A reluctant hockey mom shares how we can all become healthy sport parents

Are you a healthy sport parent?

One event that we celebrate at AfL is “Parents in Sport Week”. This is a time to give healthy sport parents due recognition.

But exactly what is a “healthy” sport parent?

I found the most unexpected answer to this question one recent Sunday morning. I was on my way to a hockey parents’ meeting when I turned on the car radio and caught the beginning of an interview with author Angie Abdou whose book Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom recently published. And I was riveted.

In this very honest conversation, Abdou discusses the highs and the lows of being a hockey mom that led her to write the book. I have not read Abdou’s book yet (our contributor Rob Klovance has and you can read his review here), but I want to share this interview because it describes the key elements that make a healthy sport parent.

Four suggestions to be a “healthy sport parent”

1. Be completely dedicated to your child’s passion (not your own)

Abdou’s son played many sports, but loved hockey. The problem is that Abdou never liked hockey; too violent, too many screaming parents, and too many hours spent in the car to travel to games. But there’s more. As the interview goes on, Abdou shares that her brother played junior hockey for coach Graham James, who was later convicted of sexually assaulting many players. The problem for Abdou is that her son continued to express his love and passion of hockey. And Abdou decides to support her son as she explains,

“You don’t get to pick your kids’ marriages or their sports, and he wants to play hockey. I said as long as he loves it I’ll drive him to the rink, and I’ll drive him all around the place to competitions and I’ll keep an eye on the less savoury aspects of the sport.”

Because she did not like hockey, Abdou went through serious reflection about whether or not she could support her son playing the game. As a result, her investment was fuelled by her son’s wish to play, not by her own aspirations for him. This is a fundamentally healthy starting point for any parent supporting a child in sport.

2. Do some homework

As Abdou got immersed in the world of hockey, she soon realized that there were some glitches in the system. For example, she observed 9 and 10-year-old players being tested and some assigned to the “A” (or elite team) and others to the “B” team. As the season begins, she talked to kids and parents and realized that the labels stuck with kids. That the kids perceive themselves as being good hockey players or not based on the team they were assigned to.

It didn’t seem right to Abdou that a child’s identity and future in the game was set so early. So she did some research and realized that this way of tiering kids so young is wrong. She explains, “In Canada, we tier kids very young, but the science suggests there is no need to tier them before puberty”. She concludes, like many experts, that this leads many kids to drop out of the sport, “They’ve [young hockey players] either quit early because they were told they weren’t good enough or they quit early because they were told they’re really good and got tired of it, or got injured.”

When Abdou identified something that did not make sense, she did a bit of research. She looked to science to find answers.

This is another mark of a healthy sport parent: Trust your gut and do your research.

3. Promote a better sport experience for all kids

Once she had figured out what makes a positive sport experience for kids, she shared her knowledge with organizers, coaches, and parents. And the hockey establishment didn’t react well.

“I felt like women’s voices are not taken seriously in the hockey rink. They [moms] can come in and tie their kid’s skates, but then it’s like ‘get out’ once that’s done.”

But Abdou persisted and realized that many parents (dads included) agreed with her perspective.

Healthy sport parents speak up and share what they believe is right for the benefit of all kids.

4. Realize that you are part of the QUIET MAJORITY of healthy sport parents

Not only did Abdou realize many people agreed with her, but also that some were interested in getting things better for all kids. “I gave the book to one local hockey mom as an early read and she said that we need to have meetings to see how to take the ideas in this book and make them happen,” Abdou shares in the interview.

Too often we stop at the clichés used to describe sport parents: They are loud, self-serving, and sometimes violent. And this is true for a minority of sport parents– the very loud minority.

If you push past the clichés and the sensational YouTube video of parents acting stupid, you see the truth. That great majority of sport parents are “healthy sport parents”. The problem is that they are part of the “quiet majority” and that the actions of the “loud minority” tarnish everyone.

If you just read this article, you are most likely part of that quiet majority of “healthy sport parents”. Bravo to you!

3 responses to “A reluctant hockey mom shares how we can all become healthy sport parents

  1. Does the book explain the science behind tiering of kids? I always thought tiering was useful to develop high performance although it has negative outcomes for many. So what is alternative solution without encouraging mediocrity.

    1. Hi Mike –

      Before I get to the science, I will say that I have had a lot of long talks with my dad (ex-jock, ex-coach) about this part of my book, Home Ice. He made me see that my thoughts on tiering are very much related to my own experience. I live in a town of 5000 people. There are enough Atom players for two teams. If we divided the kids into two equal teams to play in the same league, we could cut down on travel (we travel up to three hours each way for a single league game). Also, even according to the hockey board members who do the tiering, the kids range from a 6/10 to an 8/10 skill wise, so having them play together wouldn’t negatively affect anyone’s performance. Yet, the parental drive to have a GOOD team stops that from happening. My dad made me see that in a bigger city where the number of kids is so much greater – as is the skill range – and where they’re not traveling for league games anyway, there are advantages to having some tiering. For example, in my book, I write about the impossibility of kids getting a late start, even with the First Shift program. New ten-year-olds simply can’t catch up. I see now that with some tiering, there could be a truly “for fun” house league, where those kids could learn the game and find their feet without being left far behind the play. Where I live, though, we don’t have the numbers for that. So my argument about tiering does fit the specifics of rural hockey. In the case of bigger population, I do see the benefit of dividing kids by level enough that everyone gets a chance to be in the play, but I still think (based on reading and experience) that the focus on elite sports can wait until after puberty. The biggest problem is that tiering young (and a focus on elite sports) leads to specialization young and over training young. Here is an article about that: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/3/e20162148 Here is another one that says athletes shouldn’t specialize until college: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bradford_Strand/publication/280098099_Benefits_of_multi-sport_athletics_vs_specialization/links/55a90d7908aea3d086800a1b/Benefits-of-multi-sport-athletics-vs-specialization.pdf I’ll leave someone else to speak to whether or not avoiding tiering until after puberty leads to mediocrity. I’m of the opinion that talented athletic kids will be talented athletic kids and avoiding tiering and specialization until their teen years will simply help them avoid injury and burnout. There are articles to support this opinion and provide stats that youth elite hockey in Canada leads to really good twelve year old hockey players and a mass exodus of thirteen year old players, either because they’ve played too much too young and are burned out and/or injured or because they’ve already decided they’re not good enough (but I’m sure there are articles that state the reverse too). I’m no expert – just a concerned mom who likes to write and research.

  2. Having just read about this “ ICE BREAKING “ masterpiece, would love to offer my services if needed as a speaker to such an important subject.
    As a much older minor professional hockey player (goon), with pro football as a backup have been writing, (good friends of mine have put my thoughts into legible prose) a book about the “negatives” of collision games(?).
    Have tried to join the numerous “ concussions groups “ out there bur think my views are too far out in “left field”, personally,think they are being funded by the pro teams to downplay the issues.
    Also managed an Ice Skating facility for almost two decades.Can I help in anyway

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