THE WHYTE STUFF: Accountability crucial for all aspects of hockey
I was recently reminded of an analogy that relates a table and the game of youth hockey.
The table consists of four legs, and all of them must be equal and strong for it to remain stable. The same can account for youth hockey – there are four legs that must all hold their weight for the game to grow and be successful.
These legs are the players, coaches, parents and officials.
The players participate, compete and fall in love with the game. They lace up their skates and take the ice to be a part of something bigger than each individual and work towards a common goal. The coaches are the people that provide the direction, instruction and experience, with hopes of developing a cohesive unit of players to compete at the highest level possible. The parents raise these young players, feed, clothe and educate them to the best of their ability. They put their trust in the coaches and officials so their kids can experience the wonderful game of hockey and learn the many amazing life lessons it can offer. The officials that take the ice every week to supervise and regulate the games, getting paid to ensure the game is played fairly and in as safe of an environment as possible.
When any of these legs are not as strong as the others, the table can potentially collapse and the game is in jeopardy. This is where accountability must be paramount – where all legs must hold their weight.
Players are constantly held accountable for their actions, whether it be in practice, or during the game. Coaches continuously run drills to develop skills and learn the game. They correct during games and reward those that work the hardest and have the best attitude. Coaches are constantly under the scrutiny of the parents and the coach-in-chief, making sure they are looking out for the best interest of the team and each individual. They are also mentors, role models, disciplinarians, motivators, psychologists and mediators.
The parents are also held to certain standards and when their child makes a team, they, too, must follow a code of conduct. Their behavior and attitude plays a huge role in youth hockey, which is the reason why there are so many ads, commercials and articles that pertain to displaying proper etiquette.
The officials go through training programs, learn the rules, and must handle themselves in many different circumstances. They are under the most severe scrutiny as both sides are ever clashing in the calls made. I know because I was a referee growing up in Canada, and it was quite a thankless job. You do your best to maintain an unbiased opinion, call the infractions as you see them and maintain a consistency throughout the game.
Unfortunately, I believe this is the leg of the table that needs the most attention. There needs to be a higher level of accountability for those that control the game once the puck drops. As much as I believe that hooking and tripping are important calls that must be made when occurring, these officials must also maintain safety of the players while in competition.
Hockey is a game of intimidation, but it must be done within the rules. When checks are late, or high to the head, or when “stuff” happens after the whistle, calls must be made. Otherwise, you are promoting this type of behavior, and slowly allowing the game to get out of hand. Eventually, someone gets hurt from an illegal infraction, and players continue to escalate this style of play. The referee then becomes reactionary. If the referee sets the tone early that this will not be tolerated, players will revert their focus back to the game.
I’m fully aware this is a fine line. The referee’s job is extremely difficult, making split-second decisions, all the more reason why I feel there needs to be much more accountability on their part to ensure youth hockey continues to grow and be a major part of so many people’s lives.
Sean Whyte is the director of hockey operations and coach-in-chief at DYHA.