How to Make Tryouts Less Stressful
For youth hockey families this can be the most confusing and stressful time of the year, especially for you folks who have never been part of the travel hockey world. There are so many options and so many people trying to "sell you" on their program. Which one is best for my child? Should I sign up for a spring camp? Will attending a spring camp help my child's chance of making a team? All of these are good questions and I will try to help you better understand what you're getting yourself in to.
Let me start off by saying that most travel hockey clubs have good intentions and work very hard to do what's best for the local hockey community and each child in their program. I often compare the local hockey associations to a donut shop: many varieties to choose from, they are all good but everyone has their favorite. It's important to do your homework and find out what each club offers and what their philosophy is.
Let me start by talking about Mites so please give me a moment while I climb up on my "soapbox". The only thing 6-8 year old kids need is to have fun and the opportunity to participate. Whether or not your child plays recreational or travel hockey at the Mite level will not affect their ability to get a college hockey scholarship or play in the NHL. However, in many cases, it will affect their ability to enjoy the game as they get older, as I have seen many kids quit playing by the time they are 12 and 13 years old because they are burned out. You won't even see the burnout coming. One day your young hockey player will just quit and you'll be left wondering what happened. Ask any USA Hockey official what they think of Mite travel hockey and you'll find that the people who do not have a financial stake in a travel hockey association will tell you that Mite travel hockey is crazy. The folks from these clubs who are selling Mites on $3500 programs are the ones who make a living coaching these kids and they want to make sure their pipeline is full at the bottom.
If you're a recreational player looking to try travel for the first time, or a player who enjoys multiple sports and activities then you will want to find a program that will give you the opportunity to grow as a hockey player without demanding too much of your time and money immediately. There are several programs designed to offer competitively priced travel hockey options that give you a challenging environment while still recognizing that people have lives outside of hockey. Talk to folks who run the different programs and find out exactly what type of commitment is required. You don't want any surprises so doing your homework before tryouts is important.
If you currently are involved in a travel hockey program then you probably have a fairly good idea of the landscape. You are either happy with your association or possibly looking for something new. If you're looking for a new home your experiences from the past will help you decide where to go. What did you like about your previous club and what challenges did you face. Were you particularly impressed by one of the teams you played this past season? If so, go on-line and gather information about the program and see if they would be a good fit. The travel hockey community is relatively small so talking to other hockey families will give you good insight.
Whether you are new to travel hockey or a veteran it's important to find out about the coaches at the age group your child will be playing at. No single person can have a greater affect on your child's enjoyment of the season than the coach. Regardless of the age or the skill level every coach should possess some combination of hockey knowledge, coaching skills and people skills. Don't discount the people skills in this equation. I have known many coaches who have vast hockey knowledge but have no business coaching kids. On the other hand I know quite a few great coaches whom are not "hockey experts" but have sufficient knowledge to assure an excellent hockey experience. A good coach must be able to teach hockey skills and life skills. They must be able to take 15-20 individuals and make them into a team with each player having a role.
Last but not least is the subject of spring camps. The spring camps that many of the local associations run are a fairly recent innovation. While I believe that these camps serve a purpose, I don't believe attending a camp is going to assure you of making a team in that organization. While a camp may help you improve your skills they won't transform your game in a matter of a few weeks. Don't be led to believe that the only way you'll make a certain team is if you attend a pre-tryout camp. Remember that the coaches selling you the camp will make more money if they have more participants. When it comes to tryouts those same coaches will be selecting the best players, not necessarily the ones who attended their camp. As long as you understand the dynamics you won't be disappointed.
Like I mentioned earlier, all of the associations have something good to offer. Do your homework and go into the tryout process with your eyes open and as much information as possible. The more work you do on the front end will help assure that you won't be disappointed. Good luck!
Just a thought: No matter your age or skill level make sure you have fun! Teams at every level, including the NHL, will have "fun" at every practice.
Special thanks to Keith Andresen for the above article. Keith Andresen has been involved with USA Hockey and has been coaching hockey for the last 10 years in Texas.