I enjoy going to my grandson’s various sporting activities and cheering them and their teammates on. It is fun to see them develop skills and grow as the season progresses. What concerns me about being at these games is the actions of the adults, particularly the adults who are acting as coaches. Now, keep in mind that my oldest grandson is playing in an under-9 division in ball hockey. For the uninitiated, ball hockey, is a form of floor hockey. It is played indoors, but in a traditional hockey rink that has a tiled floor instead of ice. This game is primarily played by kids who are not playing regular ice hockey. Of course, there are some who play both, but for the majority ball hockey is the only hockey they get. As well, many of them are just learning the skills of the sport, as far as the rules of the game and strategies of play, well let’s just say that these concepts are just a little beyond them.
This activity is well organized by the Saskatoon Ball Hockey Association, they provide referees for each game. Prior to the game each team is given ‘warm-up’ time in which some skills are provided by the coaches. When the game begins, many of the kids are unsure of where to stand for the face-off, so it take some time for the refs and coaches to get them set. Once play begins the game seems to move along until a whistle blows. This is to signal a goal, icing, or off-sides call. Most of the kids understand what a goal is, the ball is shot into one of the two nets. Icing, they really don’t get. Off-side is it seems a completely unknown concept. It seems clear that the learning curve for these youngsters is pretty steep, when it comes to rules and strategies of the game.
It also, I fear, is a reflection on the Canadian Ice Hockey mentality of Playing Games and Keeping Score, rather than on Skill development.
My grandson, who also plays soccer in the Saskatoon Youth Soccer Association has had a much different experience in that sport. He has been playing for about 3 years with his community association soccer teams. When they get together for games they spend 1/2 the time with their coaches practicing skill development. Once the game starts, it is the coaches, rather than referees who keep the action moving. No score is kept so the emphasis is really on enjoying the game. When the players are 9 years old they then move to the zone teams. Each zone is made up of several community associations. The city is thus divided in several zones. These zones compete in leagues at various age-classes. Within each age class there can be 1 or more divisions based on the skill level of the athletes.
It seems to me that SMBH could take few lessons from soccer. Keeping score and having referees, is good and necessary in competitive leagues. However, for younger kids who are justing learning the game, the competitive nature of adults can have damaging effects. At the ring yesterday, the game preceding ours was a example of what can happen when competition overrides the learning and development. The score was tied at the end or regulation time. At the level of play, this was an under 9 game as well, the game should have been over and recorded as a tie. But, no, when SMBH games are tied the teams enter a 3-player aside shoot-out to determine the winner. While this might seem like a good idea it is not for players of this age. For the shooters, have to start at the centre red line and going in on the goaltender, just like in the NHL, is a challenge for these kids. Anyway, the game remained tied after 3 shooters. So the shootout continued alternating 1 shooter at a time. The last shooter for the red team missed his shot, so the grey team shooter took his turn. He started towards the goal, but apparently left before the whistle. One of the referees blew his whistle, stopping the player and instructed him to start again, but wait for the whistle. The player return to centre and started again when he heard the whistle. Keep in mind that this player is Under 9 years old. Well, he started off and in his excitement, overran the ball and stepped on it. He recovered and continue towards the goal. He then made a shot and beat the goalie. I as well as most everyone else watching the game thought the grey team had won the game. However, that was not the case, the coach of the red team, protested to the referees, that this last shot should not count and his team should win the game. I should also point out that from my view the coach only did this with one of the referees. This referee then went and talked to the other ref. Clearly the decided to overturn their decision and rule ‘no goal’ and give the win to the red team. I’m not sure what the protocol is for the SMBH, but there are many issues here. First, why are the teams going to a shootout when the game is tied. Conduction a shoot-out backs up the next game and all subsequent games. Perhaps at these young ages a tie is fine. Further, the optics of the sequence of events that I have described must be addressed.
Ball hockey (floor hockey) is a great game for kids to play. I just hope that things run smoother in the future. It would be a shame to see things deteriorate.