By: Topher Scott
One of the best parts of starting the Hockey Think Tank is having the ability to talk to so many awesome people about our game. From grassroots all the way to the top, the past few years of exploration have been equally thought provoking, eye opening, and exhilarating.
I love talking to people at the top levels of the game. It always gets my creative juices flowing collaborating with coaches and executives who can challenge my perceptions of how the game is played or how a team is built.
I also love talking to people at the grassroots levels as well. There are a lot of great men and women affecting positive change in our youth hockey culture and it’s invigorating to hear how they are impacting the kids they teach, coach, and mentor.
The only problem is, the people affecting this positive change often feel like they are fighting an uphill battle with the culture of youth hockey today. Between the rising costs, the early professionalization, and the constant conflict between those in power positions and those that aren’t…it often feels like tedious work trying to do the right thing.
And here’s a story that…in the words of the great Dickey Dunn… “Captures the spirit of the thing.”
A team I coached this past year had a disagreement with the NY State affiliate of USA Hockey over the spring. I’ll spare the details, but we didn’t qualify for the State Tournament while we thought we had done enough to make it.
Which, honestly, is fine. While it’s fun for the kids…in the grand scheme of things a State Tournament isn’t really that important. We had kids receive college commitments. A bunch more that moved on to prep school. We had a great experience as a team, and the kids got better as individuals.
THAT is what’s important.
Having said that, our kids, parents, and coaches were confused as to why we didn’t make the tournament. So as someone that has collaborated with USA Hockey many times, I approached the New York State administrators to get some clarification.
And this is where I totally began to understand why people see an uphill battle in affecting positive change in youth hockey today.
When I approached the administrators for clarification on their decision, I can honestly say that I have never been treated so poorly in my life. And that is not an exaggeration. I was condescended, yelled at (actually), and totally chastised for bringing our question to their attention.
It was pretty surreal to say the least, and I walked out of that meeting being like, “Did that really just happen?” I looked at a USA Hockey buddy of mine that was in the room afterwards and we both kind of shook our heads and were like, “Huh?”
This was the president of the New York section of USA Hockey and the State Tournament Director…who are supposed to be working for you…completely dismissing and almost being incredulous for daring to ask questions to get clarity about their decisions.
And hey, you know what, I guess I kinda get it. I can imagine these guys take a lot of heat from unruly parents and coaches trying to maneuver the system to benefit their kid. And I respect the position they hold, because they do a lot of things behind the scenes that most won’t ever know.
But there’s a way that you treat people, and a way that you don’t. And it’s pretty easy to see why people feel like they have no voice when administrators at that level are setting that kind of culture.
Makes sense to me now, for sure.
But with all of that said, the second half of this story is where I think it gets better.
Over the summer, I went to New York’s annual USA Hockey meeting where rule changes are proposed and voted on while constituent organizations can voice their opinion on all things related to USA Hockey.
And honestly, I was pleasantly surprised to see how inclusive the whole process was. There were rule change proposals, general discussions about the direction of USA Hockey, and considerations about how to change some things that needed to be changed. The grassroots coaches and administrators actually had a voice in making and changing certain protocols and regulations.
The only problem is…
There were hardly any grassroots coaches or administrators there.
Of the thousands of people that could have had a vote at that annual meeting…there may have only been around 50 people there. For as many people that I’ve heard condemn USA Hockey (and specifically New York) around the rinks, it was disappointing to see so few people actually show up and be a part of the process.
It’s easy to grumble about the way you think that things should be. But change doesn’t come from sideline discussion. Change comes from action.
And if creating the right environment for youth development is important to you, your actions are what really matter. It could be as small as becoming the manager for your kid’s team or running for a position on your community organization’s board. If you are feeling adventurous, you could even run for a position within USA Hockey or Hockey Canada.
As tough as it may seem at times to challenge the status quo, it’s necessary for growth and positive development. And for the amount of people like the ones I dealt with that only like things their way and don’t care to be questioned…there are 10x more of you out there that want to help solve the issues afflicting our youth hockey culture today.
And now I’m going to speak to you, hockey moms.
Our game needs more of you awesome women holding positions of influence in our game. Our hockey board rooms need way more diversity and you could provide such a great perspective from your experiences on the front lines. You are the lifeblood of our great game and we need more of you at the decision making table.
So for those of you reading that empathize with this post…I’m urging you to GET INVOLVED. There are so many good people out there who just need to be empowered to engage in action.
You CAN affect change.
I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, and I’ve dedicated my life to it. And I’ll tell you what:
The hockey world is ready for it.
You gotta show up. You gotta find like-minded people that will show up with you. And you gotta take action where action needs to be taken.
Only then will the environment we want our kids to thrive in actually help our kids to thrive. And what an amazing environment that could be.