Hockey’s Toxic Culture Alive And Unwell In Chatham

There has been much debate on hockey’s toxic culture in recent weeks. 

Having grown up in hockey, I’ve witnessed countless events in minor hockey and Junior that mimic claims that have come out recently. Rampant misogyny, chauvinism, drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, profanity, homophobia, toxic masculinity in all forms, and racism.

It’s there. But where does it start?

I’ve been struggling with this, because I love the game of hockey, but I hate the environment, and I hate what it does to youth.

This weekend, I attended the annual Silverstick in Chatham, hoping to take some photos, and enjoy a day at the rink. Within five minutes of being at a Kent Cobras Minor Peewee game, the topic of toxic culture in hockey was at the forefront of my mind, because my ears were being filled by screaming, profane parents.

“You’re a f%$king joke,” yelled the first, what I assumed to be dad at the referee after a simple penalty call. 

That was the start. Five adult men – wearing Kent Cobras jackets and one wearing a Chatham-Kent Crush jacket – all of whom I assumed were parents, and unfortunately, one young child, who I assumed was a younger sibling of these 11-year-old children playing hockey. Let that part sink in as well, these were 11-year-olds on the ice.

“Are you f$%king kidding me, get your head out of your a$$,” another voice followed, this time directed at the coach due to the players he’d chosen to play the penalty kill.

“F$%king terrible,” this time loudly discussing an 11-year-old on the ice. Followed by a rather comprehensive breakdown of why this young player didn’t deserve to step on the ice, and how utterly unworthy this child was of playing the game.

Every minute that ticked by, more profanity, more insults – toxic. Directed at kids, directed at coaches, directed at officials, all within ear shot of the bench, all within earshot of the child standing among them.

Finally, the buzzer rang on the first period; here I hoped these men would take their leave, relax, retreat to wherever they couldn’t be heard. But it progressed.

“You’re a f$%king retard” (We’re so sorry for including this word). “Why don’t you coach the team instead of just running lines.”

This he was yelling at the bench, at the coach, while the 11-year-olds huddled around during intermission.

I was actually pleased the coaching staff was not participating in this toxic behaviour. But then the game started to slip (even though Kent came back to win), and even the adults charged with caring for these youth on the bench slipped with it.

Another penalty, “God da%&it you guys, come on,” yelled one coach at the bench. 

A few minutes later, the opposing Windsor team scored.

“F%$k!!!” screamed another coach as he paced the bench, at no one in particular, but directly over the heads of this team of 11-year-olds.

The vitriol to my right in the corner from the five adult men was worse, the space surrounding me was completely filled with profanity and yelling. All I could think of at this point was the young child standing between them, and the seventeen 11-year-olds on the bench.

I thought, ‘how do they have a chance to not be impacted by hockey’s toxic culture?’ This was what I was hearing in public, out in the open, for all ears to hear. What did they hear at home? On car rides? In the lobby? Even if it was overheard. This was one day of a season, of many seasons gone by and to come. This is why the wonderful game of hockey has problems that need to be fixed.

Hockey is toxic – not the game itself, but the people in it – and these kids will grow up, not all of them of course, but many or most, to act like their fathers, and coaches. To mistreat others. To spew hate, and insults at people. It’s a cycle. They now think this is acceptable behaviour. Yelling at people. Calling names. Swearing at anyone. Belittling kids. Using terms that make fun of people because of their differences or exceptionalities.

It is a game. Played on ice. With pads on shoulders, blades on feet, and a stick hitting a rubber disk into a net. It is not the be all and end all, and I pray it’s not their identity. 

This is not a condemnation of our local organization, or the volunteers or youth, it’s what I witnessed, and a cautionary of why we can’t let comments and actions of parents, coaches, and commentators go, because they soon become the comments and actions of the players, who someday become parents, coaches, and commentators, and the toxic cycle continues. 

I wish this was an isolated incident. But I lived through it (survived through it may be a better way to say it if you know me as a person). And I do not accept that this is the way we do things. These adults are poisoning our youth, spoiling a beautiful game, and raising another generation who will carry on this toxic culture. 

I know this article will get me called names, and criticised, possibly threatened. I’m prepared for the “snowflake” moniker. The inability for people to see that a situation like this, which is not isolated, but repeated every week in our hometown, is wrong and dangerous for our youth. This is the exact reason action has to happen. Change has to come. For the love of the game, it needs to stop.

