Perhaps the mountain imagery is a little too apt

Warning: This post will be long and of little interest to the broader community. But it’s about hockey, for what that’s worth.

Last night, I attended a Hockey Canada Summit hosted by the Ottawa District Hockey Association. Essentially, Hockey Canada wants to engage the people involved in the grassroots of hockey in this country to find ways to improve the experience for the kids who play. A noble cause, to be sure.

For those not familiar with this particular monolithic outfit, Hockey Canada is responsible for overseeing hockey programs in Canada, starting with the initiation program for six and seven year olds, through the minor hockey ranks into junior and the national men’s and women’s programs.

To put that in perspective, consider this dichotomy. I coach a team of nine and ten year olds, more than half of whom have never played hockey before this season. Their parents dress them before games and I consider it a victory if I make it through a game without shouting “You’re offside!” to a confused-looking left winger more than twice. Meanwhile, Steve Yzerman was recently named to head Canada’s entry to the upcoming World Hockey Championships in Moscow. He will assemble a team of NHL players to compete against the world’s best players*.

In these respective roles, Steve Yzerman and I fall under the same governing body – Hockey Canada.

So yea. Its job is anything but an easy one. The overused term “herculean task” comes to mind.

So please, when reading the rest of this rant, keep that little dichotomy in mind. I think given the challenges of this incredible scope, Hockey Canada does an impressive job. The string of international success and Canada’s continued dominance on the world stage is a testament to the Hockey Canada development model.

However, at a local level, the connection between the governing body and the coaches on the ground is… non-existent. So when an opportunity such as last night’s summit arises, despite the noblest of intentions of improving the experience of all kids involved in minor hockey, the old adage that “All politics is local” takes on a truly tangible light.

In my particular working group, wonderful big-picture topics were continually abandoned in favour of each individual participant’s particular concern based on their own experience. Discussions about failures in the mentoring structure for referees, for example, devolved into rants about messy incidents experienced by one participant or another. Then when it came time to focus on solutions, we ended up with situation-specific ideas that are either over-reactionary or not practical on a large scale.

And I don’t blame the participants one bit.

See, I think I come at this from a somewhat different perspective as I’m a rarity in minor hockey: I’m a coach without child. This means I can take a relatively dispassionate look at these situations because it’s not my kid that’s affected. For these coach/parents or executive/parents, the local concern is easily the most important because we’re talking about their own flesh and blood. This big-picture concept of “the game” gets lost.

The issue is one of communication. Throughout the year, parents don’t get an opportunity to have their voice heard often enough. Each association under the auspices of Hockey Canada becomes something of a fiefdom focused on the overwhelming logistics of registration and player evaluation and scheduling and everything else that goes into operating a minor hockey program.

The result is a fundamental disconnect between the governing body, with its abundant resources and wealths of information, and the people at the grassroots level of hockey. Good decisions are being made and wonderful resources are being developed by the professional minds at Hockey Canada but far too often, these resources aren’t properly distributed or made available to the people who really need them.

So when Hockey Canada does decide to reach out, like at last night’s summit, it’s like a steam valve has been opened. Local issues dominate, solutions become muddied and in the end, it’s a challenge to pick out one or two big-picture issues from the plethora of nitpickery.

What’s the solution? I think Hockey Canada needs to find a better way to communicate with the grassroots. Perhaps these summits should occur more often, on a more manageable scale. Perhaps there needs to be more of a Hockey Canada presence in the hundreds (thousands?) of rinks across the country.

Perhaps Hockey Canada should come down from their mountain every once in awhile and see what’s really going on in the world of minor hockey.

*minus those who are still playing in the NHL playoffs

1 comment

  1. Joe:

    Interesting frustrations!

    That is indeed the root need for Hockey Canada’s new focus on mentorship and also one of the key reasons mentorship is so slow getting underway in most branches.

    Tom Boughner,
    North Central District Mentorship Coordinator
    BC Hockey

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