Poor Sportsmanship in MN High School Hockey

What lessons will be learned from young boys and girls, their parents and coaches, who hear about this incident?
What lessons will be learned from young boys and girls, and their parents and coaches, who hear about this incident?

There are many bizarre things that happen in sports, but this occurrence in a MN boys’ high school hockey game is a new one to me!

With minutes to go in the game, the senior goalie stopped the puck, purposefully put it in his own net, and then skated off the ice while flipping the bird to his own bench (assuming this was directed towards his coaches). You can get more details and watch the video here. Evidently, conflict over playing time and who would mind the nets had been ongoing over the course of the season.

Many opinions will abound if this poor sportsmanship or justified action. In my opinion, this is ultimately one of the worst displays of sportsmanship I’ve seen. Nearly every athlete that plays sport disagrees with a coach decision about playing time. What athletes (and their parents) think they are entitled to, deserve, and have earned is often very different from what the coach perceives and believes.

There are many lessons that can be learned through sport….life isn’t always fair, you will be disappointed, you won’t always get what you think you deserve, keep doing the best you can do regardless of the situation, once you commit to something-stick to it, learn from you mistakes, persevere in the face of failure, give full effort, let go of things you can’t control and focus your energy on the things you can, be a supportive and positive teammate regardless of your role…and the list goes on. Unfortunately this is an exemplar of how sport can build characters, not character.

I don’t know this young man, his parents, coaches, or the details about the situation, other than what I read on Deadspin. However based on research, the poor sportsmanship of athletes is predicted in part by what the athlete perceives his parents and coaches do (i.e., how they act), believe, and what they value. For example, if a is parent yelling at the referee and/or coach and acting poorly in the stands, the athlete is more likely to do the same on the ice.

Instead of finishing out his high school hockey career with integrity, this athlete not only let himself down, but his family, team, school, community and the sport of hockey altogether. In Minnesota we take great pride in being “The State of Hockey” and this is a teachable moment for everyone of what NOT to do when things get tough. For the adults reading this who are involved with youth and interscholastic sport…we are the ones responsible for fostering this type of egregious behavior in athletes. We should all take stock in how to be more effective in creating a climate– which despite disagreements and conflict–all athletes feel valued, have a positive experience, and develop skills and character while striving to win.

See my interview on WCCO TV discussing this incident.

 

 

Hazing By Coaches

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.

Sociological Perspectives on Sport Concussion

To read my, and other sport sociologists’ evocative Roundtable perspectives on “Concussions & Consequences” via The Society Pages, click here.

Also check out the new book on concussions and youth sport by Mary Hyman, titled Concussions and Our Kids.

If you haven’t watched the University of Minnesota, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport Emmy nominated documentary on Concussion and Female Athletes: the Untold Story, you can watch it here for free.

Gender Differences in Coaching

Good coaching is good coaching, regardless of athlete gender.

Male and female athletes are much more similar than they are different. There is just as much variability within females and within males, than between males and females. Despite the popular Mars/Venus perspective that females and males are vastly and inherently different, psychological research has not proven this true (see APA keynote from Janet Hyde titled “The Gender Similarity Hypothesis”).  Similarly, despite widespread opinions, anecdotes, quotes from famous coaches (i.e. Anson Dorrance), and popular press “coaching girls” books that are not evidence-based, research in coaching science and sport psychology does not support the idea that coaching males and females is different.

The only statistically significant difference, but has a very small effect size, is that female athletes prefer more democratic leadership styles from their coaches.

The Self Determination Theory states ALL human beings have 3 inherent needs-belongingness, competence and autonomy (I call them The 3C’s = care, competence and choice). Similarity.

Here are some common stereotypes I hear about coaching girls: more emotional, take criticism personally, too sensitive, hold grudges, need to talk and socialize, value relationships more, less competitive, need a cohesive team, lack killer instinct, and are better listeners. I would argue, yes this is true for SOME girls, but it is also true for SOME boys.

A Mars/Venus “difference” approach to coaching exaggerates, promotes, and reinforces outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes that are potentially harmful to BOTH males and females.

For example, if a coach believes or uncritically accepts that boys are inherently more aggressive and competitive, the coach may have different expectations and ways of structuring practices, interacting, communicating, motivating and leading girls. Similarly, if coaches believe boys don’t value connections and friendships, this too erases boys’ need for feeling a sense of belongingness. Coaching based on opinions, beliefs and popular press coaching books of inherent difference is dangerous and can limit the experiences of athletes, regardless of gender.

Coaching science researchers have demonstrated that good coaching is good coaching.

NOTE: If you would like to read a more in depth critique of this topic, please consult: LaVoi, N.M., Becker, E., & Maxwell, H.D. (2007). “Coaching Girls”: A content analysis of best-selling popular press books. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 15(4), 8-20.