TAGS
Share This

COMMENTS

Wordpress (45)
  • comment-avatar
    Sandi 1 year

    One can only hope these parents and coaches read this and feel ashamed of themselves. Probably not. But it is Christmas and one can always hope for a miracle. 😥
    Thank you for writing and publishing this.

  • comment-avatar
    Bob 1 year

    The screening process for coaches in KMHA is a joke. “Non-parent” coaches are the worst. Their motivations are not to mentor and instruct our young athletes. The motivation is a new group of “drinking buddies”. A new social circle. It’s embarrassing. Parents are equally to blame. Why do the same parents befriend the new coach every year. Hmmm? And shut-up with the “volunteer” title. They wanted the job. They applied for the job. So do the job! Actually show-up for the job!

    • comment-avatar
      Paul 1 year

      Your wrong about non parent coachs. I am a non parent coach. I dare you to ask any player I have coached if my primary goal was to improve there hockey knowledge and skills. Ask any player I have coached and they’ll tell you I put my players above myself. So for you say non parent coachs are just looking for drinking buddies, that’s far from the truth. Yes I am friends with my players parents but that doesn’t mean I go out drinking with them.

      • comment-avatar
        Scott Carter 1 year

        Good for you Paul. There are a ton of non-parent coaches like youreelf who volunteer their time and do a fantastic job.

    • comment-avatar
      Jason 1 year

      I’m sure your rant is rooted in a negative experience you went through but to group all non parent coaches together like that is uninformed and ignorant on your part. There are many great parent and non parent coaches that are out there only in the best interest of the kids. Many of us teach not only hockey skills but also life lessons like respect, teamwork and community involvement. The team I have been involved with the past two seasons has not only been successful on the ice but has also partnered with Community Living Chatham Kent, Chatham Goodfellows and the Chatham Food Bank to learn the importance of giving back to the community we live in and helping others that are not as fortunate as we are. This is all possible with the support of a great parent group in the stands and in the community.

    • comment-avatar
      Greg 1 year

      Actually Bob, I volunteered because the age group that my sons plays in didn’t have enough coaches or trainers. This article is what is wrong with not just youth sports but also the culture we live in now. If you where so offended in what was being said SPEAK UP! I teach my children that if you want to change something don’t just complain about it find a solution and DO something about it. Of course their are terrible examples of sportsmanship in sports today. it is nothing compared to 30 years ago. We need to stop painting everyone with the same brush. if you do nothing to stop the problem but just writing an article about it you are also the problem. I’m sure that the young child that was having to listen to this would of learned a valuable lesson that what was going on around them wasn’t acceptable behavior.

      • comment-avatar
        Juan 1 year

        Speak up? And have some asshat and his buddies “tune you up for beak in’ off, eh” hockey is garbage and filled with sad pathetic losers living their lost youth thru their kids. It’s a sad sad place. Hockey itself has an ego problem. The moral superiority tossed around being “better” tha. Other sports and being better people because you put a suit on to go to a game. 

    • comment-avatar
      Jeff 1 year

      OMG – People volunteer usually because no one else steps up. Let me guess, you have never been a volunteer hockey coach !!! And God help those kids if you were.

    • comment-avatar
      Jamie 1 year

      Let’s not forget there are numerous volunteers who are a positive influence on our youth.  That put the time in to teach kids the game but more importantly transferable skills that will help them be successful in life – collaboration, work ethic, responsibility etc.  There are good and bad in all parts of life – let’s not paint everyone with the same brush.

  • comment-avatar
    MIKE 1 year

    Thank you for pointing this out. I am a local refferee and have notice that alot of chatham parents and coaches from house league to AA feel threatened need to scream at the refs. This is hurting hockey and making young kids not want to ref. This will kill hockey. Thanks for pointing out the parents.

    • comment-avatar
      Louise 1 year

      Been going on for 50 years. Took my son out of it then.

  • comment-avatar
    Mary Hoyles 1 year

    Thank you for stepping up…this is happening everywhere.. .😪😔

  • comment-avatar
    Kyle 1 year

    but come on they’re kids are all the next Wayne Gretzky so let’s all just let it slide shall we lol

    • comment-avatar
      Darlene 1 year

      I know your kidding but what’s truly interesting about that is that a kid with great talent but crazy parents or a poor attitude themselves, will never be WG. Pro coaches don’t want to deal with that nonsense and won’t get involved with it !!

