Child’s Play

Child’s Play

Yesterday I witnessed a fight and a hockey game broke out (rimshot).

No – what really happened was that I got to see how ugly we as parents can become when we take youth sports entirely too seriously.

Prior to the game my son was to play at a rink in Tampa, FL, a couple of kids got into a fight on the ice.  Actually, three kids got into the same fight after some “chippy” play that was allowed to continue with no penalty for a good two periods or so of play.

Before it was all over, several kids were thrown out of the game, as well as a few coaches.

Ugly enough, to be sure.

But it got even worse.

While all of the bruhaha was happening on the ice, some parents in the stands started putting their hands on each other.  And before it was all said and done, three sheriffs deputies were summoned to the rink to remove the people who were fighting in the stands.

What was I doing?

Trying to find my son so that I could make sure he was not in harm’s way.  He had just headed to the locker  room moments before, quite near to the stands where all of the fighting had broken out.  With raw emotions like that out into the open, one never knows what people will do – and I didn’t want him somewhere where he could be “collateral damage” if things went from worse to tragically so.

I found my oldest son, but not before almost being bowled over with my four year old by one of the participants of the fight in the stand (a “lady”) on her way to call the cops.

All this, in the span of about five minutes, at a hockey game for 9 and 10 year old kids.

The ingredients for all of this were several:

  • A pair of refs – one of who was in his late fifties / early sixties – who clearly were letting rough play get out of hand (there is no “checking” at this age of play in travel hockey).
  • A pair of teams were playing who are having non-winning seasons, half-way in, in a physical game tied at 1-1 when all the trouble broke out.
  • A kid that had been “checked” one too many times with no sanction.
  • Coaches that allowed the moment to get the best of them.
  • Parents in the stands who projected the play of their kids on their personal self worth.
  • Forgetting that there is never – NEVER – a justification for one parent putting their hands on another spectator at a children’s sports event.  Period.

I guess I could get all touchy-feely and throw in the stress of the holidays and the economy, too.

But in reality, we as parents often place way too much emphasis on equating the performance of our kids with how others perceive us.

At then end of the day, youth team sports are supposed to teach our kids how to compete fairly, how to prepare physically and mentally, how to play together as a team, and how to be gracious whether winning or losing.

Child’s Play.

Yesterday was anything but Child’s Play.

But it did provide an excellent teachable moment – and sad reminder – that many of us never grow up.

Ask Me About My Trophy Kid

Ask Me About My Trophy Kid

As I have mentioned ad nauseum, I am quoted in the July 2008 SmartMoney Magazine, in an article titled Trophy Kids.

My participation in the article occurred because I was contacted by Anne Kadet of SmartMoney on the strength of this blog post.

I was motivated to write the post because I was disappointed in the general direction of social networking applications, and I was attributing at least part of the reason for the general craptitude of these apps on the low barrier to entry for writers, and comparing the situation to travel sports and how travel sports differs from rec league sports.  The original post does a better job than I can summarize here.

As represented by Ms. Kadet, she wanted to interview me for a feature article on parenting and sports.  True enough, as the final product is about parenting and sports – albeit from the point of view that is clearly meant to make the parents who did contribute appear to be on the fringe and to be nut cases (emphasis mine, but explicitly stated in the article – twice).

Because my participation in the article was precipitated on the basis of a blog post, I thought – mistakenly or not – that my views presented there on how sports can provide children with focus and commitment would be communicated.

Wrong and wrong, as it turned out.

Out of an hour phone interview, my contribution to the article was whittled down to a single quote – and used in a context different than how the quote appeared in my conversation with Ms. Kadet (my other contribution was a great photo of my son and I – of which I am so very proud – and that I hope will mean something to my son when he is older and I am no longer around).

Please bear with me while I make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Let me say that Anne Kadet and I have never met in person.  The interview we conducted was by phone.  When she writes that “David just shrugs” – how could she know whether I shrugged or not?  She was 1,500 miles away.  Unless I had a mouse in my pocket, I’m pretty sure I was alone on my end.

What was lost in the details on how I supposedly “shrugged” over the cost of $2,500 for my son’s hockey “habit” were the following facts, of which the quoted $2,500 amount represents an annualized cost of all my son’s hockey related expenses:

  • Approximately $550 for House (Rec) League Ice Fees
  • Approximately $750 for Travel League Ice Fees
  • Travel Related Expenses (Lodging, Food, Gas, Entertainment)
  • Private Skating Lessons
  • Equipment Costs

We spent $50 a year on helmet, pants, and pads by renting from our league’s equipment locker.  I spent $75 on a carbon composite stick and $200 on a set of Bauer skates.  No where near the many hundreds of dollars quoted for skates, helmets, and sticks.

Regarding the comment I made about being resigned to the costs, it was made in the context as to how if one wishes to play competitive high school or college level sports, coaches look first to athletes who play travel league sports, and not that I am resigned to $2,500 a year because my eight year old wants to play hockey.

In truth, the one thing I was most disappointed in within the article was the one thing that was easiest to fact check – my son’s name.  His name is Macgregor, not Gregory.  Even though Anne and I traded emails, even though I spelled it out for the photographer, even though I spoke to a magazine fact checker – they still got his name wrong.  For me, if you can’t get the easiest of factual things correct, it definitely casts a pall over any of the other “facts” presented in the article.

One can’t turn on the news these days without seeing how Americans are raising a nation of fat, spoiled, lazy kids.

It seems now, that when you do challenge your child to compete and – gaspkeep score – you’re a nut case.

Here’s a news flash – life isn’t fair.  We’re not all created equal.  And you don’t get trophies in life for just showing up.

We’ve created a fiction that if we shield our children from resolving their own conflicts, if we protect them from failing, if we give them everything they want, that they will lead happy, stress free lives.  Look around – how’s that working out?

Since Ms. Kadet doesn’t have children – I asked her during our interview – I’m not surpirsed entirely by the judgmental tone of the article.  Nothing I write here will change anyone predisposed to a certain view of parenting – and that really isn’t my intent.

I guess what I am trying to say – here, as well as in my original post – is that when we ask more of ourselves, when we raise the barrier to entry into an endeavor, we wind up with a higher quality of play, a better product, increased focus – in short, if not excellence, something approaching it.

My sentiments are best summed up by a line from the movie The Incredibles; When everybody is special, no one is.

I want to thank Anne Kadet and SmartMoney Magazine for allowing me to participate in the article.  I’m definitely using this article as a learning experience for my son – and bragging like hell about my Trophy Kid.

Postscript: After the magazine article was published, I was contacted by another “hockey dad” about a new company he was putting together – and that he wanted my participation.