I have heard this phrase many times before. Is it true in today's fast paced me-first society? Is it true in today's USA Hockey, NCAA Hockey and Junior Hockey? Hockey, like many other sports, favors those that physically mature early. Players are committed to younger and younger every year. However there is an obvious disconnect somewhere between bantam and pro.
I am a firm believer that every player develops on their own timeline and there is no "right way" to a players dream. The patience issue comes in here regarding each player's timeline. If little Joey has a biological Dad that was 5'2" when he was sixteen and 6' when he hit twenty along with a biological Mom who fit into a 32A at age sixteen and was a 36DD at age twenty (naturally of course) there is a strong probability that this player may not begin his growth spurt until he is driving a car and may not fully develop until he is well into junior hockey at age twenty.
So what do parents tell this kid they passed these genes to? In my mind it's simple. Be honest, be realistic and be patient. You can only worry about that which you can control. Therefore write up and actually draw a timeline together. Include projected growth, appropriate workouts, appropriate diet and personal hockey goals.
It's hard for players to see their peers leave them behind for reasons like stature, strength and weight, but it is reality. However if ability and skill are the reasons some are leaving him behind do not lie to him or sugar coat the truth.
In all sports some players are simply better than others. That's fine, because like water, players will eventually seek their own level. Hockey players need to be resilient, mentally tough and have an obsessive passion to succeed in order to play Junior, College and Pro hockey. If you don't have these character traits you most likely will let the late maturity barrier become an excuse instead of a reality you eventually overcome.
Of course someone will comment, "You don't have to be big make it in hockey", I agree. Mom and Dad can be 5'2" and have a son 5'3" who is an excellent and gifted athlete. These same parents may have a 6'5" son that only wants to know how to drive a pink Zamboni down Main Street at the local Fourth of July parade. There are always exceptions to the norm. The bottom line is to be realistic, discuss the timeline and how it relates to specific goals and encourage your kids to persevere.
Here is the disconnect; The USA hockey ADM model, which I am a big fan, talks about key skill and cognitive development ages and how we coaches can take advantage of these key ages. During these lessons they point out these maturity curves I have written about. USA Hockey takes loads of criticism but here they are right on. So tell me why the many junior leagues and many NCAA programs find it necessary to make verbal commitments younger and younger or draft players at age 16? Why put them in the stands or on the fourth line to develop? Their answer is we are developing pros and need to keep up with Canadian Major Junior hockey. All right, I can accept that for the top 5% of players but how are we addressing the others?
What about the player that is an average or late physically maturing player? Are there spots for them in Junior? Do college programs have scholarships left for these guys? Do we target and teach this large population of players so they don't walk away from the game?
Many hockey players 14-18 quit because they think the cards are stacked against them. Coaches and organizations cater to the top five players on teams as young as 14 and it carries into Midget, Prep and High School.
Let's talk about the second and third line guys who have no armpit or facial hair at midget. Let's talk about the twenty year old player leading junior hockey in scoring on the college team in the NCAA final four with an average age greater than twenty two.
Yes, I agree not all of these players are good enough period but some are good enough. The problem is that they were not good enough when people were paying the most attention. I have had many conversations with college and junior coaches and I really believe based on these conversations that the majority of these coaches would like to see the NCAA back up the age to 18 in order to make any type of commitment.
I think based on the number of verbal commitments broken by both sides that we could make a strong argument to go back to written letters of intent only. Now all you guys with a Pro level Bantam are going to tell me we in the USA need to keep up with Canadian Major Junior.
My argument is simple. Look at how many players are coming out of the USHL and NCAA and having very strong NHL careers. Look at how many young players sit the bench in junior and college. Are they getting better, getting looks?
Besides if the kid has what the NHL wants they will pull him out of college early anyway. Take a look at how many major junior players don't pan out and have two or three year minor pro careers with no education or career training to back them up.
I would love to hear some opinions on patience being a virtue. What can junior hockey do? What can the NCAA do? Let's give them some ideas. Keep in mind the more playing opportunities the better it is for growing the game. I want all players capable of playing junior and college hockey to seek out their level no matter what card hand they have been dealt. Tell us what you think.
Chuck Linkenheld has been active in hockey at all levels both as a player and as a coach. A native of Illinois, he played junior hockey for the Chicago Minor Hawks and went on to play at Merrimack College in Massachusetts where he became captain his senior year. His coaching career began back in Illinois, and has more than 20 years of experience at the youth and junior levels, along with a dedication to helping developing players reach their full potential.