By RYAN COOKE/Special to the Advertiser
Easter tournament week in Newfoundland is about as good as it gets when you’re a young hockey player.
You get a fresh edge on your skates, new laces, you re-tape your stick and you wait for the tournament to start. Since most tournaments are hosted in small towns, your hockey games are the talk of the town for the week. Everybody fills the stadium to watch, and you feel like a superstar.
The road trips are the best part. Driving for hours across the province with your teammates, and getting the chance to stay with billets or in hotels, and play hockey all week. As a kid, it feels like you’re actually a professional hockey player. Those three days, they’re all about you.
This is why it irks me to no end when the story coming out of a tournament is not about the kids, but about the parents or coaches.
There were a couple of reports of coaches being kicked out of games, parents being upset, and referees being harassed. On the whole, there were over 40 tournaments on the island last week, and nearly all of them went off without a hitch. But there always seems to be somebody causing trouble, and taking away the attention from the kids and volunteers of the other 40 tournaments.
Playing sports as a kid, it was something I saw a lot of. Everywhere we went on the island, no matter what rink or ball field, there was some parent who would get too involved.
I think every tournament I ever went to had at least one incident like that. And let me tell you, nothing sucks the fun out of sports like a 40-year-old mouthing off to a kid. Where you once felt like a professional athlete for being the center of attention, you now feel like a professional athlete because you have to deal with the catcalls and jeers of spectators.
The loudmouths never seem to stop and think about the effect it can have on the kids, either.
I knew lots of kids growing up who had endless talent, but underperformed in games that their own parents attended. It’s not fun to be yelled at, or to watch your parent yell at someone else. It’s embarrassing, and it leads many kids to not want to play anymore. When you’re dedicating several weeknights and every weekend to it, and it isn’t fun, then what is it? It’s work, and that’s something no kid likes to be a part of.
Take the case of former NHL forward Patrick O’Sullivan, for example. He was well-known as a teenager for being one of the best talents in the world amongst his age group. But he was also known for his father, John, who was borderline abusive at his son’s hockey games.
Patrick’s talent was clearly apparent some nights, when he’d take control of a game and wow the crowd. Some other nights, he played like he had lead feet. He was carrying the weight of his father’s ridiculous expectations and antics around with him on the ice. It’s not fun, and it shows.
O’Sullivan had the talent to be an NHL phenom, but has since bounced from team to team, between the NHL and the AHL. He’s currently kicking around the minors, where most people believe his career will die at the age of 27.
The case of Patrick O’Sullivan is not rare. There must be thousands of other kids out there who lost their interest because of the behaviour of adults.
So parents, don’t get too involved. It will do no good whatsoever, for anyone involved. Let the kids play, let the coaches coach, and let the referees referee. There’s no place in children’s hockey for arrogance or ignorance.