With the dawn of the school year, there's a renewed focus on the problems that boys have with school, including calls for boys to be taught separately from girls to give them an added chance for success. According to the Quebec Ministry of Education, the drop-out rate for boys in that province is 22.6 percent, and boys' difficulty in a school setting is directly linked to literacy and a lack of interest in reading.
New Brunswick hockey coach Shane Doiron has taken an interesting approach to the problem. He assigns reading homework to his hockey team, the Shediac Capitals, and they can't hit the ice unless the hit the books. An avid hockey player growing up, Doiron, like many boys, ignored the books in favour of pursing a hockey career. But when it became clear he wasn't the next Wayne Gretzky, he enrolled in university. That's where his lack of reading skills caught up with him. "As soon as I went to my first class I knew I was in trouble," he told Quebec AM host Susan Campbell. "I saw the book we had to read for a biology class and I thought it was for the entire four years. When I learned it was for the first term, I ran for the hills."
Doiron dedicated himself to becoming a better reader, and he also decided to encourage his own kids and the kids he coaches to read, so they could avoid the same fate. He has built up a small collection of books for his team, which is made up of 9 and 10 year olds, that focus on sports, friendship and hockey — subjects he felt the players would be interested in.
The program has two other objectives beyond encouraging reading for the love of it. Since the team draws its players from several schools, Dioron uses the book club component as both a team-building exercise and as a competitive element. He sets up mini-challenges during practice and "whoever wins on the ice gets first pick of the books."
The club also helps improve players' skills on the ice. Reading, like hockey, requires concentration and builds confidence. This turns his avid readers into better hockey players. "I built confidence every time I finished a book," Dioron said. "I thought this was another way of building confidence in their careers and in their lives and in sports."
Dioron said his players got on board with the program as soon as they understood that hitting the books directly benefitted their hockey game. Dioron is pleased at how far his team has come, but he's most proud of how he's preparing them for a post-hockey future.
"There is a positive in reading for everything you do in life."
Should more coaches and team sports have reading programs like Dioron's? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below.