Man, that sounds boring.
Bear with me, okay?
Whether you are running a business, employed as a writer or PR or communications staff, or whether you’re running or managing a minor sports team, a dance troupe, or a non-profit, you need a communications strategy. This might be as simple as “I have everyone’s email and will always send out notifications to a Bcc: distribution list”. It could be as complex as having dozens of staff monitoring social media, radio, print and television media, and providing official statements from the government. The reason why you need to have a communications strategy is because a good communications strategy will solve most problems before they become problems.
“Give me an example!” You demand.
One of our kids has been playing hockey in our town for eleven years. Last year, when he was injured (he had a concussion), he didn’t play contact hockey, but he did work as a referee with our local hockey association. The local hockey association has our contact information. They have our boy listed on registries and in databases and God only knows what else. After that year that he took off of contact sports, we didn’t receive any registration information for the upcoming hockey season (that being this year).
I vaguely remembered at the end of the school year that that was usually when he used to get registration forms sent home from school, but I wasn’t concerned when we didn’t receive one, because in previous years we had received registration packages in the mail. This year, though, the registration package never came. Our kid received his reffing stuff from our provincial hockey association, and he received emails regarding his reffing clinics from our local hockey association. No registration information, though.
Over the summer, we travelled and worked on the farm, and then came home so The Teen could play football on his home team. As happens with football, once September rolled around, we began seeing kids have conflicts with hockey evaluations and the like, and this brought up the question, “do you want to play hockey this year?”
I’ve never been the world’s biggest hockey fan, but I love watching our kid play. I have never begrudged the expense (registration alone is over $1100 this year; never mind equipment) or the time (we’re booked from October – April). I have only a few times begrudged sitting in a rink for most of my spare time, but the up side is that I’ve watched our son go from having to ask his coach to lift him up into the players’ box to being an aggressive, enthusiastic defenceman. He’s never going to play in the major leagues. He’s never even going to play in the junior leagues. Now that he’s midget age, he really only has two, maybe three years left of the excellent instruction and opportunity provided him by Saskatchewan minor hockey. We discussed this, and he registered, and was pretty excited to play again. Last year he was utterly despondent that he couldn’t play.
We missed the September 1st registration deadline, but we’ve missed that in the past and it hasn’t been a problem. The Teen doesn’t do evaluations because he doesn’t want to play on the Tier 1 team. He’s played Tier 2 and Tier 3 hockey his whole life, and is happy as a clam doing so. He’s passionate about hockey, but not…intense. He knows he’s never going to the majors.
Monday morning he received an email from the local hockey association telling him that they won’t accept his registration because they have enough players registered for the AA and Tier 2 teams. He doesn’t get to play hockey at home. Where he’s played for eleven years. With his friends. In his hometown jersey.
I was incensed. Disgusted. Angry. Disappointed. I started calling hockey teams all over our hockey zone, trying to find one that wants a Midget defence man. I’m still waiting to hear back. Our local hockey association gave me absolutely no help or direction, other than to tell me there’s a non-contact recreational league in the city The Teen can sign up with (not interested. Testosterone. Hitting. Roar). This led me to the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, who told me that he’s eligible to play for any of the teams in a 160km radius of our home. He told me if we can’t find a team in that area (to which it is feasible to drive a few times a week), The Teen can play in the city, but will need special permission to do so. This communication took five minutes.
Had I received an email or a letter or a frigging carrier pigeon from our local hockey association at any time this summer that said “our numbers for midget hockey are too low to sustain three teams; if you have a player who’s interested, please contact us”, I’d have contacted them. If I’d have seen anything that said “Registration is now closed for midget hockey as both teams’ rosters are full”, I’d have been disappointed, and a little frustrated that we’d never been contacted earlier to register. And mad at myself for not having checked earlier. If at any time I’d have received an email or a phone call or a letter or a goddamned interpretive dance that made me think that this association in any way gave a fiddler’s fart about my kid and his opportunity to play hockey, I don’t think I’d have lost my cool.
But I did. I lost my cool. I sent a pretty vicious letter. I understand why the board made the decision they did – they had the opportunity to put together a AA team that draws kids from all over southern Saskatchewan, and that’s really exciting. They didn’t have the numbers for three teams. They decided to put together two larger teams. I get their decisions. I really do. I don’t *agree* with them, because their communication strategy is apparently “let’s not tell anybody anything and we’ll make decisions that could potentially mean that a bunch of kids don’t get to play hockey in town this year. And in fact, let’s send them terse emails and not give them any information about how to play anywhere else because who in God’s green earth would want to play hockey if they couldn’t play for our team?” Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe their communications strategy is “we don’t need a communications strategy because we’re a minor hockey association and everyone who needs to know something can just find that information on our website or ask a board member”. Which is great if you know that every year you have to phone up the board and say “hey, are you going to have enough teams for my kid to play this year?”
I’ve never had that question before. I always just assumed that the purpose of having a minor hockey association in your home town is to MAKE SURE that all the kids who want to play hockey in your town kind of get to play hockey in your town. But whatever. I’m not on the hockey board. I’ve never been invited to be a part of the hockey board. After what’s happened this week, I will never be invited TO be a part of the hockey board. And frankly, I’m a little worried that because I wrote a critical letter and then kind of sorta talked to some news folks about what had happened, that my kid will suffer in his hockey or his reffing or what have you. I HOPE that would never happen, but I don’t know about these things. I don’t grok politics. I don’t grok power struggles.
But I *do* grok communications strategies. And this, my friend, was a truly sad, and ultimately cruel situation. We received no communication from our local hockey board other than to be told they can’t provide an opportunity for our kid to play hockey on his home team, with his friends, for his first year of midget hockey. That was it.
Bad form, folks. Bad form. I’m truly sorry our boy won’t be part of your association this year. We have given you a lot of our time, money, and work over the last eleven years. And we will do so again, I hope. But this year, you let us down. You let us down HARD.