Take a walk around any ice arena lobby immediately before or after a game and you can be assured of hearing a number of different tidbits of information. Or in many cases, misinformation. The intentions might be correct. The information just isn’t necessarily.
The old adage, "Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear" might in fact be good advice when navigating your way through the hockey waters. There is a plethora of rumors and a passel of innuendo and myths that circulate from rink to rink and hockey family to hockey family, passed down from year to year and generation to generation.
How does one know what to believe and what not to believe, who to believe and who not to believe? Where should you go for advice that you can trust?
There is no substitute for experience. Those who have been there and done that often have a fairly good perspective. Although just because they have had the experience doesn’t necessarily mean they understood it or learned from it. The downside of "experience" is that "what was" has happened in the past, and perhaps things have changed.
So here is a little advice from me on what I believe are the top five fallacies in the youth hockey community. These myths are often perpetuated by those who have something to gain from the message that they send. The reality is that there is a little truth to most of them, but taken out of context, they can send the complete wrong message.
#5 - Playing on the best team is always best.
It might be. But it just as easily might be the worst thing for a player. I guess it depends on priorities. If winning is the top priority, then being on a winning team might fulfill that player’s objectives. But it probably won’t help them to be a better player in the long run, if that is important to them.
Sure, there are some advantages. Practicing with and against better players every practice can definitely help a player improve. But practicing is one component. Competing and playing the game is very much a different thing. A third line forward or third pair defenseman on the strongest team could very possibly be a top line or top pair player on another team. Those situations offer a very different set of opportunities for the player to take advantage of. Do you want to be locked into a third line situation, slotted into a role playing "checker" or defensive defenseman at the ripe old age of 12? Or do you want to have an opportunity to play in and learn from every situation that the game has to offer?
The second, and maybe most important, negative with being on the best team is that you don’t very often lose. Losing is important. No matter how good a coach is at getting the most out of the players and challenging them to get better, they are human. Human nature is to get complacent when you rarely fail. You see it every year in youth hockey. The team below the top team (that never loses) makes greater strides and closes the gap on the top team over the course of the year. They have a carrot dangling in front of them. A little more of "something to play for" than the top team does. Losing games, learning from that and reacting to it is very much an essential part of the development of the player and the team.
#4 - More is better.
If practicing or playing hockey three or four times a week allows you to get good at it, then six or seven times a week will be even better. Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on the player and the player’s age. There is a point of diminishing returns. Today’s youth player has opportunities (or maybe challenges) that the players of yesteryear did not. Rinks are open year round and players can play year round. That can be good, but it can be bad as well. A break from the game is necessary for both the physical and mental well-being of the player. Refresh, re-charge, re-energize and come back with a hunger and enthusiasm.
Too many players today do not get that break. They love to play. Their parents love that they love to play and love that they are good at it. They want to give them every opportunity to succeed. They don’t want them to be left behind. So they allow them, and sometimes even push them, to do more and more. No matter how good a player gets, they have to have the desire and passion to play the game. Too much hockey is too much. I’ve been there. Every player who has played at a higher level has been there. There are times when you just don’t want to be around the game. You don’t want that time to be when your child should be enjoying it most.
#3 - Paying for "exposure" is necessary.
Parents want to give their child every opportunity to succeed. Some will do almost anything to see that happen. A whole cottage industry of "exposure programs" capitalizes on, or exploits (depending on your viewpoint) this premise. There are all kinds of "select" teams or "elite" teams that get put together during the off-season that promise players that they will be seen by coaches and recruiters from teams at a higher level. Players love the thought of being on a "select" team. Parents love the thought of their player being considered a "select" player. The people that run these programs love the thought that the parents are willing to do or pay almost anything to see that happen. Bottom line is if you are a good enough player, you shouldn’t have to pay for the opportunity to "be seen".
#2 - Playing with and against better players makes a player better.
At every age level up and every level of play up, the pace of play is faster. The hockey looks better. From that respect it is better. It should be. The players are either/or older and better. So it seems natural that a player (or the parents) would want to play that hockey as opposed to "the next level down". It makes them better, right? Maybe. But it can also make them worse. Many players can "play" at the higher level. They can survive. They can chase the puck around, get in the way, break up plays. But they can’t be a difference maker at that level. They don’t control the puck, make plays, try new things, gain confidence and develop skills. They are too busy just trying to keep up. Every NHL player of today was a dominant youth hockey player at the level they played at. They wouldn’t have the skills that they have if they weren’t.
#1 - A coach with a winning record must be a good coach.
They could be. But they could just as easily be perceived as a "good coach" because they have the best players. Here’s the test. Do the players "make the coach" or does the coach "make the players"? How do you determine that? It’s not easy to answer for the parent of a youth player. There are coaches of some of the better teams who couldn’t coach a stray kitten to a bowl of milk. Conversely, there are some who are excellent at actually coaching their players to be better, yet have teams that lose as much or maybe even more than they win.