CRAZY SPORTS PARENTS or the MMMRPH MRRPH (or, Hockey Drama in Perspective)

You may recall my muffled, angry comments about a mysterious local dispute I referred to as the “MPHOLLYPMHRPYLL MURPH MURPH Tempest, teapot MUMBLE MUTTER GRUPM GRIPE” in an earlier post (one too short to merit a link) and then questioned everyone about here, referring to the whole kerfluffle as “Thingy…” If so, or even if you don’t, prepare yourself for what has, thus far, made nearly everyone I’ve described it to giggle in its utter, insane, blown-out-of-proportion-ness. Here’s what I wrote about it, but didn’t post, last month:

Broadly, here’s the scoop: the coach is intense. Passionate. And good–a former Dartmouth goalie, and he’s got the second tier Mites team (that would be 6-, 7- and 8-year olds to the unitiated)–actually playing like a team and winning, and if you’d seen them two months ago, you wouldn’t have thought they could find the puck if it hit them smack in the mask.

Without going into details (partly because I don’t know them) the easiest way to put it is that what some parents interpret as coaching, others interpret as abuse. I mean, there’s slightly more to it than that, but it looks like, at this point, there’s no smoking gun, so to speak–it’s just that some of us don’t care if some of his constructive criticism comes in the form of shouted commentary, and some do. Some parents are ok with him busting on kids who don’t pay attention when he lays out plays, and some support it. And some parents think that, at 8, it’s silly to say anything to a player that might make him or her feel bad, while others think that’s one of the ways you improve.

I think that’s it. You can probably tell that I think he’s a good coach–in fact a great one–but it’s also true that I’ve known him for seven years, and that Sam has known him since he was two years old and, while he would absolutely take anything this guy said to him to heart (because he worships him) and maybe even get upset if it were really negative, a) he would never think his coach didn’t care about him underneath it all and b) I absolutely, 100% know that this coach puts the kids first. But hey, I admit it–if I didn’t know him so well, maybe I wouldn’t feel that way. I’d like to think I would. I believe it’s the coaches and teachers and bosses that call you out on it every time you give anything less than your best are the ones that change your life, and the ones you remember.

So that’s the background, but here’s the question. Tomorrow night the local hockey powers that be haul all the team parents into the locker room during practice. I’d say there’s flat out no chance it won’t get ugly. Everybody thinks they’re right–and, if I’m right, in a sense, everybody IS right. I think it boils down to some of us being ok with a certain style, and some not.

I have to go to the meeting. The question is, how. Do I go in swinging, to defend both a friend and what I consider to be an important principle–that kids benefit from honest, even if tough, coaching, teaching or anything else? Or do I, as was my original plan, go in head down, mouth shut and just hope to get out of there with a few shreds of relationship with fellow parents and neighbors intact? (I should probably note that I have already written a letter of reasoned support.)

That was last month. Since then, I, as I said, wrote that letter of support–a total of ten families wrote ten different glowing letters–and went to that meeting, where the tale of how the horrible scary coach had the poor, quivering 7-year-old afraid to return to the locker room honestly nearly brought tears to my eyes, except for this lingering feeling that, somehow, we were played like a violin. At the meeting, I said only that I couldn’t imagine the coach behaving that way, and that Sam had had a great year…blah, blah–and was caught, on the way out, by the prime actor in the complaint (and I use the word actor advisedly) who made a great show of how sad she was to do this thing, to which I said oh, you did what you had to do–and left, kicking myself.

Because I knew this was all wrong. I knew, of course, that the coach was a good guy—and by that, I mean a really good guy. I knew, too, that the kid in question bore more resemblance to Bart Simpson than to Little Lord Fauntleroy. We’d been told a story of the kid sassing the coach in the locker room, and the coach speaking to him in such a mean tone that two other people there “wished they’d interfered,” but I knew that one of those people was angry at the coach because he wants his kid to play goalie, and the kid doesn’t always want to play goalie, and the coach is willing to let him explore other positions (imagine! at seven! Not having the commitment to play goalie in every game! there goes that kids’ scholarship.) The other one I had no scoop on, but it felt wrong–other people in the locker room, Rob included, noticed nothing–and man, I just itched.

So I went out with a friend, and regaled her with the story. Why do I feel snowed? She cracked up. You feel snowed, she said, because you listened to me tell you stories all last spring about these people and Little League. OOOHHHhh….

So–to make a long story longer–I very nicely called one of the board members of the hockey association, and politely pointed out that the kid in question had a history of discipline issues, and also suggested he speak–as one does, in a small town–to anyone who’d helped organize Little League, and figured, well, this is the hockey board, after all–surely they’ve dealt with helicopter parents before?

Apparently not, because last week they sprang a letter on the team parents, saying that after “receiving complaints from concerned parents” and a meeting with all parents, they were condemning the team, its culture, and everyone associated with it, that the “entire coaching staff” was responsible and, blah blah blah, the Head Coach would have to apologize to young Bart for refusing to take his sass, and we were all going together to hell in a handbasket.