Broken Systems: Sport, Education & Health Care

The health care debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has got me thinking about systems. Like many Americans I didn’t know much about the ACA, only that it is hotly contested. Unlike many Americans I have recently taken some time to get educated about the complex facets of the new law so I can be informed. I encourage everyone to do the same as health care affects EVERYONE…including you.

Two other systems that affect a majority of Americans are education and sports.

What do all these important social institutions have in common? They are all broken and dysfunctional. At the heart of dysfunction is how those in positions of power are rewarded and how the “client”(i.e., student, athlete, patient) is treated.

Currently, in our health care system doctors are paid/rewarded by treating sick patients (i.e.,  visit clinic, have tests run, buy drugs), not for how healthy their patients are, preventative care or keeping patients well. The quality of patient care is not at the heart of our current health care system, money is. The ACA is trying to change that by rewarding doctors for keeping health care costs LOW and patients healthy.

In the American education system, teachers are paid/rewarded regardless if their students learn, earn degrees, or receive a quality education. In some states (like MN) middle and high school teachers receive tenure, so even if their teaching is of poor quality, firing them is difficult. The same is true of colleges and universities. If students fail to achieve the standardized testing metrics of No Child Left Behind, a school is punished but not the teachers directly (to my knowledge). I teach at a university, and I get paid regardless if my students learn or earn degrees. The quality of student education is not at the heart of our education system, because there isn’t enough money allocated to fund public education.

However I know one person who will get a very LARGE bonus (a bonus larger than most faculty members earn in three years!!) if the students in his care do perform well in the classroom, and he isn’t a professor. New Ohio State Head Football Coach Urban Meyer will get “Bonuses of up to $300,000 a year if players meet certain academic progress and graduation standards.” The subtext reads: You should care about and keep your players academically eligible to play, so you are more likely to win, which brings in money to the university (i.e. TV revenue, conference revenue sharing, bowl appearances). I’m not saying Meyer shouldn’t care about his athlete’s academic performance, he should, but that is not his job. His job is to win football games. The quality of athlete experience and education is not the focus of the current “big time” (what Murray Sperber calls ‘Beer & Circus’) college sport system, money is.

If the primary structure and goal of college sports is to win, and coaches are rewarded for winning (i.e., bonuses, bigger salaries, better jobs, job security) the system is ultimately broken and in need of reform.

Winning is important and I’m not saying it isn’t or that teams/athletes/coaches shouldn’t strive to win. The point I’m making is when the primary structure of sport is set up around winning (and winning = money), exploitation of athletes, corruption, cheating the system, and scandal becomes more likely.

The problem in all three systems? The WRONG people are being rewarded with money in the wrong ways and the quality of athletic/education/medical experiences of the “client” is often secondary.

The proof? You don’t have to search very hard for recent headlines involving scandals in sports, education or medicine.

Push-ups for Punishment in Youth Sport = Bad Idea

At an American Development Model USA Hockey Symposium I recently attended, Bob Mancini (ADM Regional Manager) said:

“Push-ups for missing the net is the worst thing we’ve ever done for hockey”

I have written previously on why punishment in youth sport is a terrible idea based on sport psychology evidence. Two of the reasons included were punishing kids for not completing a skill correctly can make them fear failure and the punishment doesn’t help them learn improve the skill they are being punished for misexecution.

Making mistakes is how we learn. No one executes a skill perfectly every time. We make attempts, hopefully get constructive feedback, learn from errors, make adjustments and try again.

When Bob made his statement, I agreed with him. I asked him why he felt that way and he replied because kids today don’t know how to shoot because many coaches use the “push-ups for punishment” for not shooting on net. Instead of aiming for  holes or upper corners (more difficult and likely to result in a shot high or wide and not putting the puck on net, but more likely to result in a goal!), kids will shoot the puck safely  “on net” right at the goalie to avoid push-ups.  The result is “successful” shots on net but no long term shooting skill development….and probably  less goal scoring during competition.

Many coaches reproduce this practice without thinking about why.  In coach education workshops I ask coaches to think about “the why” in everything they do. Does this help my kids develop the skills they need to 1. optimally perform, 2. develop skills, or 3. have fun and enjoy their sport? If the answer is “NO” to all three things, then it shouldn’t be done.

When I suggest coaches not use physical activities for punishment I often get push-back (pun intended). The question is: What do I do instead? In the case we are talking about here, instead of push-ups for shots not on net I would simply pull the kid aside, give him/her constructive feedback to help them get the shot on net in the future, and let them get back in the drill to make another attempt.

Last point on physical activity as punishment: If we want kids to value and enjoy physical activity for a lifetime, we shouldn’t teach them that physical activity is a punishment.

Why is unequal playing time the norm in youth sport?

I have written previously about my thoughts on playing time, click here to read them (scroll down to see them all).

