A minor hockey story out of Quebec is surfacing that may have an entire nation of parents and players questioning the methods of our coaches. Or worse, it may have parents and coaches questioning the toughness of our players. As a player, a coach, and a hockey parent, I know this made me take a second to evaluate why I stay involved and why I want my kids to play.
In a La Presse October 4 article by Gabriel Beland it was revealed that Pee Wee AAA coach Louis Isabella took a shocking approach to disciplining his team after a Sept. 18 loss (read the original story here ).
Following the game, the 11 and 12 year olds of the Lac St-Louis team were forced to do hundreds of push ups in full gear. Isabella also awarded player of the game honours to his back up goaltender, or in other words the only one who didn’t appear in the game.
Ken Campbell of the Hockey News does an excellent job(much better than I could) of reporting the basic information that’s slowly trickled out. I encourage you to read his article as well (http://www.thehockeynews.com/news/article/kids-coach-suspended-for-forcing-pushups-after-defeat ).
I was definitely upset when I read it, but without knowing more it was difficult to fully understand why, and fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation. The coach was indeed suspended, and that’s caused quite a stir. Almost all of the discussions appearing on social media were focused on whether or not kids were too soft. Whether or not coaches have the authority anymore to discipline players. Whether or not parents are too protective and refuse to let players endure consequences. Whether or not parents are too involved and opinionated when it comes to how their children are being coached. But without knowing the whole story I wasn’t able to really settle on what the real issue was and how to deal with it.
That’s when I had the great fortune to exclusively speak to a source close to the situation who wished to remain anonymous but was able to provide more specifics. The new details are for me, if you’ll excuse the pun, a game changer.
For one thing, the articles above simply state Isabella punished the players after a 7-2 loss. You could see how a coach may lose his cool in frustration after a blow out. It might not change how you feel about making kids do push ups, but it affects how you try to sympathize with the reasoning. It turns out it wasn’t so simple.
My source explained that in fact the score was a reasonable 4-2 at one point with plenty of time left. It was only a two goal game when the veteran coach made a deliberate decision. He benched his entire defense and played the remainder of the game with only his 9 forwards. If true, this is not an overreaction to a 7-2 scoreline that got away from him. In some strange way it made me try to consider this as proof the coach does care more for the development of the players and creating character than winning or losing. But then I quickly reminded myself this was a Pee Wee game.
It also makes the choice to force the entire team to do push ups hard to accept. Intentionally over exerting 9 kids on the ice and then making them do even more exercise in full gear immediately afterwards can in no way be considered a reflection of the toughness of the players, especially when apparently they weren’t the “problem” to begin with or they probably would have been benched during the game as well.
As for the choice of punishment itself, it seems to come down to whether you agree or not with making them do push ups at all, regardless of number. Even the spokesperson from Hockey Quebec said the number isn’t important. However, reports from the Campbell article mention 100 – 300 push ups, and as many as 500. It leaves you asking was this an exaggeration as the story got passed on? Maybe he just said “start doing push ups” and then he lost track of time or something. Maybe some kids who were fresh did more because they could go faster and had hit into the 100’s by the time some of the more fatigued players got to 50. To me the number does matter. I was told the players were asked to do 350 push ups.
350 is a very specific number. You could see 25 or maybe 50. Even if it was 100, you could probably still argue he was only trying to push them to what he thought was a reasonable limit. But 350 is simply unobtainable for most adults, and certainly for most 11-12 year olds, especially ones who’ve just played in competition. If 350 is true, it means he wanted them to fail. Again. He wanted to embarrass and ridicule them.
My source suggested it definitely worked and that some players were crying as they left the locker room with their shirts and ties hastily thrown over sweaty under armour the kids had worn under their gear during the game.
As mentioned, Louis Isabella was suspended by the Lac St-Louis Lions organization, and the Ken Campbell article says none of the parents of these players stepped forward to register a complaint. As a further update, I’ve been told the minor hockey association happens to be holding a meeting this Thursday October 13 which several if not all of the parents are expected to attend.
Hopefully at that meeting both sides are provided the opportunity to speak the truth about what happened and why.