February 12, 2014 9:59 pm

Will an online course make hockey parents better behaved?

CALGARY – Hockey may be a source of Canadian pride. But in the stands, there’s sometimes little to be proud of.

That’s particularly true when it comes to minor hockey.

While it’s not a universal problem, hockey parents have developed a bit of a reputation for getting out of control at their children’s games.

Videos of badly behaving moms and dads are easily accessible on YouTube. That’s been fuelling calls for local leagues to do more to control unruly parents and set a better example for kids on the rink.

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Beginning next year, the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) will require at least one parent or guardian from each family to take an online “Respect in Sport” course.

READ MORE: Ontario Minor Hockey Association wants parents to enrol in ‘respect’ program

“We understand most of the parents, an overwhelming majority, are great, ” said Ian Taylor, OMHA’s director of development programs. “They’re supportive. They’re supporting their associations [and] their leagues.”

But he said there’s “an element where we can have better behaviour in some situations.”

“Ultimately, we just want kids to have a great place to enjoy the game of hockey and sports in general,” he said.

The Respect in Sport program was first adopted by Hockey Calgary nearly three years ago and since that time the number of parent disciplinary hearings has dropped 10 to 15 per cent.

Hockey Calgary president Kevin Kobelka said the organization is happy with that decrease, but would like to see it go further.

“I would love to not have to go in [to a hearing] or the game and conduct committee would like to not have a meeting with parents on a weekly or monthly basis,” he said. “But it’s moving in the right direction.”

Former NHL-er Sheldon Kennedy helped introduce the program in Calgary.

He said it’s not just about teaching a lesson to parents who are acting up, but about giving everyone involved the tools to create a respectful environment in the arena.

“Our whole goal was to create a platform for conversation and standards among organizations, to create clarity,” Kennedy said.

READ MORE: Respect program aimed at hockey parents pays off

It took some convincing to get Calgary’s hockey parents – there are 14,500 with Hockey Calgary – to agree to the program. Respect in Sport was actually developed in 2008, but it took two years to get it into place.

The Respect Group’s website indicates more than 250,000 parents, coaches and activity leaders have been certified in the program.

The program addresses issues such as misplaced enthusiasm, using guilt on your child and “establishing positive relationships with referees, coaches, teammates, opponents and other parents,” among other topics in the online training program.

For organizations that adopt the program, it becomes a mandatory step for families signing up children for team sports. If they refuse to take part, their child won’t be allowed to play.

Not all organizations are jumping on board.

One of those is the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

“You’re really going after two or three per cent [of parents],” said the league’s president, John Gardiner. “My question is, can you ever change them?”

“Maybe you can change them, but that’s an awful lot of people to maybe inconvenience.”

Some parents, however, think it’s a good idea – just not good enough.

“There needs to be some bar set and parents need to know what it is,” said Toronto hockey parent Cameron Gracie.

He said more needs to be done to address the issue of disruptive parents, above and beyond having everyone take an online course.

“If that’s all they’re going to do and not deal with those persons who are causing the real trouble, then I think you’re missing the mark,” Gracie said. 

© Shaw Media, 2014

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