If you read much of what I write you know, like it or not, that at some point I’ll end up writing about my boys’ sports experiences.
This time around, however, I have a question for you.
Should opposing teams “take a knee” when a player from the other team is hurt?
Here are my thoughts….and what made me start pondering this in the first place. I would love to hear what you think!
Thatcher and Finn both play hockey. Thatch is in his 3rd season of competitive hockey while this is Finn’s first. They both also play short seasons of baseball and soccer. In all three sports my only experience has been that if any player is injured, all players take a knee and wait while that player is tended to. Thankfully, no serious injuries have occurred during our time on the ice or field. Each time the players have gotten up fairly quickly and resumed play or limped off to the bench to fully heal. Either way, especially with hockey, I have been so touched by watching the children stop play, fall to a knee, and wait silently for the signal that all is ok. In hockey, they go one step further by gently banging their sticks on the ice to applaud the player as they leave the ice for further attention or get up and “shake it off.” Players bang sticks…parents breathe a sigh of relief. The game continues.
As adults, we all know how quickly an injury can change an athlete’s life and that of their friends and family. We have all heard stories that make our hearts ache and we have all heard the deafening thuds, crashes, breaks, etc. that take our breath away. Stopping play and remaining silent…whether to say a quick prayer…or just to show respect…should, in my mind, go without saying. I, in all honestly, would be fine with players standing still silently while a player was down. To me, the “taking the knee” isn’t as important as the focusing attention, recognition, or even healing energy on the downed player. Now, don’t get me wrong…I am aware that, thankfully, more often than not the injury at this level of play is a simple cramp, twist, bump, or bruise…and that, sometimes, as with our own children at home, may even involve some theatrics or embellishment. Sometimes, even, the injury turns out to maybe be a slightly bruised ego as opposed to a hurt body part. That is NOT, however, my call to make when a player is down. I would no more tolerate watching one of my sons talk and skate in circles when a player was down than I would tolerate watching other grown-ups in the stands talk about weekend BBQs while another parent’s child was hurt and laying on the ice.
So, I take you to this past weekend. With several rare home games taking place at Talbot Rink, a good part of the Cape Ann Youth Hockey family were in attendance for several games to show support. We went to the rink early to cheer on the team playing before Thatcher’s team. As the game progressed…and with the score close….I watched not once, not twice, but THREE times as a Cape Ann player fell to the ice injured. Each of those three times the opposing coaches yelled to their team, rallied them up in front of their bench, and used the other player’s injury as an opportunity to coach and give pep talks…showing not an ounce of concern for what may or may not be happening with the opposing player on the ice. Let me say again, that thankfully, most of these injuries turn out to be nothing. But those coaches, in my opinion, showed such a lack of respect. Not only were they disrespectful to the fallen player, but also to the family and fans who stood with fear that this may be the time that a player did not get up. As a mother, a sports fan, and an educator…I will go one step further and say that I also think the message that moment instilled in their players was incredibly detrimental. To capitalize on one player’s injury, no matter how minor, to maximize their own competitive edge sends a egotistical, self-centered, and sad message to their young team. A message that I don’t think belongs in youth sports. Those who know me well, know that I have very high expectations for my children. I can’t lie, as part of a team, I expect them to make big commitments and give 100% all of the time. I can tell when they aren’t trying…and they hear about it afterwards. That having been said, I choose to raise my children to show empathy, compassion, and concern for the well-being of others…not to turn their backs. I choose to raise my children to grow into adults who will hopefully role model better behavior than what I witnessed in those moments. With all that is going on in the world today, I choose to raise children who will take a moment to not think of themselves….but, who will take a moment to take a knee.
So, I spoke to their coaches after the game. I was, I hope, respectful and told them that I am no expert….which I am quite certain they already assumed on their own. I told them that my child wasn’t even on the ice, but that I took offense to the fact that they chose to take advantage of a down player to benefit their own team…three different times. I told them that they had no way of knowing how hurt that player would/could be and that the right thing to do is to show respect…and teach respect. They told me that the officials had, in fact, told them to move their players off the ice. While I’m not sure that is accurate, I told them…if that were the case, it would have been perfectly acceptable for them to have had their players stand quietly in front of the boards by their own bench. What is not acceptable is to start yelling, coaching, and rallying their troops when there is even the slightest chance that another player was in the midst of suffering an injury.
I have to admit, that I am quite certain my voice was trembling and my hands were shaking as I was sharing my thoughts with these grown men….and presumably fathers…and coaches. One coach, said something to the effect of, “We’ll take that into consideration.” The other…while walking away…mumbled, “thanks for your advice” in a very unconvincing tone.
I thought much more about what happened over the course of the next couple of days. Last night, I did a little research. As with most things in life…and with everything involving youth sports….I found some conflicting opinions. I’d say 90% of what I read about youth sports said that “taking a knee” is the way to go…or, at the very least, quietly waiting. With High School coaches it was more like 65% agreed that it would be disrespectful to do anything other than show silent respect. With college it was a bit less. Interestingly enough, at the professional level, it once again seemed like common practice. I did read about many, in my opinion, “hot-headed coaches” who waxed not-so-poetically about the absurdity of taking a knee for every little cramp and johnny-sprained-his-knees (not my words.) I read quotes from some incredibly ignorant (those are my words) coaches who pretty much declared, “Why not use their weakness to our advantage?” Ugh.
In the meantime, popular or not, I’ll continue to teach my own children to do what feels right when a teammate or opposing player is down. Take a knee? Fantastic. Remain silent? Definitely. Talk, laugh, skate, dribble? Absolutely not. Circle up for some free coaching? Please, please don’t.
Honestly, what are your thoughts?