When we watch our favourite sports team, we tend to heckle the other team. But no one shit talks like University of Alberta students at our hockey games.
Attending the Bears game against Mount Royal just convinced me of the importance of heckling in the house that Clare Drake built. From the great atmosphere to the vicious call-outs of players, it was one of the best hockey games I have been to. From constantly chanting the visiting goalie’s name to jeering at every MRU player who even come close to the section, we U of A fans we constantly reminded Mount Royal whose ice they were playing on.
After a brief respite in the second period, the third saw everything go to shit, as the opposing goalie returned to our side for another 20 minutes of sheer evisceration. My favourite chants came at the last two minutes as we chanted “start the bus!” In the final minute, the chant evolved to “long ride, short bus” as our beloved Bears led 4-2. Concerned that I was beginning to the get a bit drunk in the third, I could only imagine the state of the onesie-clad fans pouring shots on the sly. I was relieved when I was enlightened by one of my bleacher-mates that “the dream is to be blacked out by the third.”
My friend, Chirpy McHeckleson (obvious alias), introduced me to the phenomena why this happens. A bit unsure, they surmised it’s a combination of “school spirit and letting off some steam.” McHeckleson continued that it is all in “good fun” and that the section means nothing by the comments. That being said, they love to see it have an effect on the players. McHeckleson said the best reactions were a NAIT goalie purposely celebrating their victory right in front of them and a University of Saskatchewan goalie throwing hockey tape at them after a game.
“The goalie gets it the worst,” he said. “He spends the most time close to our section.”
For insight into the effect heckling can have on players, we reached out to Klaudia Sapieja, head mental training coach of the Green and Gold sports system. She assists varsity athletes in evaluating and building mental toughness and training techniques to combat performance anxiety.
Sapieja said that almost all athletes she speaks to believe that the mental game is extremely important, but it’s the one that gets the least amount of focus in traditional training.
When asked if heckling has an effect an on players, Sapieja said the research on the subject was sparse. Despite this, she emphasized the importance of athletes’ ability to tune out heckles to focus in on what matters most. Sapieja added that most athletes can tune it out and they remain unaffected.
“There are players that thrive on that,” Sapieja said. “They say ‘Yeah, I’m going prove these fans wrong.’ It all matters on their personality.”
When it comes to preparing for hecklers, Sapieja just said that the players and coaches have to know it’s going to happen and be able to focus on the game. With U Sports hockey games having relatively small crowds, dedicated sections of hecklers jeering loudly at the visiting team can be a foreign experience to players.
Sapieja added that the lifestyle of a student athlete balancing life, school, and the game helps develop “coping skills” but still emphasized that when it comes to athletic performance “nothing else matters.”
If the MRU game against the Golden Bears is any indication of athletic focus, professionals like Sapieja are the true unsung heroes of the varsity athletics world. With all the players we heckled, only one even looked at us — shout out to you, Gannon. Even the goalie whose name was constantly called out would not acknowledge us, but rather stayed focus on the game.
Is it impressive that our heckling has such little affect on the players? Yes. Are we going to stop? No.