I believe the game has changed drastically in the past 20 years since I have gone through the system. It is now required to be a year long process for any young hockey player aspiring to make it to the mainland. They play in their respective leagues all winter long, hire personal trainers to push them to the limit and probably play in a summer league as well. This is all great and I applaud all the coaches, parents and players that dedicate themselves to this. However, I have also noticed another trend taking place, the fun and childhood excitement that we have all witnessed kids doing on side streets and school yards throughout NL is suddenly lost as well once they arrive to the rink in today's game.
Our children today have more pressures and stressors in their lives than any of us ever had growing up as a child in NL. They do not need any type of pressure from coaches, family or friends over a GAME that they have learned to love and enjoy. Hockey is a GAME and it is a kids game that is meant to provide them with many things to help them become successful in life and if they decide at some point that they want to pursue it further then so be it, but at least they have been provided with the fundamentals to be successful in many other things as well if hockey does not become their #1 priority.
The game can provide them with so many things if handled correctly by the parents and coaches and they do not take the fun out of the game and consequently cause them to be totally turned off from the rink and what it represents. They can learn to become disciplined, dedicated, develop social skills at a very young age, learn how to respect themselves and others, learn to become leaders of their communities, the list is endless if you ask me.
However, I recently banged into an old freind of mine from Corner Brook a couple of weeks ago in the Avalon Mall. We were chatting away and I asked what he was doing in town this weekend, he replied by telling me that he was with his son for a hockey tournament. Now to anyone else this may have seemed like a pretty normal thing, but I was almost 100% sure that his son had only started hockey a year or two ago and therefore was only in Novice. Now my head was spinning and I had to ask what division his son was in and I was correct, it was NOVICE. I almost fell on the floor as I was completely oblivious to the fact that our governing body in NL has implemented such a program. I don't care if this comes from Hockey Canada or not, there is no place for this at such a young age. How do you tell little Joey or Tommy that they can't be on the same team this year even though they are best friends and rely upon each others parents for rides to the rink because 1 of them is better than the other and gets to play on an all-star team and travel across the province while the other stays home and hears from friends that he just wasn't good enough this year. Do we not know how devastating this can be to a child’s confidence and self-esteem? Believe me, they will be ridiculed and abused enough as they advance in their minor hockey careers, so why the hell have we decided to subject them to this craziness so soon.
The only possible thing that I can think of is that it isn't about them anymore, it is about MOM and DAD and how good they want their child to become, which is a shame. I have often been asked why I stopped playing the game professionally and then when I came home and played senior I also walked away from the game when I probably could have played a few more years. Well, the answer is simple! The game just wasn't fun for me anymore and once the fun leaves the game then it is time to move on and find something else to do because life is too short to be wasted doing something that just isn’t fun to you and this unfortunately is what happens to many of our kids today. The fun leaves the game for them and they just lose interest and this is sad because hockey is an amazing game that can bring so much to a young child’s life.
I remember when I was in my first year PeeWee and trying out for the All-Star team. I had been an all-star for 3 years in Atom before that and was determined to do the same at the next level because all I ever dreamed of was becoming a NHL player, like so many young kids that play the game. Things did not work out as I had expected that year and I never made the team and believed it was over for me. Imagine, in PeeWee and thinking that way. Well I was fortunate to have a great family and they supported me 100% my whole career and still do today. My point behind this is that that year turned out to be the best year of my live. I spent the year in house league with our Cohen’s team and our bright yellow jerseys and it was so much FUN!! It made me realize that in order to be successful and get the most out of this game that you possibly can you have to be enjoying it and taking it for what it is!
I could go on forever and ever about this topic but after all, it is just a game, albeit one that is played by boys and girls, men and women ,young and old, but please do not forget that it is a GAME and GAMES are meant to be FUN!