A decision by Hockey Winnipeg requiring one parent from each family to complete the online Respect in Sport course in order for their kids to play hockey in the league may unfortunately be a labour of Sisyphus.
Respect in Sport is an online training certification program that encourages positive sport behaviours. It also provides some insight into roles played by coaches and officials.
The requirement for the parent training is the association’s response to a fisticuffs incident between parents of a River East 8A1 player and coaches of the Lord Selkirk 8A1 team at the conclusion of a hockey tournament game in Fargo, North Dakota in February 2014.
The goal of the policy change is that through education people will become more aware of their behaviour and its negative impacts, and thus bring about a change in attitude. It suggests parents just need some refresher training on how to treat players, coaches, managers and officials.
Some see this response by Hockey Winnipeg akin to a school principal making a whole class stay after school and write on the black board “I will not fight in school,” because two students in another class got into a fight.
Maybe there should be a online course called Respect in a Drinking Establishment to curb altercations in bars. You would have to complete this course after you reach the age of majority and before you are allowed to legally enter a bar. It could also help the service industry by providing a refresher on how to treat staff and other patrons. Maybe a Respect in Driving course should be mandatory before getting a driver’s license. It would provide a refresher on how to communicate with other drivers. Would something like this actually solve road rage?
I have empathy for hockey parents. I have taken the Respect in Sport online course. Over two, four hour evenings I flipped screens, read text, took notes and did the reinforcement quiz. In order to coach in Winnipeg soccer and hockey youth programs there is a requirement for coaches to take the Respect in Sport online course. One of the founders of the program is Sheldon Kennedy a professional hockey players who suffered sexual abuse from a coach. If the course prevents one less victim of this heinous crime then it can be judged a success.
The online course requirement just adds another burden to parents who chose to enroll their kids in sports. The cost of organized sports is making the opportunity unavailable for many families. The time commitment — some practices start at 5:30 am — is hard as it is.
I have little confidence the course will change the abuse by parents at sporting events. I’m afraid Hockey Winnipeg is pushing Jello uphill, if they think a Respect in Sport online course for parents will give a person the understanding they need to think twice about the consequences of their actions. I am under no illusion this program will fix the issue.
A stronger response is needed. A zero tolerance or one strike policy is needed. The policy would provide one warning. Failure to check the abuse behaviour and the parent is ejected from the arena with a written report sent to Hockey Winnipeg. Hockey Winnipeg would then advise the team that the parent is now on probation. Another offense and the parent would not be allowed to attend games or practices. Failure to comply would result in their kids being unable to play. A parent who throws a punch would forfeit the privilege for their kid to play hockey for the season.
A zero tolerance policy also helps coaches. Coaches don’t want to deal with the problem parent either. If minor sports coaches were surveyed, they can tell you which parents they have problems with. Coaches deserve to have rules in place that limit the consequences the wayward parent has on the team. Coaches would also tell you, there is little they can do to correct the issue.
Even though I am disappointed in the Hockey Winnipeg’s response, I am not surprised. I wish we wouldn’t over react; the incidents are isolated but something had to be given to the press that demonstrated we are aware of the problem and are doing something about it. The public is given the perception that the association is showing its concern by taking action on the issue. As CBC commentator Rex Murphy suggested, “…less instant response and more considered response.”