Kramer: Legends of the “Safety Meeting”
David Kramer | Wednesday, November 6, 2019
As two Michigan natives pack their car for their son’s inaugural youth hockey game, they escape the brisk, gripping winds of the Minnesota winter and tread into their freshly-completed mud room. Their eyes falling on the two clipboards placed near the door as a reminder of their next appointment, they gather their last pair of needed materials before rushing their kid to the Twin Cities.
Still bewildered by the atmosphere and intrigue of their new home hockey program, they honored Lambeau’s obsession with punctuality and dropped off their son well before check-in. The family parted ways, leaving the parents, clipboard in hand, with two hours to kill and a team “safety meeting” at a local bar to attend.
Well, at least the email chain claimed as much. What greeted them upon their arrival felt so foreign, so absurd, so wildly unexpected. The alleged group discussion about concussions, equipment developments, and injury prevention was no safety meeting at all. Rather, laughter erupted from every corner of the bar as the weathered hockey parents raised their empty beer glasses in celebration of the Michigan newcomers. Even the team’s head coach, socializing with every parent that entrusted the (real) safety of their kids in his hands, cackled at their rookie mistake.
With a tremendous sigh of relief, they properly disposed of their clipboards and ordered a couple of appetizers. The heavily used phrase, they realized, acted as a cover for what really transpired during warmups. In the arms of an instantaneously relaxed community, the collective ethos of this team no longer influenced its parents to probe the coaching staff with demands for better playing time. Vicariously living through the success of their children fell by the wayside in favor of living out easygoing relationships.
In this community in Minnesota, no inter-parent drama could exist; with drink in hand, the team chemistry started with a local brew.
The pre-game ritual perpetuated to the point of strict tradition, with nearly perfect parent attendance and increasingly early drop-off times at the rink. The parent corps even assigned a “safety meeting coordinator,” the most savvy planner with knowledge of nearly every bar close to rinks across the state.
Oftentimes the coaching staff would lose track of time amidst their team friendships; the players would start on-ice warmups without any motivational pre-game speech, without any discussion of team strategy, without any authoritative figure present whatsoever. The staff felt no need to hurry back to the rink for pregame preparations, for the relationships and memories that both players and parents formed eventually became the team’s core competency.
At first glance, this philosophy looks absolutely irresponsible, foolish and destined for catastrophe. Of course, the first few weeks brought uncertainty, but with every consecutive victory, the “safety meeting” felt more magical. For 40 straight games, one that ended with a state championship, players felt the magic, too.
I received the pleasure of experiencing this unlikely dynamic firsthand. I don’t claim to have a secret formula for success, but I do claim that meaningful parent relationships in youth sports pervade the kid’s experience. With no parental conflicts, the entire team gained confidence in cultivating a strong bond beyond the home sheet; especially in youth sports, whose life lessons far outweigh their physical benefits year after year, every team deserves a little magic of their own.
So, as a responsible Observer writer, I would never dare encourage you to emulate something so reckless. In the end, however, I will encourage you, once you raise kids of your own, to implement a tradition that makes the entire group feel the “safety” that countless Minnesotans adopt.