  • comment-avatar
    Lucas 1 year

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. Parents are getting way out of control. The kids, if coaches right, don’t care about most of the issues parents are screaming about.  This is why we now need to take online courses prior to registering our children up for hockey. 
    Parents also need to recognize that these coaches, good or bad, are volunteering their time. It is a significant amount of time that all coaches contribute in coaching a team. Are they perfect, no, but if you’re one of those parents who know everything then quit your complaining and sign up to coach! 
    I love hockey, and I always will, but am ashamed of how things have evolved.

  • comment-avatar
    Kelly Farrugia 1 year

    Fantastic, compelling and brutally honest story. Thank-you for writing it. I hope that parents read it, stop and think about how they may have contributed, even by staying silent, to this culture. It does not have to be this way…..”if you accept the unacceptable, it becomes acceptable “. Hmmmm? 

  • comment-avatar
    Jan 1 year

    I my son played for Red Circle in London Ont.   I can honestly say I have never seen this behaviour with this organization.   Parents from opposing teams have been know to sit together and laugh and joke.   I can honestly say the only yelling I ever heard would be “skate Skate” or “ Shoot“. A cheer or an grown when a shot get in the net depending what side you were on.   So if you want great friends lots of laughs sign your kid up for house Leage and let your child have fun 

    • comment-avatar
      JH 1 year

      I agree Jan, my kids play for Red Circle also and we don’t have issues to this degree. This article sheds light on a sad issue that for sure needs to be addressed, perhaps parents should not be allowed in the games? Maybe if they are not present the kids can just play the game! We have so many incredible coaches who have encouraged, supported and taught the game of hockey to our kids. This includes, how to win and how to lose. Just a game folks. We love this game, our kids love this game! 

  • comment-avatar
    Barb Wass 1 year

    I agree totally with your comments and the way parents, coaches, spectators etc etc. react to this game, I am a grandmother to one of these players and I love to watch the kids play and many times have said please remember these are “kids”
    Let it be known the only argument I have with your article is that you centered out one team. I also spent the weekend at this tournament and unfortunately this behaviour was at every single game I attended not just the Kent Cobras Team. I do not condone in anyway what these parents or coaches were saying and how they were sending a very disturbing message to our youth. I hope everyone in the hockey community reads the article and takes the message to heart but not to blame the pee wee team.

    • comment-avatar
      Michael 1 year

      There’s no reason to blame the boys on this team. Nowhere in the article does he apply blame to the 11 year olds. It’s all in the so called “adults”. The damage they do with this attacking of players, coaches and refs has lasting damage on the psyche of the kids and either stands to deflate them or teach them their this behaviour is. It only ok but expected when they become adults. 

  • comment-avatar
    Sandi 1 year

    we have all yelled at a ref or umpire at some point in life, whether it be in person or on tv. The level of profanity and the fact that it was in public and ongoing for the entire game, and was directed at the 11 year old players, the refs and the coaches is beyond disgusting. Maybe all those people should be getting off their asses and high horses and get themselves on the ice as coaches and refs and get a taste of their own medicine. Parents/Adults today have gone so far beyond sportsmanship and for the love of the game it is pathetic

    • comment-avatar
      Juan 1 year

      No. No we haven’t all yelled at a ref in a game with 11 year olds. Speak for yourself. 

  • comment-avatar
    Glenn White 1 year

    I agree that the culture you observed is toxic and can definitely have a negative impact on the young players.  However, my comment is that this not just a “hockey” problem. This is a problem in many other sports and in society in general. In my opinion, it boils down to a lack of respect for one another and the parents that are spewing this garbage are the ones leading the way. We would be blind to think that they stop this type of behaviour when they leave the sports arena. Competition is healthy and teaches great lessons but it can’t come at the cost of belittling others, no matter what the age. 
    Compete to win but compete with respect/integrity in sports and in life. 

  • comment-avatar
    Nicole 1 year

    It is unfortunate, and it is not just hockey that this happens, is soccer, football, baseball and lacrosse.

    I have been fortunate to be involved in a sport (cheerleading) that is completely the opposite, full of encouragement and support. You really notice the difference it makes to the young athletes.

