The number one reason why kids play sports is not to win – it’s because it is fun. It’s our job as leaders in minor hockey to create a safe, welcoming and positive experience for all participants, both kids and adults alike. The OMHA’s longstanding partnership with Respect Group aims to educate everyone involved in the game on the proper behaviours that are expected as well as promoting the life skills and positive benefits of minor hockey. They also support programming like the annual OMHA Essay Contest. Through the Activity Leader, Parent or Officials Program, Respect Group provides direct education to OMHA players, parents, on-ice officials and team staff.
Sheldon Kennedy won a Memorial Cup, World Junior Gold Medal and skated for three teams in his eight-year NHL career. He is best known for his courageous decision to charge his Major Junior Hockey league coach with sexual assault for the abuse he suffered over a five year period while a teenager under his care. Through this disclosure, and the important work that Sheldon continues to do, he has become an inspiration to millions around the world. He has been instrumental in bringing governments, public and private sector partners together to work collaboratively to influence policy change and improve the way child abuse is handled. He has influenced changes in Canadian law and has taken his message to the International Olympic Committee and the US Senate. Sheldon is also the Co-Founder of Respect Group, which provides empowering online abuse, bullying and harassment prevention education to sport organizations, schools and the workplace. Respect Group has currently certified over 2 million Canadians.
There are shifts in culture from generation to generation, and with that comes changes in what is considered acceptable. This applies to any setting, whether in the workplace, classroom or a minor hockey team and what appropriate behaviour looks like. What you grew up experiencing may not be the same as the kids of today.
Kennedy says it’s about stopping the cycle and developing healthy habits and tools on dealing with those behaviours as they arise.
“It’s being willing to be uncomfortable to learn a better way of how to do things today. We are going to be what we were taught, it’s what was engrained in me time and time again. Unless we dictate ourselves to be different, we will be what we were taught. To me, it’s a conscious decision to not be that.”
The intent of your actions matters, and it’s important to remember that it will take time to become the norm. We need to give people the comfort in knowing that they aren’t expected to get everything right the first time.
“Change takes time but it takes commitment. When I want to change doing something, I have to practice that change. The more I practice that change, the better I get, the more comfortable I feel. It’s about committing to that and not expecting everybody else to change with you. To me, I had to change myself and then walk the walk.”
Kennedy suggests teams and organizations create charters that promote communication, goals and accountability for players and coaches. It can be revisited and referenced throughout the season as areas of focus rise.
“It teaches us how to communicate. Now we don’t only just take the training and sit with it ourselves, but now we are learning to communicate. It teaches us that we can have guidelines around these issues as a team that we all agree upon, there’s a sense of accountability around that.”
Players can also get involved in creating the charter and to have their voice heard in what type of environment they want to create.
“It’s about being able to ask the questions and being able to listen. That’s how you build a culture. Does everybody feel that they have a voice?”
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