Is It Un-Canadian To Not Enroll Your Kids In Hockey

At seven, Mike Wedmann wonders if it's time to enroll his son in hockey

It’s Tuesday so it must be the day for some quality parenting guilt.

With two kids in our home there are plenty of opportunities to second guess decisions and feel guilty for all the things we haven’t done for our kids. Today’s topic is whether we should let our 7-year-old play hockey.

A conversation among some peers evoked the “you should put your son in hockey” guilt. Because next to bacon and maple syrup it’s the Canadian thing to do, right? I was born in Scarborough, don’t care for bacon, not a fan of Maple syrup and never played minor hockey. But I did watch The Beachcombers and The Friendly Giant as a kid so I think my citizenship is still valid.

If I had to watch a sport, hockey rates highly, it’s a great game. It’s fast, skillful, athletic and exciting—if you want to put me to sleep, just turn on some baseball (in my humble opinion). As a kid growing up in rural Ontario—Haliburton specifically—hockey was a big deal. After all, hockey greats like Bernie Nichols, Ron Stackhouse, Matt Duchene and many more are Haliburton born and bred. 

However, I was never a hockey player. As the immigrants kid, with hardworking parents that had never played the game and worked very hard most weekends, hockey was not an option. Even if it had been possible, it was probably not for me, I was never the strong athlete. But the sense that hockey is a birth right for all Canadian boys did penetrate this psyche. 

Now living in Clarkson, hockey is not as prevalent but still quite visible. And my 7-year-old has noticed… more than once. When we go to the arena for a “fun skate” and the hockey game is running late he is glued to it. And then the question comes, “Dad when can I play hockey?” When I purchased a pair of used skates from a hockey coach he laid on the guilt about getting him started now. So why not?

For now there are a few reasons that come to mind… none of which will satisfy those that believe hockey is a must for any Canadian boy.

Time

We are a two income family which already puts time at a premium. Between school, swimming classes, soccer, trips to the cottage and more, we are already “scheduled” enough. And we haven’t even started with activities for my soon-to-be two-year-old daughter. I don’t want to be the parent that lives to shuttle kids from rink to rink and later from rink to hotel to rink. The family is about more than one kid playing a sport. Our extended family lives north of the city and we prefer the freedom for weekends up North so the kids get the grandparent experience.

Perhaps if we only had one child I might be more open to the idea of the time demands of a kid in hockey, but is it fair to drag my daughter from arena to arena across the GTA and beyond every Saturday morning and more?

Money

We do okay but we are by no means a wealthy family. A bit of research indicates hockey in the GTA starts around $3500.00 per year and rises the older the kids get. That’s a fair chunk of change for one kids sport. That fee more than pays for a cottage rental for the entire family for a summer vacation.  For us that amount of money doesn’t come easily. And if you spend it for one kid, shouldn’t you spend it for both?

Health reasons

Seeing great players sidelined with concussions and other injuries is alarming. Reading Bernie Nichols personal account of his life today after a career in hockey, with multiple concussions, is chilling. I think we have just scratched the surface on how damaging hits to the head can be, especially when your brain is still developing. Yes I know in the early years hockey is non-contact, but collisions still happen and ice is hard. I know from experience what it feels like to fall and crack your head on the ice. And once he starts playing he will likely continue when it becomes full contact and injuries are not limited to concussions, spinal injuries and broken bones are not uncommon.

The stereotype of the "Hockey Parent" 

Now I know many will disagree and criticize my comments on this but having witnessed more than a few hockey games in my old home town and elsewhere, the behaviour of many of the parents was abysmal.  I don’t want to paint all parents with the same brush. But the actions of a few is overpowering. The screaming, yelling and swearing is just clearly taking this whole thing WAY TO SERIOUSLY!  It is a game after all and 7- and 8-year-olds should have fun, heaven forbid they don’t have the killer instinct or make a mistake. Or heaven forbid lose!   

Even in soccer this past summer—in what is referred to as “the gentlemen’s game”—our team had an incident with another team whose coach felt it was vitally important to drive the opposing team into the ground…and totally humiliate them.  To be clear, I’m not the parent that believes kids should never lose, or never be competitive, quite the contrary. But I do believe it needs to be age appropriate and accompanied with sportsmanship.  

And then there is the issue of fighting that comes along with hockey. In most other sports fighting would have you removed from the game, yet in hockey it’s still acceptable and often admired to “drop the gloves”. As a parent I am constantly trying to teach my son that violence is not the way to solve problems or deal with frustration. The Don Cherry mentality needs to go the way of the dinosaur.

 Above all the purpose in sport should be for young kids to have fun while learning techniques, teamwork and some discipline. But too often a few parents or a bad coach can turn what could be a good thing sour.

So at risk of having my citizenship revoked I think we will take a pass on organized hockey and stick to some fun on a frozen pond the first chance we get. Could somebody pass the maple syrup? 

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