Navigating the youth hockey landscape and finding a team can be challenging. Many factors can influence this decision, but the most important thing to remember is that the team your player is on benefits their development. There will always be the allure to being on the best team in your area or age group, but just because that team may be the “best” doesn’t mean it would be the best situation for your player. Expectations vary from player to player in terms of what they are looking to get out of hockey and where they aspire to rise in the hockey ranks, so at the end of the day, you should do what you feel is best for the player in accordance with their goals. In this blog, we will look at different factors to consider when deciding which team is best for your player’s development.
One factor that should always be considered is opportunity. You could be on the best minor hockey team in the world, but if you are scratched or playing minimal minutes it will be hard not only to get the attention of scouts but to further your player’s own personal development. Especially at younger ages, you should be looking for the team that presents the best opportunity for development. While winning is always nice, at younger ages the emphasis should be on personal development. This means you would want to be on a team where you get good playing time, even if that team plays at a lower level. The more reps and the more experience that can be gained in different game situations, the more beneficial to your player for their long-term development.
Scenario: A player gets an offer from a AAA team and an offer from a high-end AA team. The AAA coach does not really see your player as a focal point for the success of the team, more so as a role player who could be used sparingly. The AA coach does see your player as a focal point for the success of the team. Your player would play at the top of the lineup, play all special teams, and be put on the ice in important situations throughout the game. Which situation would suit your player more? That’s for you to decide.
The other most important factor to consider when choosing a team for your player is the culture surrounding the team. This includes coaches, players, schedule, expectations, etc. You want your player to be on a team with a good environment where they feel comfortable and enjoy coming to the rink.
The culture starts at the top with the coaches and trickles down to the players. If you go to a tryout and notice that the team is in disarray, it may raise a red flag. Your player should feel comfortable talking to any of the coaches on the team and should feel like their voice is heard with any comments, questions, or concerns they may have.
You must consider what your player wants out of their team as well. Some teams place emphasis on certain aspects of the game more than others, and the environment of the team may very well rub off on your player. For example, if your player takes hockey seriously and always comes to the rink with a good attitude, it may be tough to keep that same attitude if the team accepts mediocrity and/or is constantly putting each other down instead of motivating each other. You want to first identify your player’s wants and expectations and compare them to those of the potential new team you are looking into to decide if the team would be a good fit for your player culture-wise.
You also must consider the schedule and expectations of the team, as some teams may only skate once or twice a week, while others skate almost every day with various other mandatory activities such as off-ice training and team bonding among others. There is more leeway at the lower skill level leagues in terms of attendance, but once your player reaches AAA or the junior ranks, attendance will be mandatory and there will be consequences if your player misses any team event. If your player just sees hockey as a fun activity to do a couple of times a week and to stay active and spend time with friends, a higher-expectation team may not be the best fit. If your player is serious about hockey and wants their teammates to share that same feeling, a higher-expectation team may be a better fit for your player.
Hopefully these tips will help you choose the best team fit for your player. At the end of the day, you want your player to enjoy the team they are on and get the most opportunity possible. Every player is different in terms of what they are looking to get out of hockey, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to which team or level your player should play at. Just remember that while it may be cool to brag on social media about being on a great team or playing for your high school, is that team giving you the best personal player development and putting your player in a position to flourish?