For the last eight years, I have spent the bulk of the fall and winter coaching minor hockey. From community bantam, minor midget aaa, to bantam aaa and finally midget aaa. I have been very lucky in my brief coaching career to have the opportunity to learn from some very strong hockey minds, and build some special relationships.
My first year coaching in Calgary, I was randomly paired up with this big fuzzy blue noser… 8 years later, Geoff would stand for me at my wedding as a groomsmen. We’ve coached a number of teams together, and still to this day coach every spring together.
Then, there was the two years I coached Minor Midget AAA and had a tone of success with who is now the best hidden gem of the hockey coaches community; Brent Osmond. To this day, of all the people I have spent time with. He’s one of the best coaches I have ever been around from his knowledge of the game, to his ability to get the most out of every single player, and still push them. Guys would go through walls for Brent. I admired that.
Then, I spent a summer working at the Okanagan Hockey School where I got to work alongside some very good coaches who have had long careers both playing and coaching professionally. From Mike Needham, Dixon Ward, Barry Smith and Mark Holick. Some of these guys I only even spent a week around, and still learned so much. It pays off to be a sponge I guess.
Then, I locked into the next four years coaching with Tyler Drader who gave me an opportunity to join some really special hockey teams, and coach some very, very talented players. I too, have learned so much from the years spent with Ty, always very patient, and fair when I sometimes was ready to fly off the handle, and write guys off, he was always the voice of reason…often was right. Certainly learned a lot about composure from Ty.
Each of those guys I mentioned above has shaped me not only as a person, but as a coach as well. They all had different strengths that I tried to absorb and mold into my coaching style. And while, I will be the first to admit that I am not the worlds best coach, or teacher by any stretch of the imagination, I do strongly believe that any quality of me as a coach can be directly traced back to my mentors above.
Now, with that all said… The last few years I have been immersed into spring hockey… for better, or worse. I’ve stuck with the 03 group the last few years, which at the time was a daunting challenge as 14 year olds was the youngest I’d ever coached, and I am horrible with kids, so coaching 10 year olds seemed like a terrible idea. But, I can honestly say I absolutely love every second of coaching with these kids. When we are on the ice together, or at the rink together. I don’t know if I’ve enjoyed coaching more. Part of it, I think is because of the group of core kids we’ve had the last couple years. They are such good kids, and most of them are want to learn, want to get better and willing to put in the work required.
Sure, we aren’t the best team around, I don’t know that we will ever win any major tournaments, and frankly… this might shock some of you to hear… I really don’t care if we ever win a “major” tournament with these now 12 year olds. That may sound appalling, and terrifying for some of you parents to hear. But, I really don’t care and here’s why.
Spring hockey has become a complete monster. A mess. I’ve always thought while coaching association hockey, boy, wouldn’t it be nice if there were no boundaries and we could pick whomever we want? Well.. That’s how spring works, and it’s a disaster. Granted, for me, the purpose of spring hockey is a bit different than that of association/winter hockey. The main goal is to of course, develop these players into fine young men, and athletes both on and off the ice. That’s a common theme in every sport, at every level. But, in winter, especially at elite levels, there’s more at stake. There really is, there’s scouts, and more scouts, agents, more agents and pretengents, then there are managers of teams, and coaches of teams from the next level, and then there are websites, and basement blogs with their meaningless opinions. However, there is still a pressuring desire to win, and there are true major, prestigious tournaments to win, that speak volumes about the kids that win them. I’m talking… Alberta Cup, John Reid Memorial, Western Canadian Bantam Championships, Sutter Cup, Macs Midget Tournament, Pacific Regionals, and perhaps the holy grail of minor hockey… Telus Cup. This may too also shock some of you spring hockey parents that I don’t have the Winnipeg Spring Tournament, or the Vancouver, or the Regina one in my list. Forgive me; I don’t even know the names of these tournies. But, these truly are not major tournaments.
All those people that relatively matter I mentioned above, you know… the scouts, coaches, managers, etc… They know each and every single kid that has won one of these prestigious tournaments. I could almost guarantee you that 98% of them… have no clue who won those spring tournaments; if… they even know that they exist. Sorry.
So, I guess what I am trying to say is that winning, and team success if far more of a premium in winter hockey, and far less of one in spring, or at least it should be. But, the emphasis of spring has been misplaced with parents on the front lines of this movement. Whether the place the emphasis on winning as a result of fear, and intimidation from these spring groups, or the just simply have no clue. But, I’ve even had a parent tell me winter hockey is a waste of their time, they just wait for spring hockey. The 9-10 weeks of it. Also have had parents tell me that practices are useless, and they will only come to half of them, but all games. I kid you not. I’ve had multiple parents tell me both these things, and worse. It’s all ass-backwards.
In all my years of coaching AAA hockey, when we get to camp and get these long lists of registrants, and players that are trying out for our team. These sheets include most of the following information.
- Previous Team
That’s it… and previous team is their previous winter team. No place, nowhere is there mention of their spring team, how many points they had, or what tournament they won in June. And trust me, no coach knows, or cares if he played spring hockey on a bronze team, a super elite team or didn’t play at all, perhaps he played baseball. They care only about 1 thing… Can this kid play?