When I tell coaches and parents that I believe all youth sports should have equal playing up until age 12, regardless of competitive level, it is not a popular idea. Especially when I say I really think the age should be 14! I thought  of a few more facets of this complex and contested idea in youth sports that are worth discussing.

As adults who play recreational, but competitive sports, equal playing time is almost always the norm. If playing time isn’t equal, problems, resentments, and hard feelings arise. For example, I play on a recreational women’s ice hockey team. We have 10 skaters, which means 2 lines. We all pay the same fee to play. Everyone plays equal ice  time. When one line takes a long shift and the other line gets shorted, people get upset because it is supposed to be equal. We don’t put special lines out on the power play or penaltly kill, whomever is up or feels like she has legs, they go. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, which we work with together. We try (and like to) to win, are competitive, and strive to win every game (which we don’t). We enjoy being active, doing something we love, battling to win, hanging with friends and enjoy camaraderie with other teams.

Do we think this is different for kids?

So why is it that as adults in our own sport endeavors we structure equal playing time, but when adults run and control youth sport recreational, competitive programs….we justify unequal playing time. (NOTE: recreational teams are just as competitive and want to win just as much as travel teams, the skill level is just different). As adults we don’t like sitting on the bench, we want to play, think unequal time is unfair, unjust and annoying, makes us feel poorly about ourselves, and is not fun or enjoyable.

Do we think this is different for kids? What is the rational for unequal playing time in youth sports before age 12? I’d like to hear it…seriously…I want to hear from you. I think this conversation is worth having.

I say equal playing time at ALL competitive levels because if you have a kid on a team where he/she doesn’t play much, if at all, then he/she shouldn’t be ON that team. Move that kid down a team so they DO play and have the opportunity to play, learn, and develop skills in competitive contexts. No kid should be on an elite travel team, pay high fees to play and then not play equally…that seems wrong. As adults we’d NEVER put up with that policy would we? (I understand parents and kids “choose” to be on that team, I also understand that some kids want to play with their friends even if it means not playing, but those are different blogs on the broken system of youth sports).

If equal playing time is what we prefer and what we like and enjoy as adults why should it be different for kids?

Ban Checking in Male Hockey

It is time to ban checking in boy’s and men’s hockey, not just raise the checking age, but get rid of it altogether.

I know this won’t be a popular idea. Raising the checking age in boys’ hockey hasn’t been popular either, but it is the right thing to do. Adversaries argue checking is fundamental to the game (read: the game, meaning men’s hockey which is the real hockey anyway). Big hits are exciting. Hockey isn’t hockey without checking. Taking checking out of hockey or raising the checking age makes it”wimpy”–code for: it will resemble women’s hockey, and feminizes males. (Read the USA Hockey column titled “Changing The Checking Age Does Not Soften Our Sport.” ). Males won’t want to play. It will put the USA at a competitive disadvantage. Nobody will pay for or watch hockey without checking… the counterarguments are many.

I play hockey. I am a hockey player in the largest women’s hockey league in the world (WHAM). I live in the State of Hockey (that is Minnesota for those who don’t know what I’m talking about). I am a hockey fan. I give hockey coach and sport parent workshops. I have researched psychosocial variables in hockey. I spent a good part of 2011 being part of discussions about concussions, and making a documentary on sport-related concussions. I get and understand the game of hockey.

If you know hockey, you know that checking is not allowed in women’s hockey. I favor that rule, even though I know many women want to have the opportunity to check, and at elite levels checking, er…I mean heavy body contact, does occur so why not make it legal. I have long thought checking should not be a part of any level or hockey, regardless of gender. If you make the argument that females shouldn’t check because it is dangerous, then why do we allow it in male hockey? Rather than argue that not letting females check is an outdated paternalistic rule, I’d rather argue another point. ( I will add however, that getting rid of checking for males, eliminates the idea that women’s hockey is “less than” or “not real hockey” because there is no checking, which could be a different blog).

KEY POINT: Are we less concerned with the health and well being of males? Do we feel it is OK to have males increase the likelihood of injury for our entertainment? Is putting males at increased risk for injury part of what it means to “be a man”?

I decided to write this blog because within a one week span here in Minnesota, two high school athletes have been severely injured as a result of checking. St. Croix Lutheran senior Jenna Privette suffered a serious spinal cord injury when she was checked from behind after taking shot and crashed into the boards. Jack Jablonski of Benilde-St. Margaret’s was paralyzed after he was legally checked into the boards. Would either of these injuries be prevented with a no checking rule or a much stronger stance on illegal checking from behind? I don’t know. What I do know is that FAR FEWER injuries would occur if checking were eliminated from male hockey, and through widespread educational efforts checking would be strongly discouraged and penalized in female hockey, and hockey in general.

Having the discussion is a worthy endeavor, regardless of if you agree with my premise or not.