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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Don't Blame the Parents

It’s that time of year again. Playoff time, state tournament time, championship time.

And, while those things definitely make for a fun and exciting time of year, they sometimes can play second fiddle to the other important activity that occurs at this time of year: team-building for next season. For teams that lose and fall out of the hunt for championship hardware, that suddenly becomes the most important task. Oddly enough, even some teams still in the running spend a substantial amount of time looking to make changes for next year.

That one always puzzles me somewhat. You work all year long to prepare as a team to have a chance to win a championship and then at what might be the most important and most fun time of the year you suddenly become pre-occupied with what will happen next.

I guess it is inevitable that people will start to look ahead. Especially those that have little or no playoff hockey remaining this year. But while I do agree that it is time to start putting some plans in place for next year’s team, the focus should still very much be on this year until the season is over. To me, the extent of planning for next year should be limited to setting the tryout dates for next year’s team. Anything beyond that is an unneeded distraction.

But many people take it further than that. For weeks now, there have been e-mails and phone calls flying back and forth between coaches and parents looking to negotiate spots for next season, a flurry of activity that might rival the final 48 hours leading up to the NHL trade deadline before the salary cap era began. Deals get made, positions are taken and current players on some teams are already cut, although they don’t know it yet, from next year’s team long before the first tryouts are advertised.

It’s not right. But it happens.

Against the rules
So who is to blame? The kids? Definitely not. They are typically not even involved. The parents. Possibly and probably. They definitely are catalysts in the equation. The coaches? Absolutely. They are the ones who have the ability to stop it before it starts.

According to Section XVI, #5 of the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association Rules and Regulations, “No coach, manager, or other team official, connected with a rostered team may directly or indirectly entice, influence or contact a player on a rostered team without the written approval of the coach and/or manager of that team. Violation of this rule will result in a recommended suspension of not less than one year.”

Additionally, according to the USA Hockey Coaching Ethics Code, “Coaches will not recruit a participant who is already a member of another USA Hockey team. Direct contact by a coach or his / her staff or indirect contact through an agent or parent during the playing season with a participant who is a member of another USA Hockey team is considered tampering and is prohibited.”

And the final piece of the puzzle from the MAHA Rules and Regulations, “A player’s obligation to his/her regular season team ends on April 30th of the current season, or when his/her regular season team becomes inactive prior to that date.”

What all of that really means is that coaches are not to talk to parents of players on other teams until the other team’s season is over. Coach your current team. You chose those players to be on it and it is your obligation to coach them all season long. Don’t worry so much about your next team.

When the season is over
The definition of what is the end of that team’s season is sometimes up for debate, although I have been advised that it means any scheduled activities that the team has up through the end of March or April if the team happens to be going to a national tournament.

So if a team has practices or games scheduled through the end of March, technically the players on that team are not to be tampered with unless the coach of that team gives written permission or that team’s season is declared complete and the ice is allocated to the next season’s team activities. Before that occurs, players from an “active” team can attend tryouts for other teams but are supposed to have written permission from the coach of their current team.

Good luck with that. While the intent of the rules make sense, it is virtually impossible to police.

Coaches abuse it. I am sure that there are many who don’t even know what the rule is, although they should. Oddly enough they would be the first to cry foul if they found out their best player was skating with another team.

Yet at this time of year players routinely skate with other teams under the guise of “skating with friends” or “a birthday party hockey practice skate”, whatever that might be. While some coaches will directly contact players they want on their team for next year, others will be a little more sly and have parents from their current team do the deed for them, which of course is not within the intent of the policy.

Here’s a plan
Let’s face it. Everybody loves to be wanted and wooed. What parent can’t help but feel good about themselves when their offspring is being asked to go and play for another team? Why would you turn in a coach who was recruiting your child to play on his team? Why would the majority of parents even know the rules? And in that rare case when a parent objects to the unwanted advances, the offending coach is never reported because of that perpetual parental angst of “not wanting to have their child black-listed”, which really means that the parent doesn’t want to be labeled as a squealer or trouble-maker and have it hurt the player’s opportunities.

At the end of the day, the parents and players are out to cut the best deal that they can for themselves. And why not? They have choices. They should. If they are happy with the situation with their current team and coach, they can choose to stay. If not, they can test the waters and enjoy or suffer the consequences. Ultimately, they live with their decisions.

Coaches, on the other hand, are the ones that have the opportunity to control or abuse this situation. It’s not on the parents. It’s on them. They are obligated to know the rules and they are obligated to follow the rules. They are also obligated to the players on their current team.

So coaches, here is a plan. Schedule your tryouts. Advertise them however you choose. Pick your team from the players that show up. Coach them all season long. If parents call, you tell them when your tryouts are and if there might be any openings on the team. If you feel the need to go out and recruit players, you might want to re-think why you are coaching in the first place. If parents on your current team are pressuring you to recruit players from other teams, you might want to educate them on the rules.

I get the “competition” thing and striving to make your team better. Every team should try to get better. But in my opinion that is the coaches’ role throughout the season. Do a good job coaching and if people like what they see and want to make a change, they can attend your tryouts. If you have to sell out and break rules to make your team better, maybe you are not really a coach.

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