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Advocating for Children’s Rights in Sports & Hockey

By Minnesota Hockey, 09/10/21, 3:45PM CDT


Whether it’s an interest in diversity and inclusion, a desire to “build the pyramid” or simply wanting to share our love of the game, thousands of parents and volunteers across the State of Hockey show year in and year out a passionate commitment to introducing new players to the game of hockey.

There are countless hockey advocates in Minnesota, people who believe every child should have the opportunity to play hockey. The effort and sacrifices they put into inviting kids in their communities to play hockey each year are truly incredible and inspiring.

This year, the Aspen Institute through its Project Play initiative has challenged all youth sports organizations and stakeholders to raise the bar even higher with its Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, and youth hockey associations in Minnesota are positioned to deliver. Below is a list of the 8 rights, along with each one’s core focus and key concepts.

1. To play sports.

Organizations should make every effort to accommodate children’s interests to participate, and to help them play with peers from diverse backgrounds.

  • Providers should develop policies, practices and partnerships to include youth from underrepresented populations, and create programs that both meet and stimulate youth interest in sports.
  • Non-profits and other groups that benefit from the use of public facilities have a special duty to protect the right of all children to participate.

2. To safe and healthy environments.

Children have the right to play in settings free from all forms of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), hazing, violence, and neglect.

  • They must be provided safe and inclusive playing facilities and equipment.
  • While the physical nature of sports means all risks cannot be eliminated, programs should take precautions to protect youth from harm and dangerous situations.
  • At all times, the best interests of the child should prevail.

3. To qualified program leaders.

Children have the right to play under the care of coaches and other adults who pass background checks and are trained in key competencies.

  • Coaches should also receive training in, at a minimum:
    • General concepts in coaching youth
    • Sport-specific coaching
    • Emotional needs of children
    • Injury prevention
    • CPR and First Aid
    • Abuse prevention
  • Children and parents/caregivers deserve to know program policies and procedures in these areas.

4. To developmentally appropriate play.

Children have a right to play at a level commensurate with their physical, mental and emotional maturity, and their emerging athletic ability.

  • Roster sizes, rules and equipment should be adapted to those levels.
  • They should not be subject to inappropriate pressure or exploitation.
  • Reasonable efforts should be made to recruit and accommodate youth with disabilities.
  • All children should be treated as young people first, athletes second.

5. To share in the planning and delivery of their activities.

Children have the right to share their viewpoints with coaches and for their insights to be incorporated into activities.

  • They have the right to identify sport options of their own interest and, especially with younger participants, consideration should be given to how much they want to train.
  • Youth should be provided ample space for free play and to enjoy other sports, cultural and family activities.

6. To an equal opportunity for personal growth.

Programs should invest equally in all child athletes, free of discrimination based on any personal or family characteristic.

  • Policies on minimum playing time in games should be established in recognition of the evolving capacities of youth, with a bias, especially at the younger ages, toward roughly equal playing time over the course of a season.
  • Programs should create balanced teams where possible and be judicious in creating competition formats that favor early bloomers to the exclusion of others.

7. To be treated with dignity.

Children have the right to participate in environments that promote the values of sportsmanship, of respect for opponents, officials, and the game.

  • They have the right to make mistakes and fail without fear.
  • Policies should be established and enforced to prevent bullying behavior by coaches, parents, spectators and teammates. Education on these matters should be provided to them in a variety of formats and languages.

8. To enjoy themselves.

Children have the right to participate in activities they consider fun, and which foster the development of friendships and social bonds.

  • Coaches and administrators should create the conditions to help them find comfort and happiness, which in turn, can facilitate a love of sport, self-learning, mastery, and sustained engagement.

As you read through these rights, there’s no doubt that most of these rights are already being fulfilled by youth hockey associations across the state, but there are also areas we can be better as parents, coaches and volunteers.

Our challenge to you is this. Take a little time to think critically and use this template to determine one way you currently honor each of these rights and two to three areas you want to make a priority this year. 

Together, we can use these rights to increase access to hockey and enhance the experience for everyone involved in our sport.

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