours. You downplay his puck-greedy nature, ignore any references to favouritism, and smile brightly as he serves up the puck like he was delivering pizza to the opposing team. Some hope that you will see the truth, eventually. Others are certain that you don’t care to know. You never understand the game of hockey, you don’t see the ice well, and can’t tell an offside from a boarding call. Your kid doesn’t understand systems; he can’t retain plays, he’s always in the wrong spot making his team-mates cover him, but somehow you always feel put upon, downtrodden, left out. When midget year rolls around, with agents and scouts sit in the stands, somehow, somehow he is getting more than his share of ice time. And none of us can figure it why. We would ask the coach, but he does not want to talk to parents, it’s his policy, he says, which is weird because you are always yapping to him. And your body language tells us you are giving him the what-for.
Gossip. You love gossip. You love hearing it, you love passing it along. You enjoy starting rumours. It makes you feel powerful, as if you have the inside track, as if you belong. You are not, and you don’t. There is an old maxim about the squeaky wheel getting the oil, and well, that is you. Gossip will always return to those that spread it. By mid-season, you have worn down the coach, the manager, and the parents with your incessant whining and gossipy nature. We hear your griping in the stands, behind the glass during games; we listen to it during practices. We overhear your complaints in the smoking area; we hear it second-hand from team parents. You realize, don’t you, that they are talking about you, too?
Hockey parent. It’s inevitable: By February, you’ve stopped chatting to most other parents on the team. You stand alone, behind the glass, watching the other players make your kid look bad. Your kid stopped scoring goals, went into a bit of a slump, so you lashed out more frequently. The other players do not pass, the D weren’t doing their jobs. The goalie was not up to the task. The people around you are complaining, too. They are complaining that the forwards are not scoring enough, the centre men cannot capitalize on their chances, and bemoan the decline of the coaching competence. You’ve joined forces with other miserable parents whose kids are too talented to be here. When you are not around, they complain about your kid, too. They cut him down, and you, for believing that your kid is at the top of the OHL draft list. Some of the moms feel sorry for you. Most of the dads use swear words when referring to you.
You know it will end. Over the years, your kid has demoralized his teammates. The players know, they understand where they fit in the line-up, and for the most part the kids are okay with that. Not yours, though. Like you, your kid whines and complains. He chirps his teammates. He, too, wears down the coaching staff. They cannot get through to him, he cannot adjust to the play, he does not understand strategy. He is more interested in his own stats than the team as a whole, and by season’s end, his teammates will dislike your son as much as you, and he via you, dislike them.
At some point, likely in his mid-teen years, your kid will quit minor hockey, or maybe he’ll play junior hockey for a year, or two. By then the sweaters will be packed away in boxes and tucked under the basement stairs, you’ll have sold his skates—once top of the line $500 skates—for a couple of bucks at a garage sale, and you will continue with the bitterness of your life unaware of the lessons you taught your kid, and the lessons learned by your son’s teammates.