All the news in sports lately is from a “few” of the Women’s National Soccer team behaving badly and parents committing fraud trying to get their undeserving child into an Ivy or Pac 10 school. Add in America’s vaping epidemic, failing test scores, ill-behaved children, gangs, and the list goes on & on. I go back to the parents who tried to gain access for their children into big-name US Universities with bribes. How harmful is that? I read a great letter in Macleans Magazine where a reader stated: “There is a big difference between loving your children enough to create opportunities for them and sacrificing your integrity and their self-worth to attain undeserved rewards. One comes from a deep well of love and the other from a deep emptiness and a complete misunderstanding of what life is about”. It is the rare young person who generates excellence on his own; more often it has to be coaxed — sometimes with difficulty — out of him or her.
The news here is of boys & girls behaving well – Hockey Players!
What makes the difference between the hockey players and a few of the aforementioned above? Many things, to be sure, but one that leaps out is the expectation of excellence. The players on ice have lived their youth & adolescence with great demands upon them to excel — and not only on skates. In the media after St. Louis’s Stanley Cup victory over Boston, I admiringly watched players from both teams conduct themselves graciously — obediently going here and there for interviews and answering questions politely. They were what hockey players are supposed to be — gentlemen. Not a day goes by now where you do not see a St. Louis player with the Cup at a hospital, youth hockey program or raising dollars for charitable funds. All of which provides a striking contrast to the recently played Women’s World Cup. It bears remembering that those players on the ice are about the same age as the Women’s Soccer team that otherwise occupy our television screens.
Sports are a rare youth environment where excellence can still be demanded. Hard work, sacrifice and obedience are expected, and the consequences of contrary behavior are real. It may be that a coach is one of the few people who can still force a boy to wear a tie or cut his hair. Elite teams/clubs/associations are not the end all, but they remain places of structure, order and yes, even virtue. Which is exactly what a young man or woman needs. The majority of hockey players that I have ever met are polite, humble and respectful of one another. Maybe it’s the rides to and from practice, games, & tournaments which can be quite long… but they do give parents and their children quality time to actually communicate (and not on their phones)! Add in family road trips, hotel stays, meals, shinny hockey, pools, study hall, video and simply being with your friends. The sport is 100% a family commitment that instills the values that our society holds dearest; that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. The St. Louis Blues proved that over and over from January on in 2019.
The experience of the angry young men of the streets is the opposite. No demands have been made upon them. Hardship has become an invitation to mayhem — and one can readily see why young men go aloof. Excellence is a thought beyond them. And so, excellence is not produced, but mayhem is. The truth is that a lot of young men and women most need the character development that rigorous discipline produces — whether that discipline is found in sports or elsewhere. These are young adults who could possibly overcome very difficult backgrounds if and only if, by chance, somewhere along the line, someone thought they could do better and demanded that they do so. And, even the more numerous pampered children of the indulgent class, should be reminded that the demands of excellence are not a threat to their self-esteem but to try and make them better adults and parents someday. Most hockey parents get that. Not all, but, most.
Every few months I see a number of articles about the new phenomenon of “advisors and life coaches” — alleged experts who make presentations about how you can make your life better. Perhaps. But life is often improved by simply being better, and not settling for less. Shake hands, follow the rules of the game, be a good teammate, be polite to on ice officials, deflect praise, be respectful, be humble, work hard and be grateful to your parents. And for those lessons, a regular coach — with a whistle and a dry erase board — may be just fine.