Unfortunately, throughout the levels of spring hockey, many parent’s have concerned themselves with one thing, and one thing only when deciding where to play. Best team. Regardless of what team little Jonny wants to play in, or where his friends are, or what coach he likes best… Dad wants them to play on the best team. Why?… He’ll tell you cause his kid will get better playing on the best team. When truth is, kids going to eventually end up not having a tonne of fun sitting on the bench, or going through the pressures of being this super super team for the ten week spring season, so the kid eventually ends up losing his fire for hockey, and worst case… they quit at ten years old, which is beginning to happen. Heartbreaking. All the while, these kids are quitting, other families are scared to leave these super duper teams because for some reason they feel their son will be later blacklisted from what… I have no idea.
In fact, just recently… had a family quit my spring team in favor of another supposed “elite” team out of another province. After they screwed us around a few times, trying to play on both teams. They ultimately decided to join the super elite team, we had recently just beat… when I asked why? … They had signed a contract that made them commit to their team, and their team only. Yes. They were forbidden to play for any other team, or miss practices of this super team. So I asked what would happen… Are you going to get sued, or go to jail if you play with us instead and miss their practice?
“…No, I just am not ready to burn any bridges with them yet”
… Don’t want to burn any bridges with a team based out of another province, coached by some random group of guys? …Ok. Wasn’t a fight worth fighting.
Three months later, I reluctantly declined to coach the winter team that player would be trying out for. Talk about burning bridges. Yikes. Close one. Maybe the kid learned more with these other guys, or had more fun. In which case… Fair enough. Fine with me. Fortunately, if the kids good enough, I’d take the kid, regardless. Coaches can’t hold grudges, and should never blackmail parents. Gives you an idea of how some of these parents think, and the games some of these coaches, and programs play. Who the hell makes an 11 year old sign a contract.
I don’t understand why the parents do this. It’s like holding their kids hostage, if they don’t want to play there… don’t make them play there. Just so mom and dad can hold their nose up in the air, and show off their nice pretty jackets… who cares? That jacket won’t fit soon anyway, and your kid is no longer having fun with hockey, so he’s not learning, not getting any better… and anytime now will fall behind every one else as a result. Or, worst case… He quits this great game. Good job Dad. But hey… you have the swag still.
I wanted to keep this short, but I got fired right up the last few paragraphs. My point is here folks, see spring hockey for what is, a place to develop, stay on your skates and get prepared for the next level until he gets to bantam and there’s no longer the need for spring. It’s not about winning, sure, winning is great. Who doesn’t love it, but the more important thing in my mind about spring hockey, is simply getting better and each kid has different things that make him tick, and help him develop. The one common theme amongst all of that is; having fun. If kids are having fun, they are learning, developing and in the right environment… plus, they’ll love the game, which makes coming to the rink every day fun.
When I was this age, there were two options for playing spring hockey. If you were a phenom from Edmonton area, you played NAA. If you were a phenom from the Calgary area, you played Foothills. If you were neither, which was majority of us were. You rode your bike around in the spring, played baseball, roller hockey and road hockey. Good enough. Now, there are 15-20 teams just per age group, per freaking city! It’s crazy. Which, has of course led to this crisis and disaster. So with there being that many teams, of course parents unfortunately have to make decisions.
I can’t speak to the decision making process of which team your 8 year old plays on… Frankly, it should be a baseball team somewhere else… but when it comes to these 03s, who next spring will be beginning their transition into contact hockey the following fall. It’s a very important year; don’t just put your team on Team X because you believe it’s a better team. Isn’t what spring hockey should be about, nor does the best team automatically make for the best route for your son.
Please, for the love of God, hockey and your kid’s passion…
Let him find a team he enjoys being around, regardless of the prowess of his fellow winger.
Let him find the coach he feels he can learn from the best.
Let him find the practices that he feels challenged in, and gets into your vehicle after every skate and talks about how fun it was the whole way home.
Let him be apart of the solution for the “weaker” team, and let him challenge himself instead of teaching him that you can just float by and win meaningless tournaments with your nose in the air. I miss the important lesson here.
Let him play with his friends, maybe!!!
….And for effsakes… why not let him display some maturity, accountability and make the decision on his own. Unless he chooses the team of delinqieunts, let the kid play where he wants to play. Not where you think there are better players. It will backfire, if that’s your only reason. If you meet all the criteria above, and it leads Timmy back to the snob team… then, that’s where you go and I am happy for you. It will work for some. Not all.
I’m sure you’re probably all thinking I wrote this as a recruiting ploy for my own team, and that was not the case. In fact, it’s quite a sad story why I decided I had to write this. Recently, I have heard of a number of these young kids, who are great players, quitting our game at such a young age, and to be honest… It crushed me. Some of them just decided to give up spring hockey altogether, while others just quit the game entirely. It honest to God, broke my heart when I heard this. It really did. It’s absolutely criminal. Hockey is such a damn fine game, and can provide so much for these guys in a lifetime, even if they end up playing beer league with their coaches in fifteen years. Hockey will teach them so much, just let the kids play, and let them have fun doing so. They’ll learn, and this is where they will develop into good men.
Being only ever involved in winter hockey, it took me till spring hockey to realize this, but… winning really is not what it’s about. It’s about developing good people, and athletes, and hey… if you catch a banner, or a trophy along the way. All the power to you… Just do it when people are watching, and people watch middle of September –first week of April.
Good luck to all the kids at training camp in whatever league, or level they are in!
Have a great year!