The meaningless trophy
We got a note from the team mom of the middle school hockey team asking if we were going to participate this year. It’s not a school-sponsored team, just a town team that comprises all the kids from my son’s grade.
Well, it’s supposed to be a town team anyway, but last year, there were kids from other towns who joined. At first I had no idea why, because we had plenty of kids to fill the bench.
Then, come to find out, it was because the coaches were “in it to win it.” They brought kids on board from their own sons’ elite hockey teams. Oh, because this isn’t an official school team – yeah, it’s still parent coaches.
My son experienced the unfortunate realization that kids who play elite hockey look down upon kids who play town hockey.
(Now my son wants to play elite hockey. Yet, I don’t really want to cough up more than twice as much money for tuition, pay who-knows-how-much extra for team logo gear, and then have to figure out the time and expense of travel – when we have three perfectly good hockey rinks right here in town! And last time I checked, you’re still going to make the high school hockey team even if you “only” play town hockey.)
I asked the team mom if there were going to be kids from other towns this year. She didn’t say anything either way about this year but commented that last year they “ended up taking a few more as larger number helps with schedule conflicts.”
Last year my son had been slotted into a position he had no experience with so the coaches’ sons and their elite friends could skate extra shifts. There were ineligible (because they hadn’t played enough games in season) kids in the playoffs. My son said he had no idea who some of the kids during the season were and that he had never seen one of them during playoffs before.
One of the coaches who notoriously swore non-stop during games got thrown out of the final playoff game. It seemed like many of the parents in the stands thought this was funny. I can only imagine what his son and the other kids thought. Were they embarrassed at all or did they think it’s okay and even cool to bellow obscenities at and undermine the referee to the point that the coach got ejected?
I cringed to remember all of this. The politics. The rule-breaking. The example the coaches set for the kids. The town kids sitting on the bench while the out-of-town elite kids played – both during the season and in the playoffs.
I could already guess what my son’s sentiments were about playing this year. When his team finished second in their division in the playoffs and were awarded trophies, he wanted nothing to do with his. He didn’t want to be in the team picture after the game and wouldn’t look at anyone’s camera. The trophy never crossed the threshold of his room and ended up discarded. It was meaningless to him. I never shared on social media or acknowledged others’ posts of the playoff games or team picture.
My son and I discussed it. We talked about the kid who wore his game jersey to school the next day after the playoffs. I said to my son, “Imagine wanting to fit in so badly that you’ll compromise your values to do so?”
“Or maybe he didn’t even realize he was compromising. Maybe because the other parents condoned it, he thought it was okay to win by cheating, to swear at and question the ref. Maybe he thought it was funny that the coach got kicked out of the game.”
Though he sounded blasé in his responses, I know the gears in his head were turning.
We decided together how to respond to the team mom: I did not reply-all like one guy did, saying cordially, “We’ll sit this one out.” I can only imagine what his reasons were. I do know for sure at least one other parent who feels the same way my son and I do about the team. He summed it up after last year’s season, saying that it “epitomizes everything that is wrong with youth sports.”
I replied to Team Mom’s email, “I talked about it with <son> and he’s going to pass. We found it discouraging last year that kids from other towns were played when <town> kids were benched, especially in the playoffs when there were ineligible out-of-town kids playing. We understand this is not your fault but it’s just wrong (and the trophy is meaningless). I hope you understand our position.”
She replied that she understood and said my son would be missed. I wished the team a good season and thanked her for all she did because I am sure it is not easy being a team mom.
Sometime before the season starts, I’ll review with my son a few replies he can offer in case he gets harassed for “quitting.” He’s not quitting hockey – he’s simply making a rational choice not to play for a team whose philosophy he doesn’t share. And he needs to be able to explain that in a neutral and matter-of-fact way, without apologizing or insulting anyone.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. ~Proverbs 10:9