Minor Hockey

Thoughts on Competiveness in Hockey

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Copyright Lark Ritchie 1993.

During the period between 1987 and 1994, I was involved in minor hockey in the Timmins Ontario area: first as a parent, finally as president of a minor hockey association, and since then, until now, in my role as a parent of a hockey lovin’ son.

During that time (and before and after) there was and is still, problems within the minor hockey system. I think it is more than ’just a local thing.’ I think the Canadian attitude towards hockey, especially in the children’s leagues is a systemic thing, rooted deep in our culture. Some of the symptoms are being addressed by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, and the Northern Ontario Hockey Association since this article was written. However, the fierce and perplexing drives of young player parents persists.

One early morning, after a very restless night I sat down at my computer and wrote the following thoughts….

January 12, 1993.
It's 4:30 in the morning. This is when I do my thinking... I have an interview scheduled with MCTV, about hockey.

Minor Hockey week is coming, and they want some ideas for spots on the sports section to promote hockey during that week. I am the president of the Whitney Minor Hockey Association. What am I to say? These are my thoughts.

What's important about hockey? What is hockey really about?

Hockey is a sport; it's known as Canada's sport; it is unique in a sport in that is one in which violence has become acceptable. That concerns me. It's a sport which can be beautiful, but has, in my opinion gone astray of what it could be. It has become more than sport, it has become violent.

During the Christmas holidays, My son and I took in an OHL (Ontario Hockey League game at the Sudbury (Ontario) arena between the Sudbury Wolves and the North Bay Centennials. You might know my son; he's the one who just wants to play hockey, and be a part of the gang.

During that game, a fight broke out between two of the players. It lasted for over a minute, gloves off, pulling and pushing, hitting and punching, spectators yelling and cheering, "Hit him harder!", "Get his helmet of!", "Smash him!", you know the stuff. I was disappointed.

I was more than disappointed when the Wolves Mascot, a cuddly, furry cute and lovable costumed person, encouraged the crowd and the fighters in animated gestures. I could say that I was very perturbed.

It went further than that when, after penalties were assessed to both, the North Bay fighter skated the ice surface hands raised in victory, skating and bowing, and the crowd cheered and booed, depending on their alliances. I was disgusted to my bowels.

Why should a sport become violent, and why should we as people encourage the violence? There has to be reasons. Hockey is also a beautiful sport in that in it's proficiencies, there is beauty, and beauty to me is a description of something wonderful, and wonderful means that it is full of wonder, and something to wonder about. Wonder is the sense of amazement and the pondering and recognition of the beauty of something.

What are the wonderful things about hockey? Hockey, like other team sports, is a sport in which group activities take place. Where physical abilities can be manifest in their finest. It requires that the mind and body come together with other minds and bodies to form a higher organism, called the team.

The ultimate goal of a team sport, in my mind, is to form and refine that higher organism; to illustrate to people that group effort can be successful, that human beings can work together for a common goal, and can achieve that goal; not all the time, but some time, and hopefully, most of the time. It is an ongoing struggle, and the quest is to be a team which can integrate the strengths of many individuals into an effective unit. Unfortunately, by design, the quest also includes a goal to defeat another team with the same goal. But that's not necessarily bad.

That may be the inherent problem of all team sports; that the goal is perceived as a goal to defeat another team. This defeat concept goes back a long way in human history to the thinkings of families and clans and tribes and cultures struggling for survival on the real stage of life. This type of thinking goes against the thinking of sport as perceived by the Greeks, the founders of the Olympic Games, in which the games and contests were to be the expression of physical abilities of the individual, the mastery of the body and its potential and capable movements and strengths.

In the individual competitions, the quest was not to defeat and destroy ones competitor, but to compare one's physical masteries to another's, and to illustrate and recognize that higher achievements are indeed possible.

In the sport of weightlifting, for example, a man or woman does not set out to defeat another person, but to show how his or her methods of training, attitude, and care of the body, and the body itself can be tuned to perfection and approach the limits of human potential. There is no animosity towards the other competitor, no wish to disgrace the other contestant. Only the quest to become the best, at no expense to the other.

Team sports are somewhat different. In their finest form, team sports are ideally, supposed to be identical in goal. The quest is to have a group of individuals reach the highest physical and mental potentials possible as a unit.

