It is autumn in Canada and it is time for 2 dangerous droves to reemerge: Hornets attacking us in our backyards and competitive hockey families attacking arenas with hopes and dreams of playing pro hockey one day.
Last year was my first season as a competitive head coach and when tryouts finally arrived, I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect. Now that tryouts have arrived this year, I am once again nervous because, this time, I know exactly what to expect.
As a rookie competitive coach, I had very few previous relationships with players or families when it came to the cut-down process. The players were 9 years old and the expectations were reasonable from parents. Given that the players all played half-ice games for the previous 2 COVID-interrupted years, the selection process was much more straightforward. The players were essentially numbers on a spreadsheet and ranked 1-5. I met with the independent evaluators and progressively cut my roster down to 15 skaters and 2 goalies. After the final tryout, I submitted my roster and it was over.
I knew that there were some players who were absolutely heartbroken after being cut, but without the preexisting relationships, I didn’t have to dwell on the heartache.
Not so for Coach Waldo this season.
I am a nervous wreck about the selection process that began this week. I see my players from last year at the rink and they all say, “Hey Coach!” with big smiles on their faces. Their parents greet me genially with sincere questions about how my family is doing, how my summer was, and how lousy the New York Giants are. The fact they know I’m a Giants fan speaks to the relationships we built last year. The players themselves see their teammates from last season, sit next to each other in the dressing room, and dream of another year together.
Put yourself in the mind of a 10 year-old boy: “I played competitive last year for the same coach, why should things change? Coach Waldo liked me last year, why wouldn’t he want me back? My teammates and I are going to run it back and have a blast!”
The nightmare for every returning coach is simple: “What if I have to cut one of these great kids and their family?”
Every parent and child who has ever been cut by a returning head coach the following season must realize this truism: it is NOT in the coach’s hands.
The end of the season was 6 months ago. Given that my players are 10 years old, the amount of development and changes to some of them since last season is staggering compared to that of the adults in their lives. They are physically, mentally, and socially far different than last March. Growth spurts, muscle development, coordination, and overall ability differentiate themselves incredibly across players at this age.
Simply put: Your child is NOT the same kid that ended the season last March! No one ever stays the same; we either get better or we get worse. Even if your child got better since last March, there's a chance that their “better” might be lagging behind other “betters”.
This is why the coach has very little power when it comes to the final roster. This is why I am dreading the final selection process.
If you had a great relationship with your head coach from last year, it is for a myriad of reasons. Your coach most likely:
Treated your child with respect.
Treated you with respect.
Partied on the road.
Accepted input from you or, at the very least, listened to your concerns.
Got the most out of his/her players.
Knows a good hockey player when they see one.
Inspired your child to be a better person first and be a better hockey player second.
Coaches for all the right reasons and passed their love of hockey onto your child.
The reason you liked the coach in the first place is because he or she is a person of integrity - why would this change because your child didn’t make his or her team again the following year?
Your child got cut because they were surpassed from a talent perspective, plain and simple. True, hard work and determination are noble virtues that every coach wants in their players, but tryouts are a blend of both. As a parent, you know exactly how much time, effort, and tears your child has put into preparing for these tryouts. You know the money, time, and sacrifice it takes to play competitive hockey. Here is what some of you forget: so does everyone else in that rink!
Here is some perspective for you as you sit in the stands with nervous anticipation while you watch your child attempt to make the competitive team:
Your child is healthy enough to play competitive sports.
Your family has enough money to spend over $5000 on a sport.
If your biggest stress is minor hockey, you are either in a really great place in your family’s life OR you need a reality check.
You get to worry about one child; I have to answer to the league, the independent evaluator, my convenor, the 17 families that are successful, and the many more that are upset.
Lastly, if you read my blog titled “What if Your Kid's Hockey Coach Made Minimum Wage?”, you know that I (and all other dedicated coaches) will put in over 500 hours of volunteer time to coach this team. From this perspective alone, do you honestly believe I am in the business of intentionally destroying your family’s hopes and dreams?
I am not naive enough to think that common sense will rule the day. Laying the blame for a child’s self-worth and future success at the feet of a Minor Hockey Coach is, sadly, another one of those Canadian Autumn traditions and, like the hornets in my backyard, I can only hope that these parents are calmed down with the approaching cold weather.