Canadian Hockey is a rich national pastime that continues to be popular and unite the nation.  Major issues, such as the firing of hockey icon Don Cherry for his verbal remarks and the resignation of Bill Peters as Calgary Flames head coach in the wake of allegations of racism, take away from the many positive aspects of the sport. However, without focusing on the ‘big news’ events that have impacted the sport negatively, there are also ‘day to day’ events can take away from the sport.    Verbal and even emotional abuse by parents in the stands are just a few examples of the current ‘parent culture’ for the sport.

Hockey Calgary is taking action in their league to not let their parent culture just happen. For the 2020 season, Hockey Calgary’s Safety Committee partnered with us at What Not To Yell Inc. to pilot a program that would analyze and improve parent culture in 3 divisions in the Atom Age Group.

In the initial phase of the program  we took a base line measure of the existing culture based on observed behaviours.    For the most part, the respondents (39%) indicated that there was a good culture in Hockey Calgary with support for effort of players, and a high level of appreciation for coaches (although some coaches commented otherwise).  There was low tolerance and very little evidence of officials being abused, which is great, especially in the age group of 9 and 10 year old players. The worst behaviours observed where:

  • Yelling at players (53%)
  • Coaching from the stands (39%)
  • Yelling at officials (37%)

What  we found interesting, was when we asked which of the worst behaviours listed were considered acceptable, 70% chose not to answer the question. For those that did answer, approximately 30% thought the these behaviours were acceptable.  A deeper dive into the “culture norms” of potential unacceptable behaviours is worth investigating. Is someone yelling from the stands “Keep your head up” considered yelling or concern for safety?  Only the “yeller” knows the true answer to that one!

We then asked, “what behaviours do you want to see more or less of?”.  The results where captured with a Stop, Start and Continue format:

  • Stop – yelling at the officials
  • Start – appreciating officials’ efforts (realizing they are young officials who are learning)
  • Continue – supporting player efforts and appreciations of coaches.

The Safety Committee rallied together with the What Not To Yell Team, to create a “desired future culture” vision for the organization.  “Positive cheering, a positive vibe, balanced with healthy competition” described the Safety Committee. “Living our values of Safe, Fun and Supportive.”  The hashtag #ApplauseForALL was created with a logo to help create a visual reminder and reinforce the message.

The pilot program is soon to wrap up with more insights and information to follow. But the real results will be realized next season  when Hockey Calgary is better able to communicate and monitor its new parent culture from the beginning of the season to the end.  In the meantime, #ApplauseForALL!

Melanie Wanless , Chief Executive Yeller