The problem with all team sports is that they play out scenarios which are culturally, related to those of the tribal or national battle scenario. And in doing this, both the individual sportsman and also the spectator becomes caught up in that scenario, which is linked to attitudes and values which have to do more with group and cultural survival, than with the demonstration of a mastery of the body and the discipline of the individual and the group. I believe that much of the attitude under which we perceive team sports such as hockey comes from the effects of war, in particular, the first and second world wars.

During those wars, all involved countries were heavily injected with large doses of national propaganda intended to align each country's peoples toward a common goal. To win the war.

In countries such as Canada, a decision to join the fight for one's country was a personal decision. We were not drafted. We did not have to go. Such conditions were the reason for the large doses of political propaganda. We had to be convinced that a person's duty was to sacrifice his life and body for the common cause. I suppose that this is justified if we value the culture in which we live, but such propaganda results in effects in the attitudes of people which persist for generations. We are feeling the effects of those struggles and choices today.

One of the effects felt by many people was the effect of the struggle between staying at home, and joining the cause. For those who chose to join, and possibly die, a decision was made that the fight was worth death. The effect was that their personal attitudes, and the attitudes of their families required that they justify to themselves, that for them, winning the war, at the cost of death was the right thing to do.

For those that chose not to join, the effect was that the cause was not the right thing to do. This choice may have been rationalized with many reasons either philosophical, political or medical, or many more, but in the final analysis, the reason for not joining the direct cause of becoming a soldier, sailor, or fighter pilot was that it was not as important to them as it was to those that joined.

For others, who were convinced that joining was the right thing to do, and who were rejected for one reason or another, there must have been a deep underlying feeling of personal inadequacy, of not being qualified to be a part of this momentous achievement of human experience portrayed by the nationalistic and cultural propaganda.

The allies, of which Canada was a part, happened to win the war. This winning cemented the propagandas as truth, that war was ‘right’, that battle was right, that defeat of the other was right, that violence was right, that our way was right. It cemented that thinking into the fibre of the people.

That thinking is here with us today, deeply ingrained, and at a very subconscious level. We are using those sets of ‘rights’ in the team sports arenas, and more than in any other sport, in the sport of Hockey. Why?

What is hockey, and why is it this way in hockey more than in any other sport in Canada? I think that hockey is the way it is because it is THE Canadian sport, and in Canada, the effects of the personal struggles of choosing to be a direct part of a wars are most severely felt. Canadians were forced to choose, and justify their choice publicly within their communities, and to their neighbours and friends.

Nationally, and secretly, in our own hearts, we believed the propaganda that winning was all there was, and that death was the sacrifice that was justified. We were personal failures if we were not a part of that great action. We individually honoured the hero, the individual who joined and somehow became glorious, and inside each of us, we valued such glory.

Some of us carry this value into the hockey arenas on the shoulders of our sons or daughters each Saturday morning; not consciously, but unconsciously. We show them that value during Hockey Night in Canada each Saturday night. We want that type of glory for them because our fathers and mothers subtly showed us that that type of glory was to be valued.

The hockey arena, since the second world war, has become more than an arena to witness and wonder of the achievements, of the mastery of the physical body and mind, of working within a group. It has become a battleground, and we cheer our team on, and we push our son, and we want him to be the hero. We want a winner.

We believe that this is right, and that this is the value, as it was for our families before us. That our personal sacrifice of the mortally final or temporary loss of a son, brother, husband, or father was right. That all the violence and loss and tragedy was right. We want the glory that was bestowed on those who returned as victors bestowed upon our son, the hockey player, because that is what we learned was right from our parents and grandparents. For us, that value was there for generations, everybody told us so. It has to be right. Daddy and mommy, grandpa and granny wouldn't set us wrong... Or would they? Unknowingly.

Some hockey people, some Canadians, hold those values, and they bring them to the arena, and they set them on their children.

We must redefine hockey in the terms of the ancient Greeks, as a mastery of body and mind, as a demonstration of skill and proficiencies, as an art rather than a battle. It is time to become human. The war is over. And especially in Minor Hockey, all the kids want to do is PLAY hockey.

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