Chalk Talk: Let’s encourage – not discourage – today’s hockey youth
There is a famous story about a young man that travels to California during the Gold Rush to dig for gold and spends considerable effort and time digging, to finally give up and move on.
Later, he finds out that when he quit, he was actually only three feet from a substantial gold source. He vows to never quit prematurely again and goes on to massive success in the business world.
Far too often, I see young hockey players quit too soon, not realizing what “riches” could lie ahead for them if they are willing to work hard at it through the good times and the bad.
We have all heard the statistics of how many hockey players actually “make it” to the big time, or even get a scholarship for that matter. We hear about the .0001 percent chance when considering the number of players in the world compared to the number of jobs available in the NHL. What’s more, we realize that a large percentage who do make it, actually don’t last more than a handful of games or seasons.
It is important that young players and especially their families are aware of these stats because we hope that “making it” is not the primary reason for a kid to play the sport and for their family to “invest” in it. We want players and families to keep things in perspective and play for the love of the game and the life lessons and friendships it builds, to find something that they are passionate about and a vehicle to express themselves and have great life experiences. The rest is gravy.
While, it is important that players and families stay “realistic” and are aware of how tough it is to play at the world class levels of an international sport like hockey, I think many times the talk of these statistics can actually hurt our chances of producing some great players down the road because they are used to discourage, rather than simply refocus families on what’s most important.
Hockey is one of the latest development sports, with players reaching their potential not until 24-26 years of age. Even collegiate hockey players mostly don’t even start playing as a freshman until the age of 20.
The crazy thing is that no one really knows who the best players will be until these late, late stages. The evidence is everywhere. Did you know that one out of every six NHL players is undrafted?
In youth hockey, the biggest dropout age is between 14 and 16, which means many kids quit well before their potential is reached. This is a real shame.
Obviously, players quit for different reasons, often to pursue other interests which is totally fine, but if they play for the right reasons because they love it and they want to be the best they can be, they will have no regrets and will have many more great experiences, maybe having the opportunity to play beyond youth hockey and hopefully loving the game for life and sharing the same great experiences with their children in the future.
The more players we keep playing, loving the game, and in a true development training model, the more chance we have to produce elite players, whether that’s in your club, your state, or our country. For the players that don’t end up playing at the elite levels, but continue working at it and pursuing their potential, they can be proud that they gave something they love all that they have. How many people in general can even say that about anything in their life? There is no failure in that.
At the end of the day, focus on serving the players and encouraging their dreams while instilling a sense of excitement and endless possibility for their future.
Ben Frank is the president of the Ontario Jr. Reign, a USA Hockey Model Association.
(Oct. 2, 2018)