This case is an exemplar of one of the many things wrong with the current structure of youth sport—win at all costs, early specialization at increasingly younger ages, intense parental involvement, no standard training for coaches, and uncritical acceptance of teaching boys to be men through a one-dimensional view of masculinity that is characterized as power-over others, emotional and physical toughness, and a disregard for the true meaning of competition (e.g., striving together, not against and treating opponents and each other with respect).
This case I am about to lay out gets to the heart of a key question: What is the purpose of youth sport? I like to use a triad approach from sport psychology colleague Robin Vealey. Within the The Inner Edge Model in equal parts athletes 1) strive to win and achieve optimal performance, 2) develop skills-psychological , physical, social, emotional and moral, and 3) enjoy and have fun playing sport.
This case is about hazing. Hazing of 10 year old boys by their coaches. At a year-end banquet youth hockey banquet in a unnamed city, it has been a ‘tradition’ to make the youngest boys sit on stage in front of the older peers and all their parents, and wear a diaper on their heads while sucking a pacifier. One boy, nervous and fearful of this impending ritual, asked his coach if he could sit out. The coach said no.The child was visibly upset and embarrassed on stage.
Given this private hockey club is community-based and not school-based, laws like Title XII and Title IX or state-based anti-hazing laws don’t apply. The coaches were asked by the parents to stop the ritual in the future. The coaches said no. When anti-hazing coach education was suggested by the governing body, the coaches said no thanks.
Let me be clear—making young boys wear diapers on their heads is HAZING. Hazing is any action that intentionally causes embarrassment, and risks emotional and/or physical safety, regardless of willingness to participate or not. Hazing is done to a person or group of people in order to gain entrance or acceptance into a club, organization, or team. One key question on HazingPrevention.org that characterizes hazing: Is it causing emotional distress or stress of any kind to myself or others? If the answer is yes, it is hazing.
Do we want youth sport coaches to haze young athletes in front of their peers and parents? Is that what we want youth sport to be about? Is that how coaches should inspire a team to optimal performance? Does it help those boys become better hockey players? Does it enhance the boys’ fun and enjoyment of their hockey experience? Does it build admiration for and trust in the coach? I say no.