Since we have now entered what I call the season of movement in which teams move to different leagues or cities, coaches move up or move on, and players do the same, or try to, I thought it was a good time to give you my advice for picking teams. By the way, I also call this email season as it’s the time of year when my inbox is flooded with offers of camps, combines, showcases, and off season training, but those emails are another article I have already written. Keep in mind this is only my opinion, and you know what they say about opinions.
You might also call it recruiting season, and the biggest thing to remember here is that recruiters recruit. They are trying to sell their team to you, emphasis on sell if the team is pay to play. That means they are going to tell you things that make themselves and/or their team look good because they want you to play for them, right? We all know that intellectually, but it is easy to get taken in by their attention to you. Now, most of the time they aren’t lying, but they have learned how to word things in a way that allow you to create a vision in your head that doesn’t always jive with reality without muttering a single untruth.
One of the things they might tell you is that they pack the house for games. The number of fans doesn’t matter to a player on the ice, and I challenge you to find a scout or coach anywhere that chooses players based on how many fans their current team brings in every game. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Fans don’t help you move up the ranks anyway. Your individual performance does.
They might also tell you how many times they’ve won the championship. Now go look at some of those championship teams and see where players played the following year. Sure, some of them may have moved up, but just because they won it last year doesn’t mean they’ll win it every year. If you look at teams that move players up year after year, they aren’t always winning championships year after year. There are also players who move up from teams at the bottom of the rankings. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.
They might rattle off where all of their coaching staff played as if playing in the NHL or a Division 1 school means they’ll be a great coach. Great players don’t always make great coaches. Great coaches know their team is only as good as their weakest player, so don’t ask a top 6 forward what they think of that coach. Ask the bottom 6 or the kids who were healthy scratches week after week. Do they want to play for that guy again?
Find a team where you will actually see game minutes. Scouts are watching games, but if you aren’t playing in those games, no one is seeing you. Choose playing time over the ego boost of making a “higher” level team. You make the next level by dominating the one you are in, not by riding the pine.
Find a team that has a history of moving players up. Go and actually check them out and see if the players actually played there. I have run into a few where the team claimed one thing, but the truth was something else. While you’re checking that out, take a look at their current roster. It might be a red flag if you see a ton of inactive players. There are almost always going to be a few on every team, but if you have to scroll endlessly to see the whole roster, you might want to check into that. Are the players leaving? Are they getting cut? What’s happening there?
While you’re at it, check out the team’s website and the social media accounts of those involved. Make sure things add up there. Most of the time they do, but I have run into folks who misrepresent their involvement with a team, and I figured that out because of things posted on social media. If someone emails you claiming to be a scout or a coach, make sure they are listed on that team’s website. I have run into that one as well.
Talk to lots of people, and make sure to talk to someone who isn’t going to be biased. When I am making a big decision, I will seek out the person I think is most likely to be against whatever I’m thinking about doing because they are going to try to poke as many holes as possible. They might bring up something I hadn’t thought about. This means talk to parents, talk to other coaches, and talk to other players. However, if any of those people tell you an entire league is bad or this one is better than that one, run the other way. There are good and bad programs in every league, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about.
At the end of the day, choose the team where you will play actual game minutes and don’t worry about whether so-and-so who is “worse” than you made a “better” team. Every path is different, and to truly make it, you will need to put your ego aside in favor of your development. You can’t do that on the bench.
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