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By Jamie MacDonald , 10/22/20, 3:15PM EDT


NESN's Billy Jaffe on the importance of respect

Not only is respect a part of keeping the fabric of hockey woven together, but, for Billy Jaffe – who can claim hockey dad, hockey coach, hockey league exec, NHL broadcaster, former DI player and former DI official on his impressive hockey resume – respect is a foundational element of success for both players and the game.

“Respect is a huge key in life, so it obviously plays a huge role in hockey,” says Jaffe, whose official titles include NESN analyst and Director of League Development for the Eastern Hockey Federation – a.k.a., The Fed. “In order for the game to succeed, there has to be respect between player and coach, player and teammates, player and opponent, player and official, players and parents, and vice versa.”

It should go without saying, too, that respect as a foundational element of success, like all manner of good habits, extends beyond the time and space of a hockey game. 

“Respect goes to your practice habits, how you act in the locker room, to the whole game in general,” Jaffe says. “An awful lot of the game is how you respect it. How do you treat yourself? There’s self-respect. How do you prepare for a game? The game can’t work if the respect isn’t there. That’s what it comes down to.”

Respecting the Relationships

In hockey, one of the most crucial areas for respect is the space between the players on the bench and the coach standing behind them. A healthy relationship there, one where mutual respect is earned and trusted, makes for a significantly more rewarding experience.

The sooner those bonds are built, the better.

“It begins Day 1,” says Jaffe, who played at the University of Michigan for a coach, Red Berenson, in a very different era than youth players might recognize today. “Every year, I talk to the parents so they understand how I coach, and how I might behave sometimes – what it means and what doesn’t mean. And I have a similar talk with the players.”

For context on what the definition of old-school coaching could mean to Jaffe, his college coach, Berenson, played for Toe Blake’s Canadiens in the 1960s. When your college coach’s NHL coach was Toe Blake, that’s some old-school hockey lineage cred. But times certainly have changed.

“I also tell them that I may not be right all the time,” Jaffe says of his early season address to players. “Respect is earned – earned by coaches and earned by players. The ultimate form of respect, sometimes, may be acknowledging your mistake.”

Officials vs. ... The World

If the relationship between players and coaches is a most complicated environment under which respect can grow, the most fraught may be the relationship between an official and … anyone who isn’t an official. 

Parents, coaches and players, for some reason, occasionally fail to respect not only the job that an official has – even a young official not much older than the players on the ice – but also the actual human being who respects the game enough to try to officiate it.

“Officiating can be very gratifying, and the satisfaction is if you have a clean game,” says Jaffe, who officiated CCHA games after his time at Michigan. “Well, now it’s impossible to have a clean game because everybody thinks that a clean game means it’s a perfect game. And there is no such thing as a perfect game. What you hope is that you don’t make or miss call that significantly impacts the direction of the game. It’s going to happen every once in a while, but you have to deal with it. And the parents have to deal with it. And the players have to deal with it.”

Maybe a little empathy could go a long way, particularly when it comes to parents.

“This is just a suggestion – but, one, I would require every parent to have to go through a short online type of officiating seminar where they can watch plays in real time and try to make a call,” Jaffe says. “And I would ask everybody to put their own child in the place of the person who is officiating.”

Most people wouldn’t sign their kids up for relentless heckling in a game – no matter how many calls are missed. Jaffe would also consider one last line of defense.

“I’d I give the officials the big hammer that there is, which is to kick parents out,” he says. “But it’s a scary thing for a younger official to do.”

“Respect doesn’t mean that everybody has to get in a circle and sing a song afterwards. Respect just means you know that you and your opponent played a hard and basically fair game. If you win, ‘All right, awesome job.’ If you lose, ‘All right, what can we do better next time?’ It doesn’t look to put blame on others or make excuses.”

Respect for Reality

While the lines are fairly easily drawn between the sides of players or coaches relating to officials, and players relating to coaches and vice versa, the lines between a player’s place in the game – viewed from all the different angles at which a parent sees it from the stands or in their own heads – and where they might end up doesn’t always connect.

“I do think it also may be that relationship between parents and reality, of what it’s all about,” says Jaffe. “At times, people fall into that. It’s my wishes and my hopes and my vision as to what is real and what isn’t, whether it’s my own child or other children. How do you treat the respect of reality when a parent thinks a 10-year-old should play more of the power-play? But it is every parent’s right to do that. They have the best interest of the child in mind.”

Brighter Days Ahead

In one of his day jobs, as an exec with The Fed, Jaffe has seen both the best of youth hockey and some space for improvement. In a more perfect world, respect is, again, not only a part but also a foundation of youth hockey. 

The game isn’t easy, and there are bound to be complications in a sport full of failures and capricious pucks. Respecting everyone playing the same game – even on different sides – can make for a place that encourages better performances across the rink.

“They don’t always have to like their opponent, but, when the game is all said and done, they can look over and go, ‘OK, good job,’” Jaffe says. “Respect doesn’t mean that everybody has to get in a circle and sing a song afterwards. Respect just means you know that you and your opponent played a hard and basically fair game. If you win, ‘All right, awesome job.’ If you lose, ‘All right, what can we do better next time?’ It doesn’t look to put blame on others or make excuses.”

Respect extends to the post-game, too.

“It’s OK for parents or coaches to be brutally honest with their teams and players if they didn’t have a good game or a good effort,” Jaffe says. “It’s OK to know that there are consequences, especially if the effort was insufficient. All of that is OK, but it’s a matter of doing it in a respectful way that gets through to the kids – that hopefully energizes them to get better because of it. Respect may be asking them how they thought the game went from their perspective.”

But, of course, respect is a big loop that begins well before the drop of the puck on any season and builds throughout a young player’s life.

“The only time I will really sit a player, I mean actually sit a player, not just missing a shift here or there, is if they disrespect a teammate, an official, a coach or a parent,” says Jaffe. “If they do that, they don’t deserve the respect of playing for a certain amount of time. That’s my belief. Respect is a huge deal to me. Teams work at better levels when everybody is pulling on the same rope and respecting each other. For me, that’s what it comes down to.”