Hockey Research at the 2013 North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) Conference

The annual conference for the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS), a scholarly association for sport sociologists, will take place this week in Quebec City, QC. As usual, the program is packed with interesting presentations on a wide range of critical issues in sport; also as usual (e.g. the 2011 conference), there will be a number of presentations focused on or around the sport of hockey.

Many of the writers for Hockey in Society will be in attendance, and one – Vicky Grygar – will be presenting research on hockey. You can read the full program here, but after the jump I have pasted the abstracts of the hockey-related presentations that will be delivered (please note these are direct quotations of the abstracts and that the intellectual property belongs to the authors). Hopefully this gives readers a sense of some of the research being conducted by sociologists about hockey.


Power in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL): From the Players’ Perspective

Vicky L. Grygar, University of Toronto

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) is the world’s leading developmental junior ice hockey league. Comprised of 1,400 hockey players, aged 15-21 years old on 60 teams in three divisions, the CHL is a primary supplier of talent for the National Hockey League. In recent years, several issues surrounding unjust practices within the CHL have been brought to the forefront, and the issue of player treatment has become the subject of much public scrutiny. Positioned to shed light on this controversial topic, this presentation examines the vulnerability of players in the CHL. Based on a series of interviews with former and current CHL players, as well as investigative documents, the study situates their lived experiences within specific power relations. The research is theoretically grounded in the writings of Michel Foucault, by utilizing his respective interpretations of the workings of power in order to understand the interplay between CHL players and authoritative hockey figures (e.g., coaches, general managers, owners), and a more deeply ingrained sense of the effects of power on individuals in the major junior hockey system. Ultimately, this study aims to contribute to discourses of social justice within youth high-performance sport.

The NHL’s New Economic Reality? Labor Migration, the KHL, and Ilya Kovalchuk

Cole G. Armstrong, Florida State University

In this presentation, I examine the migratory labor patterns and practices of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) as read through a case study of former New Jersey Devils hockey star Ilya Kovalchuk. Briefly stated, Kovalchuk, a Russian player who was the face of the Devils franchise, retired at 30-years-of-age from the National Hockey League (NHL) on July 11, 2013, only three years into his ten-year, $100-million contract with the Devils. Almost immediately thereafter, however, he signed a 4-year, $60 million contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. North American media reports condemned Kovalchuk’s decision while also drawing into question the labor practices of the KHL. Drawing from the work of Joe Maguire, Toby Miller and Richard Elliot, I will examine the mediated backlash to Kovalchuk’s move and the (potential) existential “threat” the KHL poses to future NHL labor/contract negotiations. At the same time, I confront the personal biases I seem to hold against ‘Russian’ players myself. Having grown up in Saskatchewan, Canada during the halcyon days of international hockey competitions (i.e., 1980s/1990s), I self-reflexively interrogate how my hockey thinking/viewing has for much of my life been fostered with a mix of Canadian nationalism and Don Cherry-istic anti-European sentiment.

Expected and Accepted: Social Factors that Impact the Meaning of Pain in Boys’ Hockey

Jacqueline Yeldon and Robert Pitter, Acadia University

For many athletes pain is the body’s natural mechanism of defense against injuries and overuse. However, its important signaling and diagnostic features are often overshadowed by social factors such as the desire to conform to the sport ethic (Hughes & Coakley, 1991; Nixon, 1992). Emerging literature in the area of youth sport has identified that children, like adults, react to pain by both expecting and accepting it as a normal or even ideal outcome of sport (Malcolm, 2006; Nemeth, 2009; Stafford, 2013). This paper discusses preliminary results from a study of boys’ pain experiences in competitive and recreational hockey. We surveyed boys 9 to 14 years of age and then interviewed them in focus groups about how they define and make sense of pain related to hockey. We identify the developmental and social factors that influence these perceptions and reactions to pain by accounting for the athletes’ ages, athletic abilities, commitment levels, and teams’ caliber as competitive or recreational. Through our findings we seek to address the harmful yet widespread trend of young athletes playing through exhaustion and injury. We argue that an inclusive and psychosocial understanding of sport-related pain is the first step in promoting a sporting environment centered on the safety and health of each young athlete.

Growing (Pains in) the Game: A Case Study of Girls’ Hockey Governance in Alberta, Canada

Carly Adams and Stacey Leavitt, University of Lethbridge

In the last two decades we have witnessed extraordinary changes and growth in girls’ and women’s hockey in Canada and around the world. Most notable is the continual growth at the grassroots level. Yet, across Canada, the growth and transformations in the girls’ and women’s game vary from region to region and, we argue, is often shaped and influenced by the governance structures that organize girls’ and women’s involvement in the sport. Building on the work of Stevens and Adams (forthcoming) and Adams and Stevens (2007), in this paper we explore girls’ hockey governance in Alberta, Canada. Drawing on data from semi-structured interviews, organizational documents, meeting minutes and, in some cases, field observations, we examine developments, changes, and challenges over the past two decades faced by girls’ hockey organizers and the impact particular governance models have had on the growth of the game to explore the nuances and complexities of grassroots girls’ hockey in the Alberta context.

Potential contributions of coaches’ moral education: The participants’ perspectives

Sandra Peláez, McGill University

The present intervention study aimed at assessing coaches’ perspective of moral issues after participating in a two-hour workshop. Exploring this relationship is important as research indicates that, in general, coaches devote more effort to teach sport-related issues (e.g., sport strategies) rather than moral-related issues (e.g., cheating) that may arise in the sport setting. Fourteen elite male hockey coaches aged 26-59 (M = 37.5; SD = 8.87) years old involved in the same provincial league volunteered. The study consisted of a 2-hour workshop intervention built upon the Inquiry Learning approach (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2007) and a 12-month individual follow-up interview. Interviews were qualitatively analysed following Braun and Clark’s (2006) guidelines. Findings were organised around two core themes. The first theme, coaches’ understanding of morality, revolved around values that guided coaches’ behaviours, as well as, coaches’ moral knowledge, awareness, and challenges they faced. The second theme, coaches’ preferences for moral education discussed participants’ appreciation of the workshop, as well as, participants’ suggestions for future interventions. Coaches’ viewpoints shed light on both coaches’ educational/informational limitations and practical issues coaches dealt with. This is important to understand coaches’ educational needs at the time of designing an educational intervention aiming at enhancing coaches’ moral awareness.

A Liberal Feminist Analysis of the Effects of Gendered Rules on Ice Hockey Players Perceptions of Female Players and Coaches

Erin L. Morris, Jacqueline McDowell and Jeremy Robinett, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Girls and women are increasingly participating in ice hockey; however, gendered rules prohibit body checking, an integral practice in hockey, at all levels of women’s competition, but not in the men’s games. Due to low participation numbers, girls often participate on boys’ teams until checking is introduced at the bantam level. The purpose of this presentation is to discuss research that examined youth hockey players’ perspectives on female players’ abilities, as well as the impact of the checking rule on players’ views of female coaches. A liberal feminist framework was used to approach this research. Twelve semi-structured interviews were conducted with Peewee (U-12) and Bantam (U-14) hockey players. Findings revealed that most of the players believed that if girls are given equitable opportunity, they could be as skilled as boys and that women could be good coaches if they had the appropriate knowledge of skills being taught. The participants did understand why girls should play by different rules than boys since society strives for equity and they would be competing against equally skilled girls. This study has implications for hockey association’s inclusion of female players within predominantly male and for potential reconsideration of the necessity of the checking ban.


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