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Tears, punches and yelling: welcome to hockey

Sports are everywhere. Professional athletes are some of the most grotesquely overpaid individuals in the modern world; children everywhere idolize these individuals. Parents are endlessly encouraged to push their children into athletic endeavors. According to common lore, there are little, if any, negatives of having young children in organized sports. But, how true is this?

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As much as physical activity is natural and crucial to a child’s development and health, the issue I have found with many sports is the same issue I find with spirituality: individually it is beautiful and necessary for our own mental and physical health, but when socially organized, it gets destroyed in the quest to dominate the individual’s existence. I say this because I spend the better part of my winter months photographing youth hockey tournaments, and though I love hockey (like any good Canadian should), and I will be the first to admit on-ice fights are highly entertaining… seeing a hockey-fight in the context of a youth tournament has made me question the health and sanity surrounding organized children’s sports.

This past weekend I saw no less than seven fights break out on the ice (these range from simply a shove to someone ending up on the ground crying); though the referees separate the kids during these skirmishes, for some reason the coaches do… nothing! I’ve even seen parents from two different teams yell at each other in front of their children regarding a call the referees had made. Since I represent my agency while I’m shooting (and therefore could not call everyone an imbecile), what I really wanted to do was bitch-slap every adult in the arena. Parents yell, coaches yell, children cry and/or taunt members of the opposing team: is this really what “healthy physical activity” should be all about?

As a child and teenager, I was enrolled in karate classes; why is that in such a sport as karate, we are taught that the most important rule of combat is respect of your opponent, whereas in nearly every other sport, the rule doesn’t seem to apply? Who is at fault: the coaches, the parents, or our culture that idolizes overt aggression? Maybe it is because I’ve never been good a team sports, but I’m guessing a large part of the fault lies in simply the nature of a “team” when it morphs into a mob and the mentality that goes with it. Teaching a child sportsmanlike conduct is so much easier one-on-one than when you’ve got seventeen hockey-stick-laden kids playing for the win each egging the others on.

I suppose it would be idealistic of me to hope for a generation of children who are impressed with others’ victory as much as they are of their own. A generation that is taught that losing with dignity has more merit than winning without it. A generation where professional athletes are paid no more than the kindergarten teachers who help teach children respect in the first place.

Yes, the ideal me likes this idea.

The real me, however, is looking forward to body-checking the next wise-ass-kid who takes a swing at a goalie.

Nathalie Couet
With a French-Polish mother and a Québecois father, Nathalie has always been fully aware and grateful of the fact that she is a citizen of the world. Born in the United States, Nathalie moved to the United Kingdom at six months, only to return to the U.S. at the age of three. After high school, Nathalie moved to Montréal, Québec to complete a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology/Archaeology/African Studies. Forever in love with writing, the outdoors, and photography, Nathalie spent several years as a freelance sports photographer and writer. A deep love of science brought her back to her roots, and she now works in communications for a software company. (She has long said that tech geeks are her spirit animal…and now she spends her days with them.) Suffering from self-diagnosed wanderlust since she was a little girl, Nathalie has been fortunate enough to visit most of the U.S. states, several Canadian provinces, and a dozen countries over three continents. As an adventure junky and an avid rock-climber, Nathalie now travels whenever and wherever she can, writing, climbing, and eating everything she can along the way.

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