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NY Times Magazine Tries to Explain Parental Behavior Problem in Youth Ice Hockey

Dave Aiello wrote, "Jason Silver pointed out an article which appeared in last weekend's New York Times Magazine which attempts to explain the parental behavior problems which are currently plaguing youth ice hockey. This is an important article, because it provides some accurate statistics about the sport, which is probably the fastest growing organized amateur sport in the United States today."

"CTDATA is an active supporter of youth hockey. We have operated the Atlantic District Officiating Program Web Site since 1995. I, personally, have officiated ice hockey at the youth, high school, and college levels for over 20 years. It is on that basis that I state that Charles McGrath, the author of the New York Times Magazine story, has only told part of the story about spectator behavior problems in the sport."

Read on for some examples of what he left out....

Dave Aiello continued:

Charles McGrath fails to point the number of initiatives undertaken by USA Hockey, the organizing body of amateur hockey in the United States, and its constituent districts, leagues, and local associations, to address spectator behavior problems. Among them:

  • The Zero Tolerance Policy regarding verbal and physical abuse of officials and inappropriate spectator behavior. The best document available on USA Hockey's Web Site is this slide presentation in PDF format. It primarily illustrates the penalties and procedures that are to be used when conduct detrimental to a game takes place.

  • The Rediscovering Youth Sportsmanship Program designed by St. Barnabas' Health Care System and the Atlantic Youth Hockey League. Note that the AYHL was critical in the development of this curriculum, but the curriculum was designed for all youth sports.

At the high school level, the National Federation of High Schools deals with spectator behavior as a component of the larger sportsmanship issue. The NFHS has made this a priority since 1990, as their document The Case for Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity in High School Activities indicates. I would say that the National Federation has a better handle on the spectator behavior issues in the sports they govern than USA Hockey does, but that is primarily because there are more full-time, paid administrators involved (a.k.a. athletic directors and principals at high schools) who can be held accountable for the actions of their spectators, players, and coaches. USA Hockey is catching up, but their task is more difficult because it must make its case directly to the individual parents and relatives of its players.

Charles McGrath also points out that the incident which provoked his article-- the killing of Michael Costin by Charles Junta took place after a practice session for a summer youth hockey league. These leagues are typically instructional and not competitive, and they generally rely on the management of the rink where they are based for organization. Because this took place after a practice and not a game, many of the safeguards that are in place to limit spectator aggression did not apply in this case.

There is no question that there are serious spectator behavior issues in ice hockey at the youth and high school levels throughout the United States. But, it is unfair to suggest that those problems are not being addressed by USA Hockey, the National Federation of High Schools, and their constituent state and regional groups. The evidence presented that hockey is the worst sport in terms of spectator aggression is anecdotal, at best.

In my opinion, Charles McGrath makes a sincere effort to call the public's attention to the issue of spectator violence in youth ice hockey and youth sports in general. But, he did not put the problem in its proper perspective because he failed to point out that the organizing bodies are aware of the problem, that they have identified many of the root causes of aggressive spectator behavior, and they are working with local leagues and organizations to ensure that policies are in place to stop spectator misconduct before it gets out-of-hand.

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