If Only the Parents Knew
I decided last week to liberate myself, and my son, from coaching for and playing in our local youth hockey program's travel team. This past season, which ran from September to April, just ended. For eight months, family, friends, work, and school fell victim to demands of a kids' game. "Something is radically wrong with this picture," I continually told myself, but a youth hockey addiction is stronger than one to crack cocaine. My wife and daughter have only now welcomed us back into the family.
Like tobacco and alcohol addictions, youth hockey addiction makes no sense to an outsider. The games are 36 minutes long. My son played left wing on his team's first line. The team had three lines. With an equal distribution of playing time, he would be on the ice for 12 minutes per game. Actually, because he played on a line with the son of the head coach, he benefitted from a father's natural bias to give his son more ice time. So, he was on the ice 15 minutes per game. My son and I were investing two and one-half hours of our time, including travel time, per game. You don't have to be a disciple of scientific management to know that is not a productive use of time (15 minutes ÷ 150 minutes = 10%). In capitalist terms, the return on our youth hockey investment was less than ideal. In the lexicon of a 10-year old, it was pretty crappy.
My son had an excellent year: he was second on his team in goals and second in assists. He also had an out of this world plus-minus statistic in excess of +60. Plus-minus measures the number of goals your team scores with you on the ice less the number opponents score and is the most meaningful individual statistic in hockey. The Head Coach loved the plus/minus as a motivational tool but avoided publishing it for the political fallout. I kept the statistics as a development tool, or so I told myself. Would I have kept the statistics if my son were not a scorer and had a negative plus-minus? I doubt that I would have been so honest. I stopped looking at the bathroom scale years ago. It is easy to be competitive when you are winning.
Fun, camaraderie, and the thrill of making a special play is why kids play. My son, to his credit, never cared much about the statistics. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that simple fact. I began to realize that I had a better perspective on winning and losing when I was a boy than I now had as an adult. My son certainly had a better perspective than mine. Youth hockey had become more about the adults than the kids. I kept telling myself that I was one of the adults making a positive difference. I kept comparing myself to the vanguard party that controls our local youth hockey program and always thought that I looked good in comparison. I did, but those people are truly twisted. Why is it that adults in undemocratic institutions (our youth hockey program or the Catholic Church) can abuse kids (mentally and physically) and get pious when their infallibility is questioned?
I woke up one day realizing that I should really be comparing myself to the kids, not the adults who suffered from even a greater degree of disassociation from reality than I did. Wow! It is all about having fun. I felt like Robin Williams in Hook. I could fly again. Youth hockey may have brought my son and me closer together, but leaving it will improve the quality of that time together.
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