By: Topher Scott
Diving into the depths and educating myself on youth hockey over the past few months has been quite the EXHAUSTING process.
And then using that information to change the culture of my new organization has been equal parts exhilarating and frustrating all at once.
The exhilarating part?
There is so much opportunity for growth. The impact that we’ll have on the kids and families in this area is going to be incredible. Having the ability to do things differently is a challenge I’m very much looking forward to.
The frustrating part?
Agendas. It’s honestly hard to gauge certain conversations. More and more there seems to be a bias on the information I’m getting based upon the particular situation of the person I am talking to.
I feel like any hockey director or youth organization president will understand what I’m talking about…
And hey, I get it. We all want the best for our kids. But as the decision maker now for the program I have to do what is best for the kids in the program as a whole. And with that, there will be people unhappy with certain decisions that will be made. And that’s ok too.
But with each interaction and decision, however difficult they may be, I think there is one thing that is extremely important…and that is always finding my North Star. The one specific idea that I always go back to:
Just do what is best for the kids.
Easy. Simple. No Drama.
No matter how difficult the scenario…just do what is best for the kids.
Things have honestly been a bit draining. But then yesterday, at the perfect time, I got this text from a prominent hockey director that I know in Chicago and it just made me value that idea even more:
That 85 CYA team he is referring to was a three year process into building a National Champion. I’ve written about this group that I played with before, and his text is so unbelievably spot on. For two years we had minimal talent but a great culture and coach combination. The team on the other side of town had all the talent in the world but a really bad culture. After initially getting our butts kicked, our rag-tag group got so much better during those two years that eventually we started beating the other team in town. We even won our league at the end of the year.
Then in Year Three the talent on the other side decided to combine with our great coaching/culture combination. And not only did we win the National Championship that year, but half our team played D1 hockey.
Our coach and our culture were all about the process of creating a fun and challenging environment where it was all about development. If you focus on the process and doing the right things for the kids…results will more than likely fall into place. And good grief, with so much less drama.
Listen to any press conference of a high level coach. Literally any one. They all go something like this:
“We’re gonna focus on the process. Take it one day at a time. Focus on getting better every day…”
They are the most cliché soundbites you will ever hear…but they are speaking so much truth into what makes individual players and teams thrive:
Focusing on the process of getting better. Focusing on the journey, not the end result.
I have a few too many parents right now worried about rankings, recruiting, and/or the prospect of their kid playing college or professional hockey… but it’s all backwards.
If you just do the right things, the wins and the personal accolades come AFTER it.
It’s a constant battle that I am fighting right now, and one that is just so sad. So many parents are being sold on chasing the rankings or moving away from home before their kids are even close to ready. They’re being sold on all-star teams or an assembling of talent and the player development piece is being completely lost.
It scares me with these new all star teams popping up with kids from all over the place…some don’t even practice together they just get together on the weekends. Well, where do you get better?
And so many of these new models that are popping up too, the focus is on INDIVIDUAL ADVANCEMENT. Whatever happened to the importance of being a part of a TEAM?
I remember my junior hockey coach (who now works in the NHL) on the first day of training camp walking into our first meeting and handing us all a sheet of paper. The paper showed the amount of college commitments each team had from the previous year (bear in mind, when I was playing juniors most kids got their commitments while playing juniors, not beforehand). It was striking to see as the teams with the most commitments were the ones at the top of the standings.
You win and lose as a team. If you play as a team, the by-product will be more wins. And the more wins you get as a team, the more individual accolades we will get. It was a great message…and our team ended up winning the league regular season that year and moving a ton of players on. TEAM success lead to individual success, not the other way around.
Why do people put their kids in sports?
It’s about the life lessons of learning how to be a leader and follower…learning how to be a part of a TEAM. Learning the values of resiliency, accountability, and working towards something as a group. Hockey is not permanent. Few people are lucky enough to play at the highest levels. But learning to be coachable and having to work together with people…kids will take those with them the rest of their lives.
And how ironic that multiple people sent me the following quotes from an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the 40 year anniversary of the 1980 Olympic Team:
Not selecting the best players but the right ones. Team success. Arduous training. Unselfish play.
Our youth hockey culture is moving away from really promoting those values…which are the most important values any kid can learn. The 1980’s Miracle on Ice team won because they were the best TEAM. They learned how to work together, persevere together, pick each other up, and play for the name on the front of the jersey…not the one on the back.
I’m scared that our culture, the way it’s headed, is promoting the opposite.
Youth organizations should focus on building culture, not rosters.
They should focus on promoting team dynamics, not individual glory.
And they should focus on the athlete development, not adult ego.
As I sit here writing this I am reflecting on all of the values that were instilled in me throughout my hockey journey. It was never perfect, and it certainly wasn’t easy, but the life lessons I learned brought me to amazing places and now has allowed me to get to this moment in time where I’m able to share it with the platform we’ve built with the Hockey Think Tank.
This is an incredible time of stress for many hockey families out there. I see it, and I feel it now being a part of a youth organization. But hopefully this post can be a reminder, just like our last one on handling fear in youth hockey, to go back to your “why”. The “why” is a powerful thing and can center us in times of need. I know why my parents put me in youth hockey…and I know why I’ll put my daughters in it too.
Hopefully the youth hockey environment surrounding your kid can reflect the “why” you have for them as well.