Monday, January 25, 2021

Season’s skate through youth hockey hell

Micah Cohen

.    I know how valuable youth hockey can be because I went to Andy Stein’s funeral. The Steins live across the street from us. Andy coached hockey.
     He died in 2016 of brain cancer, and there were hundreds of mourners at his funeral. The Glenbrook North hockey team came in uniform. I listened to his twin sons, Ben and Jared, eulogize him and thought, grimly, “I’ve wasted my entire life by not coaching hockey ...”
     So thank you Rich Cohen, whose new book “Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent” body checks that sort of thinking, hard. It’s a Dantean journey through all nine rings of frozen youth hockey hell.
     If it seems an odd choice of reading material for me, remember Cohen is author of a string of captivating books from “Tough Jews” to “The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse.” I’ve read nine and read this book because reading Rich Cohen’s books is what a person who likes reading books does, whatever the subject. It’s almost a duty.
     Spoiler alert: Nobody comes out well. Coaches, parents, kids with the signal exception of his own son, Micah, and his teammates. But most of all, himself.
     Cohen, who played hockey during his golden North Shore youth, is every angry, stymied hockey parent who ever pounded the glass, albeit with a self-analytic gear most lack. An adult who cares far, far, far more about any given hockey situation than his kid, who just shrugs and plays, as kids tend to do.

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5 comments:

  1. Everybody wants to win but I learned right away when I started coaching little league and other sports that there are only two things anyone can control... their effort and their preparation. Everything else is out of one’s control. Ability of other players, bad calls, bad bounces, etc. Can’t do anything about it.
    I now coach high school tennis and I do what I can to help players improve but most importantly, teach that life isn’t always fair but giving your best effort gives you the best chances to succeed. Not always easy when some parents subscribe to Al Davis’ “Just win baby!”

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  2. Long time reader,first time poster, EGD is a must read everyday. As a 20 year youth hockey and baseball coach I am looking forward to reading this book. I have coached at all levels and everytime I think I have seen or heard it all from parents and other coaches something happens that makes me shake my head in disbelief. If parents would put as much effort into their kids schooling as they do into screaming from the stands,(at refs, coaches and players),our kids would be better off. Fortunately I am in a position to pick my players and therefore the parents I want to deal with it. Every year I have parents who want me to coach their kids, but I don`t and they wonder why.. Hard to teach kids sportsmanship and respect for others when Mom and Dad are screaming like idiots during games and telling mostly volunteer coaches what they should be coaching. I could go on, but my final point is if you want to screw up any youth activity, then involve parents.

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  3. Mr. Steinberg, I want you to know that I am an avid fan and thank you for your January 25,2021 "..hockey hell" column. My physical therapist and long time friend is a youth hockey coach and I will be passing your piece on to him.
    The last two paragraphs quoting Ben Stein is the best way to describe how my friend views his job and his responsibility to the children entrusted to him. He has the respect of his players and parents, to me that speaks volumes.
    Keep writing and I will keep reading, every god damn day.

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  4. Ah, that’s why they always had outside “evaluators” at kids soccer tryouts. They fooled me and I admit that was a smart move.

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  5. My wife comes from a Cleveland hockey family. Three generations of players and coaches. Her brother played, his sons played and coached, and now their kids are playing. Her nephews have told some stories about parents that would curl your hair, or straighten it. Threats, fistfights, and lifetime bans from practice facilities and games.

    At least nobody's dad has killed the coach, as happened in Massachusetts some years back. Northeast Ohio has been lucky in that respect. So far, anyway.

    This is a big youth hockey town, though not as huge as elsewhere. Too mild for all-winter-long outdoor ice. Everything is indoors. We briefly had an NHL team in the Seventies. They moved to Minnesota. Never understood why. But I wasn't here then. I guess people were afraid to come into the city to watch them play.

    Rich Cohen is a top-notch writer. Loved his book about the Cubs. Now I'm looking for his book about the Jewish gangsters of 1930s Brooklyn, notably those involved in Murder, Inc. They even employed an Orthodox hit man, who wouldn't kill on Saturdays. True story. The book is called "Tough Jews." What a great title.

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