This really has to stop…

File this one under the heading of “Idiotic Lengths Parents Will Go To.”

Concerned with potential injuries, a group of “concerned” parents in Toronto have started up a non-contact ice hockey league for their kids.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Non-contact ice hockey.  You can read all about it here.  Gee folks, what’s next?  Non-moving bicycling?   Non-swallowing eating?

Yes, I’m belaboring the point, but I really am getting tired of my fellow parents.  Yes, we love our kids, and we don’t want to see them get hurt.  I certainly don’t think getting is a concussion is a good idea for an 11 year old boy, but it definitely seems like the world of parents is overpopulated by the overly cautious and incredibly confused.  Ice hockey is a full-contact sport, just like American football or rugby.  Take the contact out of ice hockey and you’ve turned it into figure skating with sticks and a puck.  Not only does that sound stupid, it sounds boring.

Personally, I don’t think the problem is with kids playing ice hockey.  Anyone who grew up in Canada or the northernmost parts of the US will tell you that kids have been playing ice hockey forever.  The problem, friends, is the same problem I see with Pop Warner Football and Little League Baseball – too much adult involvement.

Let me explain – games are things that kids play for fun.  When a handful of kids grab a football and head to the nearest park (or street) to play a game fun happens.  Likewise when a bunch of kids take their bats, gloves and a ball to the nearest empty lot or haul their sticks and skates over to the local frozen-over pond.  When a bunch of dads get together and drag their kids to a ballfield, an ice rink or football field, suit them up and commence to yell at them because they’re doing everything “wrong,” there is a distinct absence of fun.  In that circumstance what there is an abundance of are frustrated kids who want to be somewhere else, fancy/expensive uniforms that make the kids look like mini versions of pro sports stars and lots and lots and lots of structure.

What we parents forget way too easily is that our children don’t like structure.  They honestly get plenty of that at school (and they’ll get an ass-load of it in their adult lives).  So why do we insist on enforcing more and more and more of it on them?  Play, including play in the context of games, is by its nature an unstructured activity.  We adults tend to view things like rules, time limits and whatnot as things that are necessary, but kids don’t see the world that way at all.  Rules in a game are just tools to keep things moving (3 strikes in baseball, offsides in hockey or soccer, etc.).  Uniforms are pretty, but they’re really unnecessary to a bunch of kids playing a game – they know who is and isn’t on their team – they’re only necessary for spectators to tell the teams apart.

So, let me try to drag this back to this idiotic attempt by some parents in Toronto to overprotect their kids with a non-contact hockey league.  The problem isn’t that ice hockey is horribly dangerous in and of itself.  Sure, bumps and bruises and maybe even gashes and broken bones will happen from time to time playing a full contact sport, but I think the problem is the parental involvement.  By organizing the league, keeping stats (heck, keeping score), and dressing their kids up like midget NHL players the parents are not setting up games for the kids to play, they’re creating a forum for the kids to play at being NHL players.

What do I mean by this?  Simple – not only are the kids emulating what they see pro hockey players do, namely hit each other really, really hard and at full speed, but because of the stats, the scorekeeping and the other parents acting as spectators there’s pressure to perform and win.  That pressure causes the kids to play like there’s something more on the line than simple personal pride.  And the organized teams, complete with pre-season tryouts and coach drafts, encourage the kids to see not their schoolmates and neighbors in the uniforms of the opposing teams, but adversaries.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I think organized sports are a good thing, but I question their value for kids 11 and younger.  I certainly don’t think that all this organization, structure and parental involvement makes the games very much fun for the kids at all.  So instead of trying to take all the bumps and bruises out of a game, maybe what we ought to be doing is taking ourselves out of the game.

As a side note: One of thing I’ve observed in my own neck of the woods is that there are so many organized sports leagues that for a good portion of the year it’s nearly impossible to find an unoccupied ball field in a park.   So, if you do have a bunch of friends, a pile of gloves, a bat and a ball you’re going to find it pretty tough to find anywhere to pull together a friendly and unstructured game.  Same thing happens during soccer or football season around these parts.

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