Parenting

Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall on hockey safety for your kids

Laura speaks with hockey legend and mom Cassie Campbell-Pascall about parental involvement and kids' safety in the game of hockey.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet Safe & Fun Hockey.

With the NHL lockout and the ongoing debates about safety in sports, the game of hockey seems to be on the tips of everyone’s tongues lately. Yes, this is Canada. It’s one of those things we “do” — whether we are endlessly discussing our favourite NHL teams, reliving Sidney Crosby’s “Golden Goal” or worrying about the rise of concussions in our beloved game.

I understand not everyone shares the same passion about hockey, but there’s no denying that the game has a huge cultural impact on our nation. However, a lot of parents I know who have kids involved in hockey are debating whether or not they should pull them from the sport mainly because of the concussion fears making the rounds through hockey leagues at all levels. This, to me, is disheartening. As someone who loves hockey and played ringette throughout her childhood, I know how valuable the sport can be in terms of teaching teamwork, making lifelong friendships and having a sense of pride in taking part in a genuine piece of Canadiana.

Women’s hockey legend Cassie Campbell-Pascall knows a thing or two about our favourite national pastime. As a three-time Olympian and two-time gold medallist, Campbell-Pascall, 39, manages to balance her everyday life with her daughter while also appearing on Hockey Night in Canada and acting as an ambassador for the Chevrolet Safe and Fun Hockey Program with Bobby Orr. I spoke with her recently about kids’ safety, parental involvement and the importance of respect for other players.

You started the Chevrolet Safe and Fun Hockey Program with Bobby Orr back in 1999. Tell us how it came about.
It was an initiative that Bobby had put forward to Chevrolet. The initial idea was to talk to kids about what respect and responsibility is on the ice. We still do that today, but we’ve added other components — the main one being the role of parents in minor hockey and how we can help them make it a positive and safe environment for our kids. Over the last year and a half, we’ve included a bigger safety component to it by adding the Chevrolet Hockey Helmet Program where every child this year who was born in the 2007 receives a brand new, free Bauer hockey helmet. Our program has really evolved over the years and it just continues to get better.

According to the July 2012 Safe and Fun Hockey Program survey, only 38% of Canadian parents believe they play a role in teaching kids safety on the ice and only 10% recognize the importance of parental involvement. How do you respond to those stats?
Those stats definitely caught me off guard a little bit. I think our mentality sometimes as parents is to let the coach do whatever he or she is doing on the ice and not to interfere. But I think a parent [has] the right to talk to their child about what they are seeing on the ice. I believe that the same rules that parents apply at home should be applied to our kids in hockey. I think that’s where things get a little clouded. We get to the rink, we get excited and we want our child to win and we kind of forget about those rules.

What feedback do you get from parents as they learn more about this program?
I remember, years ago, this one lady in Toronto came up to me after the parent seminar in tears because she’d realized how much she was pressuring her child. I think a lot of the feedback is about parents realizing that they are living vicariously through their child. They want them to have the best chance of making the NHL or the women’s team and they forget they’re still a parent at the rink. We don’t have this miraculous formula where we’ve solved all the issues in minor hockey but I think we’ve allowed parents to come together in a group and vent their frustrations and get on the same page again. It serves as a good reminder for parents that our kids are playing hockey, firstly, because they love it and, secondly, because they are learning from playing a team sport. We just need to bring everything back to that focus. And that woman in Toronto made me realize that we are making a difference.

What would you say to parents who are reluctant to sign their kids up for hockey due to safety fears?
I’ve been asked several times about whether or not I’ll sign my daughter up for hockey one day. “If she wants to,” is always my first answer. I think that whenever you put your child in a physical sport there’s a chance that they’re going to get injured, there’s no question. Make sure you put them in the proper equipment and make sure the right rules are being taught on the ice and that there aren’t coaches teaching kids to pound people through the boards. I think hockey is the greatest game on earth and I’ve learned so much from it. Have I had a concussion while playing? Yes. But not until I was at an elite level and now I’m fine. I truly believe we are losing hockey players in this country because parents are scared but I also think we have lost a bit of respect and responsibility, which is what our program promotes.

What are your top tips for parents who have kids in hockey?
I don’t know if there’s a magic formula, but the big thing we always talk about is communication. We can’t allow our administrators and coaches to teach 10-year-old kids how to pummel people through the boards. I think we have to speak up and understand that kids are kids and that we should all be having fun. Our message is that we need to relax as parents and as leaders in the community and remember why we are allowing our kids to play hockey: It’s about fun. I think if we can do that, we can eliminate some of these issues that are creeping into our game.

For more on the Chevrolet Safe and Fun Hockey Program you can visit their official Facebook page.