Does that not sound to you like ALL the parents were upset? Like EVERY player had a bad year? Like the coach had been wandering around with a whip and shouting “the beatings will continue until morale improves?” Well, trust me, that’s what it sounded like.

This grows too long, and I’m sure it’s not over. One parent fired off an instant and very appealing response that can be summed up  briefly as “fuck you and the horse you came in on,” and most of the rest signed a letter I wrote, demanding that the Board at least acknowledge that the complaining parents hadn’t lived up to their part of the bargain, by bringing kids to practice on time or, say, raising kids that didn’t behave like wolves…is it just me, or is this not sounding more and more ridiculous by the minute? Are you not sitting there going, are you people KIDDING ME? DO YOU NOT HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO? And you are right. But the thing is, that “entire coaching staff” so blithely gutted in that letter–those were a bunch of guys who volunteered to spend hours–hours–every week, all winter long, teaching our kids to play hockey. Did I say VOLUNTEERED? And the one “head coach” that sounds so official? Another volunteer, a dad, who played for Dartmouth and just really wanted to coach his kid’s team. None of the rest of us are that worked up about hockey. We’re worked up because attacking these guys is just that wrong.

Meantime–and this is where the perspective comes in–I walked into my cousin’s house in Texas today and found her on the phone, nodding and rolling her eyes and trying to hang up. Turns out it was the wife of her 5-year-old’s soccer coach. Why, said wife wanted to know, was my cousin quietly moving her kid–without complaint, just peacefully and in the background–to another team next season after he’d played two years on said husband’s team? (Note, in case you missed it, that he’s just barely about to turn five, which means that by “playing on a soccer team for two years” I mean “standing around in a field wearing soccer clothing and admiring the ball, the dandelions and the pretty sky equally while, for some reason, adults cheered.”)

Well, because said husband has been standing on the sidelines, drinking and shouting things like “What, do you have no interest in this game? Just get off the field if you don’t want to play! Get off the field! That’s it, get off the field!”

Which struck me as a good reason to maybe enroll all of our kids in a nice basket-weaving class.

2 Responses to “CRAZY SPORTS PARENTS or the MMMRPH MRRPH (or, Hockey Drama in Perspective)”

  1. shirlee says:

    Don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this one. My daughter was in competitive gymnastics at five. The coaches were fantastic, and sometimes they were brutal. My daughter was not the best or even close to the best, but I figured if she were going to train in gymnastics, she should train right. I also figured that if I didn’t like the tactics the coaches employed I should do as your cousin did and quietly leave. Which is what we finally did. The other parents, though…wow! Those parents…I mean, they had their kids’ entire lives planned out. Scholarships. Universities. Maybe the Olympics. They’d stand close to the observation window and gesture to their kids to do more and be better (these were all five to seven year olds). Then they’d complain about the coaches and their tactics. Loudly. And demand meetings and send emails and letters and…well, everything you just described.

    Now my daughter is in a pre pro ballet school. She’s very very good at ballet. I’d even say dance is her passion. Of course, she just turned nine, so who knows what she’ll love in another year or two? She’s with a very tough teacher who is the best in the area (just the luck of the draw…no advance planning on my part). The teacher pushes kids hard, but she’s got such a positive way of doing it. Very different from the gymnastic scene. The parents are different, too. No badmouthing in the lobby or quietly whispering as they leave the building. Maybe it’s the difference between sports and dance or maybe the difference between competition and not. Whatever the case, I’m relieved not to have to listen to the griping.

    Anyway, what else were you supposed to say to ‘Bart’s’ mother? She knows what she’s doing, and she doesn’t care. Let her raise her brat. You raise your wonderful kids. See which are more successful in twenty years. The ones whose parents pave every path or the ones who learn to take their knocks and still come up smiling.

  2. Nancy says:

    When you posted about the ‘thingy’ I knew it was hockey. Knew it. Parents are insane. Hockey parents are in a league of their own in the crazy department. The only parents who aren’t crazy insane are the pro hockey players whose kids play in our league. They get their kids to practice on time and sell raffle tickets like the rest of us, and having grown up in Canada and knowing how rare a really good player is, they have no expectations that their kids are stars.

    I think you have to support the coach, both to your son and to the other parents. We do have the luxury of having other leagues to play in (although it is not easy to switch hockey associations it is possible), but our association is pretty small so if you don’t like your coach you either have to suck it up or leave. We’ve been lucky that the coaches we’ve had, all dads, have been great, but getting a coach you don’t agree with all the time is part of sports. However, if my daughter is late to practice, which is my fault and not hers, she does suicides for 10 minutes. If she screws up an assignment, her coach lets her know. If she’s goofing around in practice, she may get to take a few laps to help her focus. That’s hockey.

    Does this coach move up with the kids or stay at this level? If he stays, then the problem will be solved when this child moves up. If he moves up, Bart’s mother will just have to deal with it or find another team.


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