  • comment-avatar
    Tracy 1 year

    Unfortunately this is not just in chatham kent, it happens everywhere.

  • comment-avatar
    Josh Deschryver 1 year

    Great article! I hope every hockey parent reads it and thinks twice about what they say at the rink. Let the kids play and stay positive.

  • comment-avatar
    dave webster 1 year

    I worked for the municipality of chatham kent for 37 years the first 15 years at memorial arena and northside arena from 78 till 93 I flooded ice in arenas maintenance , sharpened skates ect. I seen a lot of this going on back then what was even worse was the abuse the referees took it was unreal.i used to have to call the police to get some fan removed from building at times for going off on a ref.i would go out to flood ice between periods and some guy waiting to have little johnnys skates sharpened would go off on me because I could not sharpen the kids skates because I had to flood the ice.i heard it all back then as well , their would even be fathers yelling at each other from opposing teams , it got to a point where I just called in the police if it got outta hand.

  • comment-avatar
    Brad 1 year

    Well said, this has been an ongoing problem for many years. Associations are losing good coaching and referees 
    because of parents. I implemented a parents code of conduct some years ago but don’t know if it still exists with the
    Chatham Outlaws travel teams and it worked because every parent had to sign it to play. I shared it with other associations 
    but they were afraid to adopt it. I would be glad to share it with anyone. 

  • comment-avatar
    ARNIE WARD 1 year

    Been referring hockey for over 40yrs, did a great deal of Silverstick and Junior. I never put up with players or coaches using fowl language . I have even had parents re4moved from the rink.

  • comment-avatar
    Hannah 1 year

    I honestly agree 100% with this article! I’ve worked in the Municipal Canteens (Snack Bars) for 8 years now and I hear this almost every weekend. What happened to cheering on our children? It’s all negativity and sour mouths. It’s only fun if they win. It’s not about the game anymore, or having fun. The shouting and screaming as quoted in this article, is true and it’s beyond immature. Whether it be about the coaches, the referees or the players themselves. It needs to end. It’s JUST a game. It may mean more to some, but we have lost focus on what this game is really about…

  • comment-avatar
    A concerned grandmother 1 year

    It’s gotten to the point where every team should be required to appoint a team official in the stands to monitor fan conduct and at the beginning of the season it should be discussed that this will be done and anyone who objects may just have to take their young progeny and find another sport to play.This official will not have to confront the offender one on one but the conduct will be noted and the hockey organization will have to deal with it.After all its their organization’s reputation that is at stake…. 

  • comment-avatar
    Chad 1 year

    I am assuming all the comments of support for the article are from people not attending the game because I am sure someone would have said something if they were there…  

    Half the problem is from people in the crowd not telling these zealots to sit and chill. 

    • comment-avatar
      Darlene 1 year

      Though I do agree with you, these loud, foul mouthed folks can be very intimidating to many. Confronting their behaviour often turns their vulgarity on you.   Not everyone has the thick skin to deal with that

  • comment-avatar
    Jamie 1 year

    Unbelievably sad but 100 percent true article. Even with all the fair play initiative seminars, harassment seminars, code of conduct for parents coaches seminars it hasn’t done a thing, gotten worse in the last 5 plus years that I’ve witnessed first hand on numerous occasions. I dont see it changing unfortunately, I’d be very surprised if it does. It is pathetic that Canada’s #1 sport is like this and kids have to witness and grow up with this language and behaviour from the parents and coaches, what does it prove to act like this? Really? grow up people enough is enough. Life is way too short to have all this negativity in the world for our people/kids. It is pretty sad when parents are blocking the doors where the referees are going off to the dressing room and confronting/threatening officials. damaging vehicles, needing police involvement. No wonder referee associations are losing officials at a dramatic pace, games are getting cancelled because of no refs, young kids starting out to try to ref leave because of the abuse. Parents won’t be allowed in the arenas soon if it doesnt stop, wouldn’t that be pathetic if it had to come to that??
    Oh and another thing also pretty said when I see parents (dads) in the parking lots tailgating sucking back beers before/during their child’s hockey game and then driving their kids home, now there are some real winners. Like seriously????

