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!

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