'Coaches that routinely sit players should be ashamed': readers react

A response to a hockey mom's question about how she should handle her son's lack of ice-time during the playoffs has sparked a fiery debate, and Our Game expert Cal Botterill has responded.

A response to a hockey mom's question about how she should handle her son's lack of ice-time during the playoffs has sparked a fiery debate.

Fiery might even be an understatement. 

University of Manitoba sports psychologist Cal Botterill answered the question as part of Our Game's Ask the Experts forum, where he brought up the importance of the 'support player' on the team. It's the player who's ready for action, though he or she might not see it.

You read this, and you reacted. Not only through direct comments on the story, but also personal emails that came in minutes after the story was published. 

"I cannot agree with Cal's response, especially in minor hockey…At this age, the so-called 'weaker' players have the greatest opportunity to improve, and might just become a top-line player over the course of the season." Mike Upward

"…Winning has much more value when your whole team is involved, and not the result of winning at the expense of some of the lesser skilled players.  To me, that is a hollow victory and really does not speak to team play." Garry Fischl

'These are not support players'

Tony Cutruzzola nearly wrote a book on the subject:

"In response to your expert Cal Botterill's answer to the question, I say Poppy-Cock! Cal, I really believe that you and the coaches that routinely sit players for games and even seasons at a time should be ashamed of yourselves.  These kids should not have to learn how to be second best…These are not support players they are bright young kids that deserve the right to play hockey, not watch hockey from the bench...

"Play the child at a level of hockey that he/she will get enough ice time to build self confidence and a bond with his/her peers that comes from respect as an equal not a 'support player'. Not many of the kids playing in Canada will make the NHL, so enjoy the ride."

Cal's response

Cal has responded, in particular to Tony's comment. Here's what he had to say:

"Tony has some good suggestions, and if they were accomplished, maybe the initial question wouldn't be relevant! As a student of growth and development, kids do need opportunity — and I am totally in favour of much smaller rosters for young teams. Whatever is driving the phenomenon of large rosters needs to be revisited, as Tony suggests.

"For sure 'continually' being a fringe or support player isn't going to do it. The birth date data in Malcolm Gladwell's new book The Outliers provides shocking data that kids "born later in the year" are much less likely to advance. I agree that better "development" experiences are needed for all kids - not just the elite.

"At the same time, returning to my original response: until the system improves, I think activist parents should be careful with their response at this time. The beginning of the year is the time to fight for what's right!

Value of the support player

"I have seen many kids extremely traumatized and embarrassed by their parents 'overdoing things' in the last couple of weeks of the season. If we think carefully about how a child might feel, sometimes supporting them to cope and grow in a constructive way is a lot less traumatic than embarrassing them and alienating them from friends on the team.

"Finally, I would suggest, don't belittle the value of learning to be a great support player. It is hugely valued in sport and life.

"Bill Wennington, who learned to play a role/skills on our national basketball team, parlayed the skills into a lucrative NBA career. Ed Olcyk, of the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers, was voted 'the most valuable teammate' on a Cup winning team as a role player. His career in the NHL was clearly extended by those skills. Jay Triano, current Toronto Raptors coach, was a 'support player' on the national team before going on to excel and become team captain."

Have a minor hockey question you want answered? Send it, along with your name and hometown, toKristina.Rutherford@cbc.ca.