  • comment-avatar
    Nicole Journeau 1 year

    My kids team played these bullies too… it was hard to listen to. Thanks for writing this article. I thought to myself… don’t we all take respect in sport before our kids are allowed to play? That’s the reason WHY!! And that’s with their team up 4 or 5 goals 🤦‍♀️ I’d hate to have heard how they handled it if their team lost… maybe the league should make their team forfeit when the parents start bullying kids… hit them where it hurts and maybe they’d change their tune a little. Cheering your team is one thing…

  • comment-avatar
    Deby 1 year

    I spent many years as a hockey mom and this article is so dead on. This verbal abuse has been going on for years in every arena across Canada. I am so glad someone had the guts to bring it forward in a very public way. Well Done..Thank you

  • comment-avatar
    Granny 1 year

    Yes, this has been the case for years and not only in hockey. Grownups can be so embarrassing at times.  Kids should be taught to play because they love the game. People that make these uncalled and negative remarks should be asked to leave if they can’t be reasonable.  There are ways to cheer without getting mad. Coaches should be screened as well, I have seen some real bad coaches. Good thing my kid wasn’t on their team or I would have really raised hell. Kids need to be treated much better than they are.  I have noticed this more in Chatham Kent than other places.

  • comment-avatar
    Colleen Wilson 1 year

    First thanks for writing this article.  When I read it all I feel is sadness.  Too the parents that acted like this makes it okay for their sons and daughters to act like this when they are not even playing sports.  We wonder why we hear so much about bullies at school.  It’s the parents fault.  Parents should not be allowed at any sport where they shout profanities at other children, coaches or referees.  These children and I say children learn the behaviour from their parents.  Let children enjoy the game of sport.  Teach them good sportsmanship. Winning is not what’s it’s about.  It’s learning to play as a team.  Developing new skills and testing what’s out there that THEY enjoy to do.  It’s happening all over and then we wonder why children are beat up or murdered in school parking lots. This behaviour should not be tolerated at any sport for the sake of our next generation.  It’s supposed to be FUN.  

  • comment-avatar
    Ryan Reischel 1 year

    I have been involved in hockey for 40 years and you are spot on. The level of swearing and the hate that gets spewed from a hockey bench is horrible. It is a cyclical problem and one that needs to be addressed within all levels of hockey. Thank you for writing about this!!!!!

  • comment-avatar
    Scott Carter 1 year

    It really is a shame that people act like this at children’s games or any other game for that matter.

    Did anyone call out the parents who were behaving like this?

    All or most associations have code of conducts in place. Did anyone report the abuse or do they just write about it and hope the people read it. 

  • comment-avatar
    Tammy 1 year

    Are you kidding me????? Yes sometimes there are comments that are made and should not be. However….have you listened to the words of certain genre songs played on the radio, listened to the words splattered throughout the movies and tv shows and video games that kids watch all the time. Not to mention people like you that form a one sided opinion. My kids played hockey and soccer. They still to this day have the best friendships and respect with some of those kids that they played with as well as those kids parents and their coaches. My kids spent a huge amount of time in arenas and going to tournaments. They have wonderful memories and structure and values that were in part from their hockey experiences. We still gather as a family (4 generations together) every single week to go watch our home team play. A lot of times we go out of town to watch our teams play as well. I thank the game of hockey, the friendships built between the kids, the other parents, the coaches, the sponsors over the years for tournaments and so many more involved. My kids were kept off the streets, out of trouble and had a huge hockey support system around them.

    • comment-avatar
      Jason 1 year

      Well said, and also there should be more intensity and strengthened coaching lessons and tactics in rep hockey in my opinion. 

    • comment-avatar
      Juan 1 year

      Pollyanna…. head in the sand ears comfortably plugged and spewing propaganda. 

  • comment-avatar
    William 1 year

    The best rink around for hockey is in Tecumseh. There is no seating in the ice pad so it’s just the teams and officials. So quite with just the sounds of steel on ice and sticks smacking rubber. The parents can watch from the second floor thru windows in the bar/food area. I loved it and for sure the same can be said for the on ice game officials. 

  • comment-avatar
    Rebecca 1 year

    My son plays hockey and football here in Chatham-Kent. In football the coaches focus just as much energy on team building and respect as on the skills themselves. Football has taught him how to be a better person as well as an athlete. Unfortunately, hockey has not taught him the same skills. The disrespect that is allowed from players, coaches and parents is astonishing. Hockey is meant to be played as a team, but in this cut throat society we have created, is turning into an individual sport. It is very sad to see especially when I know how amazing a team sport can be.