It’s one of hockey’s darkest secrets.
If you have played the game you have either witnessed it, participated in it or was a victim of it.
Unfortunately, initiation and hazing rituals have become part of the game, part of the unwritten code. A code, which is followed, upheld, promoted and modeled all behind closed doors.
When the horrendous stories are finally leaked or revealed, the hockey world cringes, questions are raised, discussions take place, but everything returns to normal within a short time.
Some may say the hockey world has become desensitized to the issue due in large part to the barbaric and archaic nature of the games unwritten code, which has its foundation in conformity and silence.
Dressing room culture hasn’t changed; if anything it’s become more provocative, invasive and downright disturbing.
Hazing practices continue to be a major issue that some team official’s tackle while others ignore.
How can a game that prides itself on the premise of team, continue to promote, allow and cover up a practice which physically, emotionally and in some cases sexually abuses its participates?
How can the hockey world finally confront the issue or will it be forever part of the undercurrent of the game?
All Fun and Games
Some players believe it’s all in fun; others avoid the dressing room like the plague, while coaches understand it might be just a rite of passage. Either way hazing and initiation practices are still part of the game, so who’s to blame?
For many years initiation and hazing practices were classified under the moniker of fun and games or boys being boys, or in many cases part of coming together as a team or team building.
It was all just fun and games.
We know better now.
To quote Sheldon Kennedy, “To know better is to do better.”
Something Has to Change
Is there a difference between initiation and hazing? Talk to the victims they can tell you the difference.
Having a rookie carry extra hockey bags, clean the room or pick up pucks or unload the bus considered hazing or harmless initiation practices?
Is that where the unacceptable and unthinkable behaviour all starts?
When does initiation turn into hazing or are they exactly the same?
Picking up pucks and carrying equipment is one thing, forcing teammates to fight each other with helmets and gloves or being forced to strap objects to your genitalia or disturbing things occurring with broom sticks and condoms is another.
When will all these despicable behaviours end?
Something Just Has To Change. How can the game of hockey clean up its reputation?
For some youth hockey teams dressing room culture is a non-issue, while others have to address it almost weekly.
Why does it start? When does it start? When does the coach step in? Why doesn’t the coach step in?
When do the players hold their teammates accountable and report the abuse?
When do minor hockey associations get involved?
Make It All Go Away
So who’s job is it to make this behaviour all go away?
Minor Hockey Associations are reluctant to step in because they are in dyer need of coaches and don’t want to ruffle the feathers. Obviously, players can’t say anything because of the code.
Coaches need to be proactive and build the very essence of dressing room culture into their coaching ideology and philosophies.
Parents need to understand that their potentially self-perceived rock star golden child might very well be responsible for causing havoc in the dressing room.
In my opinion, the entire hockey world needs to be more accountable for the actions behind closed doors.
From an association standpoint, boards have to be sure to listen to any concerns about the issues of hazing and hold players and coaches accountable for their actions.
It’s clear they have to have the right coaches in place.
They can’t continue to rely strictly on parent coaches to run the show. On the other hand why are there so many parent coaches out there?
That’s a topic for a completely different article, but it’s clear there would be more volunteer coaches in the world if they didn’t have to deal with all “the other shit” that comes along with coaching the game in this era.
Nevertheless, strict policies should be in place and upheld by associations with no exceptions to the rule when considering this type of behaviour.
From a coaching perspective, coaches need to “police” the room accordingly to ensure appropriate behaviour from every player, and if they have a son or daughter on the team they also have to be held accountable, which isn’t always the case.
These days when you walk into a rink there seems like every organization has four or five coaches or team personnel on it’s roster standing outside rather than having one or two people overseeing and supervising the room.
Coaches at all levels must set firm guidelines to ensure the players feel safe, empowered and part of the process to guard against hazing.
From a player perspective, every person in that room has a role to protect each other from bullying and harassment, but in 2019 that just isn’t the case.
It would appear that bullying has been firmly planted in Novice and Atom hockey, which is truly disappointing because coaches should be ever present in the room.
I don’t have all the answers, and I haven’t coached in a few years, but I still hear the horrible stories from parents.
They’re pissed, and they have every right to be.
Bullying in dressing rooms and overall team culture clearly isn’t being addressed in some cases in the game today.
Some coaches give it lip service by addressing the issue once at the start of the season, but it seems winning trumps everything and from what I’m hearing these days particular players seem to be exempt or held in higher standard, almost untouchable.
Young players are quitting teams because of the lack of action, lack of team rules, discipline and dressing room culture.
It’s truly awful to think that kids are stepping away from the game they love, because they are being harassed, it just doesn’t seem right.
Sure there’s always two sides to the story, but from a coaching perspective, if you don’t have team discipline and player accountability you can’t go anywhere.
You can’t win and you certainly can’t develop players, an let’s face it that’s what minor hockey should be all about; development on and off the ice.
The players/kids know what they can get away with and if it’s not addressed early and often it will obviously become a real big problem.
As a parent, coach or even an association every behaviour you ignore is a behaviour you will have to correct.
It seems elite level hockey and hazing goes hand in hand. It’s all about the code. It’s all about conformity. When will it all end?
Whenever you have a hierarchy in place you will always have issues with abuse of power.
The veteran versus the rookie.
Everything that happens behind closed doors stay behind closed doors at elite level hockey.
Players truly have nowhere to go, no one to tell, it’s all just a big cover up.
Everyone has to conform, everyone has to be initiated or hazed, that’s just how it is, right?
In my mind teams and coaches that don’t do business that way are well ahead of the curve and will undoubtedly experience success quicker.
Teams with a winning culture embrace their prospects and respect their new arrivals.
Organizations that truly care about their players promote a culture of togetherness.
That’s how you build a winning culture!
That’s how you build trust in your room, not by following some barbaric code and keeping things silent.
Sure have some rookie funny like karaoke or carrying some extra bags for a week or two, but when the puck drops for Game 1 that all goes away.
Here’s an interesting story from junior hockey involving a former NHLer.
The former NHLer was a rookie and when it came time for the initiation and hazing to begin, the former NHLer stood up in front of the team and said.
“There’s no f$&?ing way you guys are doing those things to us.”
That was that.
The hazing never took place.
By all accounts the team did extremely well that season due in large part to the talent, but also the camaraderie. It didn’t hurt that the player they were trying to haze was a tough guy. Nevertheless, he stood up for himself and his fellow teammates and that act of bravery drastically changed the culture of that organization for next few seasons.
His act of courage sent a real clear message, that type of behaviour wasn’t tolerated, wasn’t accepted, it wasn’t how they conducted business.
It took only one player, one act of courage to change what happened behind closed doors, I only wish that would be the case today.
Something has to change with the game behind closed doors.