Maybe I should start this with “things we have stressed about and lost sleep over during travel ice hockey”…
We made it (barely) through our first-ever ice hockey travel season in South Florida. I feel like I’ve aged a solid 5 years since we started on this new journey of competitive ice hockey. I think it’s safe to say that both my husband and I have spent a few nights tossing and turning over game situations, feelings that got hurt during a game (parents, not players) and trying to figure out just what all this means. Does the thousands of dollars spent, hours spent driving to practices and games over the last 6 months add up to a life experience that builds character?
Maybe there’s more to the winning and losing? Nope, it’s about winning.
Although, you have to learn to lose too. But let’s face it, if we are going out on the ice for the “fun” of the game and for little Johnny to build memories for later in life I would rather keep my thousands of dollars and spend it on something else. My kid is going out on the ice to work 150% every time and to score goals and make plays for teammates so that we can win. My son doesn’t want second place, he wants first place. I can’t say I blame him, why want anything less than the very best in anything that you do?
I hear it a lot from other parents “You know little Johnny probably isn’t going to make it to the NHL, they need to start realizing only 2% make it professionally”
I. GET. IT … trust me, I have read every article, press release and study on what it takes and the odds at making it professionally in hockey. But here’s the thing about that, if little Johnny wants to continue playing hockey at a competitive level and has a goal to work towards then why isn’t it possible to work for that dream and become a professional hockey player? Who am I to tell him something isn’t possible, aren’t we suppose to tell them that with hard work anything IS possible? Do you think players like McDavid worked out daily and skated 7 days a week because he was “building childhood memories?” Heck no. He was chasing the dream and had a ton of talent and knew that if he worked harder than anyone else it would bring him closer to his goal and could happen for him.
What I DO tell our boy is that you need to set goals for yourself, goals that you work towards. This year’s goal might be to score more points in assists than actual goals, become a faster skater, get more rebounds… work towards a goal and then when you make it to that goal, make a new one or challenge yourself again. It’s the only way we continue to grow and learn. To grow as a player, we need to become uncomfortable.
Who am I to say he isn’t going to make it? If he is passionate about the sport and wakes up every morning with a smile on his face and jumps up ready to go to the rink for practice or a workout with his coaches, then we will continue to write the checks for as long as he needs.
I think like other sports there are politics involved. What we realized this past season is that it isn’t always about your ability or talent, it’s about who kisses ass and who are the favorites. What is should be based on is if I worked harder than you, scored more points than you, was an overall better player than you… I get that spot on the team. Period.
So there’s that… but what I have learned is that we do have choices when it comes to competitive sports for our kids. We aren’t always going to have the perfect coach, the teammates that have the same work ethic or level of competitiveness., sometimes they are there because Mommy and Daddy wrote a check and paid for their spot on the team. You can choose whether you want to have your child play for that coach, be teammates with those players, become friendly with the parents and partake in gossip about others. Often I think as parents we like it when our children are selected or chosen out of a group of dozens of other kids for travel hockey, it’s a great feeling but is that feeling of being wanted more important than the lessons and experience your child is going to have on the ice or in the locker room? No, it’s not.
There is a team and a program out there that is the right fit for your player, one where they will be supported and motivated to keep working harder. Just because it’s the biggest program doesn’t mean it’s the best, because don’t ever forget that hockey is a business … they want your money above and beyond all. A player should earn their spot on a team, continuously work hard to keep their spot and be a team player both on and off the ice. It’s not a harsh statement, that is why there are recreational or house leagues available and then there are travel teams. The distinct difference is in the level of player ability, focus, respect and dedication to always give 150% when you get out on the ice.
If you are a new parent to travel hockey, there are no handbooks with the “dos and don’ts” trust me, I looked for it. We as parents stumbled through our first travel hockey season making mistakes and learning as we go. There were many sleepless nights because there were new hurdles we needed to get over and sometimes they made us uncomfortable. Things that seemed out of our control. Was this just the “norm” for travel hockey? Would we ease into it after a few months and look back on these times and laugh? Sure, but we also learned that we are in control and that it’s always a good idea to have options. Shop around for programs, coaches, teams and ask questions. Nothing is going to be perfect and there will always be the “hockey politics” but surrounding your player with the right coaches and teammates will make the experience much more enjoyable and memorable for all.
Update: This article was written based on the 2018-2019 hockey season and our first-ever travel hockey season for our family. We have since learned quite a bit more which you can read about here: