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Ice Hockey’s True Struggle: Dealing with Conflict

In Leadership by Kelvin Cech

The original headline of this post was Hockey’s Struggle: Dealing with Hate.

Though as I started writing, I was reminded of something an old colleague of mine once said. “Hate is a strong word.”

That was all he said. I was left to decipher the meaning of his message on my own. And so, about ten years later, I realize it’s a word I’m uncomfortable associating with a game that’s given me everything I have.

So why am I writing about hate here, even while I mean to avoid the connotations of the word from here on in?

I suppose that’s up to you to figure out.

Online Conflict

If you’ve spent any time cruising around Twitter or Facebook at any point in the last few years, you’ve inevitably come across some form of conflict. Maybe I’m naive, but I can’t wrap my head around internet conflict. Why would anyone would attack another human being online?

It’s even worse when hockey enters the mix. Some of the most vile, unintelligent and baseless nonsense that’s hurled across the virtual ring comes from the fingertips of people defending their stance within the hockey world.

It’s shameful. But at least you can turn it off.

Inspire Connect Lead

Parent Conflict

Coaches can try to turn off parents, but it wouldn’t last very long before they restart. And that’s ok, so let’s stop trying. Parents spend time, money, and energy bringing their children to the rink, and they’re entitled to their opinion regarding how best to mentor their child.

That doesn’t mean it’s any less unpleasant when you have to argue your side of specific decisions. Anyone out there reading this have any stories of parent conflict? (That sound you hear is a thousand coaches raising their hands in the air.)

Organizational Conflict

In my time in Vancouver, I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the smartest hockey men and women in the industry. I’ve made decisions, right and wrong, but I’ve always felt they were my decisions and not those of an organization.

I haven’t always been so lucky. Organizations are usually built on parent volunteers who do so to benefit their child first, and the community second. It’s understandable, right? Of course it is, who among us wouldn’t advocate for their children first and foremost?

That’s why it’s so important that people put themselves in good positions whenever possible. Professional conflict between coaches and parents is one thing, conflict between friends is a whole different nest of bees.

Referee Conflict

A couple months ago I had a few choice words for a referee who dinged my team for an illegal substitution as I was pulling our goalie. I snapped. Lost it.

Thankfully I was coaching a team of 17 year-olds. Hollering at a referee when you’re coaching 10, 11, 12 year-olds and younger? Excuse me while I climb aboard this soapbox, but what message are we sending? That it’s ok to shriek like a maniac when something doesn’t go your way?

Again, I’m totally guilty of this, but writing it out makes it all ok, right guys? Guys?

Team Conflict

The most damaging type of internal conflict also presents the best learning opportunities: teammates and coaches.

If you’re coaching 20 players, 20 players will be dissatisfied with their ice time. It’s just the reality of team sports. It’s when we allow these situations to escalate too far that we run into problems. Teammates will argue and disagree with their coaches, so what can we possibly do?

Communicate. Confront the problem. Deal with it and move on.

I’m sure you’re heard the phrase focus on the positive enough times that the words have lost all meaning, but I know of no other way to effectively deal with conflict long term. And, truth be told, the hockey world contains so much more positive than negative. It’s just a little quieter.

Conflict is a reality of the game, it’s how we deal with conflict that counts. Dealing with conflict can make you stronger in the longrun and create even more positive energy. And without positive energy, even the positive energy that’s created as a result of conflict, all we’re left with is hate.

And hate is a strong word.

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About the Author
Kelvin Cech

Kelvin Cech


Former editor in chief of The Coaches Site, current head coach of the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. See All Posts By Kelvin


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