Taming 'crazy hockey parents'

No matter the size of the minor hockey association, leagues across the country now ensure parental behaviour codes are part of their mandates, and well-known among hockey parents.

How minor hockey leagues handle over-exuberant fans

A garbage can came flying over the glass at Peter Duncan one time.

The veteran minor hockey referee admits he found it funny at first, "but then I was sort of shocked." He'd seen his fair share of over-exuberant hockey parents in the stands during his career in the stripes, but this incident took the cake.

"Here's this person, a sane person when they walk in the rink. They've got a child on the team, they have a normal work life, of whatever, and then they decide — whatever it is that prompts them — they get so mad at a recreational game, that they just go nuts and throw a garbage pail on the ice," says Duncan, a referee with the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL).

"It's unbelievable, really."

Duncan kicked the parent out of the rink without a second thought.

It wasn't the first time he booted a spectator for bad behaviour. One father, who had been running back and forth in the stands while swearing at the refs, refused to leave the arena when asked, so Duncan ran the clock on the game until he complied.

"He left eventually, because he didn't want to ruin the game for the kids," Duncan says.

The referee's right to run the clock is actually among an enormous set of regulations in the GTHL's rulebook. In the behaviour code — section 13 — under 'ejections,' it states: "The game official may delay any game until any ejection is complied with."

The behaviour code has seven subsections that get into everything from the use of profane language by fans to what behaviour merits banishment from the rink.

That may be expected from a league more than 50,000 players strong like the GTHL, but minor hockey leagues across the country — big and small — now ensure parental behaviour codes are part of their mandates.

"It's a priority for us," says Mark Dube, president of the Grand Falls Minor Hockey Association in New Brunswick. The league has 200 players.

"It's part of our constitution. We have the code of ethics for the players, the coaches, the volunteers, the referees and, of course, the parents. They're well aware of the expectations of behaviour. It's very important."

The Timmins Minor Hockey Association in Ontario has protocol in place that sees ill-behaved parents take a Speak Out course to learn ways to prevent bullying, harassment and abuse. It's a Hockey Canada program that many minor hockey associations use.

Timmins hockey association president Tracy Hautenen says only in a few cases have they had to go further than the course and ban a parent from the rink for more than a single game.

"We try to keep it all very quiet, for the sake of the player and the parent," she says.

Mike Mulryan teaches the Speak Out course for the Timmins association. The general manager of a AAA bantam team and coach mentor for the Northern Ontario Hockey Association, Mulryan has been around the game for more than 25 years. In that time, he's seen his share of bad parent behaviour.

Education and prevention is key, he says.

"We try and be proactive at the beginning of the season, informing the parents that a lot of times behaviour that's intolerable outside the arena suddenly becomes commonplace inside the arena," says Mulryan. "It just seems every year there's more of a negative faction with some of the parents than the years previous, so being proactive is important."

In Timmins, parents are required to sign a "recognition and prevention of abuse" policy before the season begins.

Of course, that doesn't always work. Mulryan recalls one parent who was ripping into his son's playing ability and was banned from the rink for a period of time to "cool off."

"We don't have much of a problem enforcing a ban on something like that, because most times common sense takes over," he says. "It's more a goodwill thing, where we have to say for everybody involved, they pretty much have to accept it."

Removing parents who don't comply, he says, has happened "pretty much every time without incident."

"We've been lucky, because certainly there's been other places in Canada where that's not the case," Mulryan says. "I think we're doing it as best as we can."

The initial responsibility to handle these over-active hockey parents usually falls on referees, like Duncan, but it's something the veteran in the stripes admits he's used to.

"Over the years, you just learn ways to handle these situations," Duncan says. "In my experience, I've thrown out a few parents. It's mainly due to them using abusive or profane language, getting carried away, being belligerent, causing a scene so that everybody in the whole rink knows what they're doing.

"It's never a fun thing to deal with, but usually we're able to handle it without a lot of trouble."