Behind the Bench: Enjoy the ride, have perspective
It’s a fun ride coaching youth hockey. After a decade, I have seen and heard a lot.
My favorite question I often receive is, “When do you think you will coach at the higher levels?”
Internally, I’m thinking no chance I would ever want to go after the NHL. I am not that into coaching or hockey. I just like helping kids. How do I answer this person nicely without seeming like a jerk?
Then the question comes, “You know…. high level. Like Bantam AAA or Midget AAA?”
Then I just laugh and answer the question.
Perspective and appreciation are often only afforded to those that travel up the mountain. The arrogance and assurance of those yet to climb the mountain can often be helpful in not knowing how hard the climb is during the accent but can occasionally be fatal.
We in Southern California are blessed with the gift and curse of being on our own little island of sorts in the hockey world.
After 10 years of watching kids succeed, fail, succeed then fail or just succeed, I have observed some interesting things that I would love to share.
If your kid is NOT CLEARLY the best player on his/her team. You’re good with the team you have, you don’t need to play AAAA (not a typo) hockey. It’s not the players around him/her, or the coach. He/she is where they need to be. They just need to get better.
If your kid is a top-five player on the team and bored with the pace of play. You can probably think about playing on a different team or making a move. It might be warranted.
If your kid is CLEARLY the best player, you can probably go play wherever you want and be just fine.
In our Southern California island, we have a limited number of “high-level” players and a reasonably high number of teams to fill. What this leads to is more average players being required to fill out the “higher level” teams. Lots of kids are recruited to play on teams simply because the coach needs the numbers.
What often happens is weaker players get lost in the shuffle and their development slows.
If you’re not a top-five or top-one player. Give a second thought about joining that “high-level” team and focus more on simply getting better. Become a better skater, shooter, stronger, faster, whatever you need to do.
Don’t believe the hype that playing on a high-level team will inherently make you better. It can help, but it isn’t a golden key to success.
There are A LOT. I mean A LOT. Of good players in this country. You are not competing with them right now, but they are out there.
Yes. Maybe you made the cut for that Bantam AAA team you always wanted to make. Then the Midget AAA team. But keep in mind that the jump from here to juniors is massive. You are no longer competing with the kids in your area. You are competing with kids from all over. It is NOT easy.
Understand if you want to make the jump to Junior A and have a shot at college, you need to appreciate the amount of work, focus, desire, and sacrifice that goes into achieving that level. You need to REALLY work. Not just act like it.
I have found 90 percent of kids want to act like they want it, and that’s fine. Just know where you are on the spectrum and adjust expectations accordingly.
Here is a fun fact. Some of the happiest kids I have coached are playing club hockey. They “failed” because they did not reach NCAA Division I.
Appreciate that hockey is for FUN. It is OK to play it for fun and be “good.” You don’t have to want to make it to NCAA Division I or the pros. That is REALLY hard.
You can play in southern California your whole life and have a great time. Then play club at UCLA and have an absolute blast. Still play with a team. Still have competitive hockey and most importantly be able to take those high-level pre-med classes (which is borderline impossible if you go D-I).
I know I don’t want to coach in the NHL. One of my best friends does. He is going to make the NHL, no question. Follow his career. His name is Brock Sheahan. He eats, breathes, sleeps, and lives hockey. I literally cannot talk to him without him telling me about his team (uninitiated by me). He is willing to pay the price.
I am not.
I have the perspective to know I am a decent coach. I could be great. But I am not willing to endure the sacrifice to do so.
So, I appreciate the level I am at, and I enjoy it.
I urge all of you to have a perspective on where you are and appreciate the fun of it. This journey goes by insanely fast. By defining what price you are willing to pay and what level you REALLY expect to be at you can maximize your fun.
Refs make bad calls, coaches are terrible sometimes, politics are real (people are people) and often the hours are rough.
But have perspective and appreciate where you are at. The good, bad and ugly.
Whether your kid is on track for NCAA Division I or club, enjoy the ride. It ends. It always ends…
Noah Babin played NCAA Division I hockey at the University of Notre Dame and currently coaches with the San Diego Jr. Gulls youth hockey program.
(April 7, 2023)