I used to coach a player who was bigger than everybody else on the team even though he was at least a year younger than everybody else on the team. And without fail at every game and practice, here was this gigantic, imposing player getting his skates tied by his dad, who was the same height as his child with his skates on.
Parents look forward to the day they don’t need to help their children get dressed. Although once that happens there’s still a sense of sadness. Trying to figure out proper dressing room etiquette is a complicated matter that goes much farther than the time at which we stop tying skates.
I’m going to answer the question posed in the headline, but not before we go over some criteria first.
Putting your equipment on before and after games and practices is the memory that resonates with former players moreso than actually playing the game. It’s the reason men’s league teams spend more time in the room after the game than they do skating on the ice. The camaraderie is impossible to replicate anywhere else, and it’s where lifelong bonds are formed.
The dressing room is symbolic of the singular team unit and represents something bigger than any individual.
Did you read about the junior team in Flint, Michigan who walked out on their team after their coach was fired?
The power of the dressing room extends far beyond the rink itself.
It’s frustrating to hear and read about incidents involving players in the dressing room. It’s the argument against relinquishing control of the dressing room to the players completely. The most extreme examples include physical violence, but it begs the question: are these incidents caused by intense athletes in close quarters, or is the dressing room merely a staging ground for bad decisions?
We hear about these situations and roll our eyes thinking it can’t possibly happen to us. Well, why not? Kids can be cruel because they lack empathy.
But is this exacerbated by the dressing room? Or is it simply a product of a society that’s raising entitled kids?
Trying to completely dissect the nature of the hockey dressing room in a 500 word blog post is probably a fool’s errand. But hey, someone has to try, right?
I’ve seen grown men cry their eyes out in a hockey dressing room. I’ve seen 15 12 year-olds hold dance parties in the dressing room that eclipse the actual game for which they were supposed to be preparing. The hockey home base is a sacred place that can only be fully understood when you’ve spent a lot of time in there. It’s a place for players and coaches to come together, learn about themselves and the sport they hold so dear.
So it’s not about tying skates - it’s about supporting players to make good decisions and cherish their teammates for good or ill. The dressing room should be a safe place, a supportive environment in which we can build friendships and let our guard down, comfortable in the belief our teammates are short on judgment and long on support.
So, when should players be tying their own skates?
When they can tie their own skates.
Just kidding. Peewee, if not sooner.