Today’s post is more of a public-service announcement for parents of pre-novice hockey-aged children, and the tireless, selfless volunteers who agree to organize tournaments for children aged 5-7 years old.

Over the weekend, my son participated in his first hockey tournament of the year. Hockey is religion in Canada, and many parents use the sport as a means of providing their child with physical activity during the cold winter months. Many children are officially registered for intro to hockey classes by the age of 4, followed by three years of “hockey school” (in Quebec, it’s MAHG: Methode d’Apprentissage du Hockey sur Glace) where basic skills are taught and the fundamental of the game practiced.

Once the 24 or so “lessons” of MAHG are complete (usually by the holidays), “teams” are made so that children can participate in two or more friendly “tournaments”, playing against teams from other municipalities. Scores are not kept, everyone receives a participation medal, and the pure love of the sport of hockey is promoted. Such weekends are generally a celebration of the hard work that both parents and children have put in so far that year.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell the entire story. Unbeknownst to most parents, pre-novice tournaments have a more problematic, unhappy, and unruly feeling to them that you simply cannot understand unless you have had the opportunity to experience hockey tournaments from both sides – player and parent. Here are the 3 most pressing issues facing pre-novice hockey tournaments today:

1. Tournament Location

Pre-novice tournaments are usually hosted by different municipalities throughout the greater metropolitan area. Because tournaments for the age group are few and far between, most events will require  some travel. Most parents of young children will tell you that the shorter the distance to the activity, the better – and if you can do it without the onset of major roadwork or traffic, bonus! Making a trek lasting close to an hour is difficult on any young hockey player, especially if all they want to do is play and cannot understand why there is traffic on a Saturday or Sunday. Keep it local!

Getting to the arena is only half the battle – you need to park your car too! Fortunately, most pre-novice tournaments offer free parking. The only issue is that there is usually not enough of it. Most arenas are easily over 30 years old and located in areas where there was simply no thought put into the parking requirements of the 21st century. Compounding the problem is the fact that most families require more than one car – divorced parents, grandparents, friends, and other extended family members all vying for the opportunity to see their favorite hockey player in action. Do everyone a favor – keep the guest list to a minimum (video tape & share electronically), and where possible, please carpool!

2. Keep an Eye on your Belongings

It’s been said that hockey is a sport for those who can afford it. Most families will spend a small fortune to outfit their child with skates, a stick, and all the necessary protective gear. The last thing you want is for said items to go missing, as it can easily add up. Ironically, many people will not even realize that they have taken (or been a victim of) lost/misplaced items until it is simply too late. Most pre-novice tournaments have 4 teams playing at once, resulting in twice the number of teams playing, but with only half of the available dressing room space. As a result, two teams (often from two different municipalities), are forced to get dressed in the same locker room, leading to:

  • too many people in a tiny, confined space (only one parent/child, please!)
  • misplaced equipment
  • lost/stolen sticks
  • disappearing clothing (and other personal effects)
  • nasty (sometimes dangerous) incisions due to innumerable skate blades
  • infighting due to insufficient post game snacks/medals

Moreover, because more than one team is in a dressing room at any given time, it’s impossible to properly lock the door to secure everything left behind while your child is on the ice. Only 1 team per room – and label EVERYTHING!

3. Hockey Parents

Pre-novice tournaments are a baptism for first-time hockey parents. The initiation process has a steep learning curve, and you are likely to see many things that simply cannot be explained –  noise-makers, full on egg salad sandwich picnics in the stands, and the rumblings of the stereotypical hockey parent. The over the top, we’re playing for the Stanley Cup, my child is better than your child mentality that, unfortunately, some parents morph into at their child’s first hockey tournament. While most parents are simply captivated by their child’s first real hockey game, there are a small minority of parents who just take things too far. Cheering on your child is one thing; verbally abusing players, officials, and other parents is simply inappropriate. At 5-7 years of age, most kids just don’t comprehend the politics of hockey, nor do they really believe that “winning is everything”. There really is nothing like the pure thrill of watching your child score their first goal, or seeing them make a successful defensive play without completely wiping out. Be a responsible hockey parent.

In conclusion, hockey is the greatest sport in the world, and the cultivation of young players at the very outset of their playing days, is paramount to ensure the survival of the sport. Inquire about the tournaments your child will be participating in. Pre-novice tournaments should be accessible, provide proper security for all those involved, and place an emphasis on proper conduct by players, parents, and officials. Be mindful of who you are, where you are, and especially when you are – these  are just kids.

Hockey is supposed to be fun – keep it simple.

‘Til the next post.