Sunday, January 31, 2016

SKATING AROUND THE POLITICS OF MINOR HOCKEY

For the first time in ten years my son - who lives for hockey - did not want to go to the rink today. 

This is the second time in as many days that I forced myself to step back and try and put some perspective to the politics of minor hockey.  

In an ideal world, making the team and getting deserved ice time would be based on performance and merit. Blaming politics for not making a team, or getting enough ice time, is like blaming the teacher for your kids bad marks. In some cases it may be justified. I would like to think there are far more cases of delusional parents than teams that look as if they were pre-selected by the powers-that-be.

Tryouts are stressful for everyone involved. The objective is clear but it is not an easy job to select a team. What about a great skater who lacks hockey sense versus an average skater who oozes smarts? What about a player’s tenacity to win? Do you want a kid who shies away from the corners? What about size? Picking a team is not easy. 

Unanimous agreement is illusive. Survey a dozen parents about who should be picked and you can expect a dozen different opinions.  Sometimes they agree on a few players that should make it and when they do not, people talk. All we can do is hope that the final cuts are conducted with a degree of fairness.

My son Liam is one the easiest going, well-rounded kids you are ever going to encounter.  He punches a lot of effort into his games, practices and development. I have lost track of the number of hours a week he spends at it between the back yard rink, the practices as the designated affiliate (alternate) for both the Don Johnson League Bantam A & Caps Bantam B teams, house league and the Blizzard Dog games on Sundays. He just loves being on the ice.

After three years of playing all star hockey, he was not successful at earning a spot on the all-star team this year. We were a little surprised but as he gets older the competition is getting tougher. He took it in stride saying he will have to worker harder next year. 

The scattered upset in life builds character - you have to learn to take the occasional disappointment. Not long after the roster was announced , the coach for the team called and asked if Liam would be the teams alternate which meant he would participate in the practices and fill-in for missing and injured players. In fact, he started the season playing for the team due to an injured team mate.

When tryouts came for B, he signed up. Once again, he failed to make the roster.  Parents and past coaches expressed some concern to us. We were more disappointed than Liam was. There is always next year he said. Once again, shortly after the team was picked the coach called and requested that Liam be the alternate for that team.

Liam has been attending practices for both all star teams, playing when needed and getting lots and lots of ice time. After all development is more important than winning. 

Always the optimist he tried out for the C team in the hopes of earning a spot and getting to attend a provincial tournament this year. Once again, to just about everyones surprise, he was unsuccessful. 

This time my paternal instinct kicked in.  How does a kid who played consistent all star hockey for three years, who is the alternate player for the A and B  teams not earn a spot on the C team? 

I reminded myself not to get caught up in minor hockey politics. The last thing Liam needed was to get a reputation for having meddling parents. That sort of thing follows you around. 

The most challenging part has been the other parents who keep telling us, and unfortunately him, that he was shafted. 

I really did not want to sit down and have a "real life" conversation with a kid who believes that hard work, dedication, skills and ability determines what level of hockey you play in. How do you explain the cold hard fact that sometimes politics, ego and misdirection trump skill and hard work. That the biggest challenge facing minor hockey is politics.

I asked Liam why he plays, he responded because it is fun. Is it any less fun because you did not make the C team.? He shrugged his shoulders. Not really. 

This morning,after mass, he said he did not want to play his house league game. He said he just did not feel like it. Who could blame him? We chatted about the fundamentals of character, of being a team player, of facing adversity and the fun of the game. He turned his frown upside down, packed his gear and somewhat begrudgingly headed to the van.

What does not kill you only makes you stronger. I just can not help but feel a little sad and hope this experience in minor hockey politics is not detrimental to his confidence or his  love of the game.

When you loose at the politics game you have to make up for lost ground with performance.

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