Orgasm face. We’ve all witnessed one. If not upon our partner’s face then surely in the bathroom mirror. There are even a lucky few who have adorned one whilst simultaneously witnessing one. It’s an embarrassing and ironically painful-looking facial contortion signifying the penultimate in human pleasure. And each September, it’s also a face found upon the visages of thousands of Canadian hockey parents, much to the bewilderment of the chaste few like me.
We’re all familiar with the very worst of hockey parents; those psychotic, raging, knuckle-draggers grabbing headlines for the most unseemly behaviours in our holiest of Canuck cathedrals, the hockey rink. Despite the publicity, these blights on humanity are, thankfully, in the minority. I myself have yet to observe such an obnoxious display in real life, but my hockey parent career is still relatively young.
There is, however, another type of hockey parent, one that is magnitudes more predominant and, in my opinion, just as mystifying. Oh they aren’t the erupting jerks of viral video fame, not by any stretch. If anything, they are the complete opposite of the aforementioned fecal splatter, often showcasing a friendly, happy, generous demeanour capable of charming the bitterest cynic. Unlike their gone-when-they-finish-and-don’t-call-in-the-morning counterparts, these are the attentive-foreplay-and-post-coital-cuddlers of the hockey world.
They are also crazier than untreated syphilitics overdosing on peyote. That disarming, gleeful disposition can turn faster than Connor McDavid eyeing a loose puck. Their affection for minor hockey goes well beyond a simple love of the game. It is a devotion so all-encompassing that they literally vibrate with excitement as their kids take to the ice for tryouts each September. By the time teams have been assembled and the first parent meetings are taking place, talk of out of town tournaments, team building events for the kids, and booze-fueled parent parties have their heads nodding up and down with the vigour of an auditioning porn star.
Hockey, particularly in Canada, is far more than an enjoyable activity to while away the cold, winter months. It’s a coast to coast to coast prep league for pre-Major Junior aged kids; a momentous first step to NHL glory and national fame. It’s a lifestyle and a religion, and God forbid you don’t kneel before the holey net and blissfully ingest your vulcanized rubber communion wafer.
Skim through any minor hockey association website and you’ll find executive titles that rival most professional sports squads. Individual minor hockey teams have a list of volunteer positions bigger than many corporations have middle managers. Every team regardless of skill level, from Timbits through Bantam has the following volunteer parent positions: head coach, four assistant coaches (sometimes more depending on how strict insurance restrictions are policed in any given year), team manager, tournament coordinator, social coordinator (sometimes separated into two positions with one for kids events and another for parents events), home jersey supervisor, away jersey supervisor, fundraising coordinator, and treasurer. I’ve worked in business units with fewer positions than that and we were overseeing tens of millions of budget dollars annually.
Not that minor hockey teams don’t do their best to keep pace on the budget front. I’ve been confronted with $7,000 budget proposals for a mid-level Novice team. These are 7 and 8 year old kids who still can’t tie their own skates properly. From out-of-town hockey tournaments (definitely with a good hotel pool and preferably near awesome skiing) to social outings to matching association outfits (sometimes with sponsored branding) the costs of minor hockey go far beyond that hefty registration fee. And this doesn’t even include the gas, food, and hotel charges. There’s a reason gaggles of kids are showing up at your door every weekend looking for empty beverage containers.
And let’s not forget the time commitment for all these activities. Ice times easily encompass a minimum of three hours each week but can quickly escalate to more. We’ve faced Novice and Atom schedules including four ice times in five days and those weren’t tournaments. Combined with all the social events and fundraising, not to mention tournaments, your winter social calendar quickly divests itself of anything outside your newly minted and unchosen hockey family.
Oh, but tread carefully if you have reservations about the cost and/or time expected of you and your child. Hell hath no fury like a hockey fanatic scorned. When a team manager asked for our thoughts on an exhibition game at 7:00 in the morning at a locale a solid 35 minute drive across the city, I made the egregious mistake of capitalizing the word MUCH when responding that we would be available but prefer sleeping in. For that indiscretion, I was essentially sent to the principal’s office to meet with the coach and the association’s Novice coordinator. This after the aforementioned manager told my wife I was disrespectful, implied I didn’t appreciate volunteers, and suggested that she (my wife) screen my emails before I send them as if I was a child in need of motherly supervision.
Of course, stories like this aren’t unique to my community. Similar tales abound. Along with the ragers, it’s the reason that umbrellas organizations like Hockey Calgary, Hockey Alberta, and Hockey Canada both promote and even mandate Respect in Sport (RIS) training for all parents and coaches involved in minor hockey. The irony, of course, is that the parents most invested in the minor hockey machine are also often the least likely to embrace the spirit of RIS. So, while RIS tells parents all sorts of unexpected facts, such as the reason kids play is because it’s fun and they get to be with their friends or that hockey is a late specialization sport meaning kids shouldn’t focus solely on hockey until they are twelve years old or more, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a parent or coach remotely happy when their kid’s team is getting shellacked every game. This is why you get community association mandated training sessions for all coaches (above those already demanded by the umbrella associations) and euphemisms like “success of our program”. It’s about fun! Psst, it’s really about winning and creating star hockey players. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Look, I know I am an aberration. I don’t share this love affair with the game of hockey that so many of my neighbours obviously do. I once did. When I was a kid I loved hockey. LOVED it! Now, as an adult, I’m just not that into it. I don’t play it anymore (thanks Sarc) and I don’t watch it anymore, save for the odd gold medal Olympic game or Stanley Cup finals game. Maybe I’m bitter about that, I don’t know.
But my son decided to quit hockey this year and I felt such a sense of relief when he told us, not to mention joy at seeing him find other activities he did love. Then again, many parents that share my viewpoint have already left the game or never let their kids start in the first place. That is the real shame; thousands of kids who will never enjoy even recreational hockey because of the insanity.
My daughter still plays and she still loves to play. And I still help coach and still try not to rock the ark too much lest I be cast overboard. But it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if she, too, decided to try other, less fanatical or demanding sports. It’s wearisome being a heretic within your community. Besides, it’d be nice if the pained look on my face was the result of something pleasurable for a change.