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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dear Hockey Dad

The following is in response to a comment
Dear Hockey Dad,

I've been talking to my wife (Jane Rickard, of the Powderhornhockey site) and others about your comments since I received them. She has separate knowledge about the game. I want to send the comments to some friends in the NHL, the OHL and the AHL too. Hopefully they will also respond. My concern is that I was never exposed to the juniors and don't write about them. What you're asking about is an issue with the juniors. However, I want to take the comments seriously and comment on them with what knowledge I have, however poor.

First, I don't want to comment on Okanagan Hockey. I'm not knowledgeable about juniors to that degree. I have some advice on this later.

As a parent, I share your concern about the future of your child. I am surmising, from your letter, that you do not have any hockey experience yourself in juniors or college. The world of junior hockey, with its camps and sending children away to work with a team, a family of hosts who care for your child. This is very strange to those of us from the US. You need to get in contact with people who have these experiences. There are parents, former players (now adults) and hosts who will be glad to talk to you about what to expect. One of the most outspoken people I've met on this is an NHL coach. There are people all over the system who will talk to you. You need different viewpoints. You obviously don't know what to expect and don't know where to turn, if you're writing me. LOL.

Ask for help. The worst that will happen is people won't respond. I think if you explain why you are asking you'll receive a tremendous outpouring of love and support.

It is important that you be educated in what to expect. From my discussions, the coach should be open to talking to you about your child. He should be able to explain what he expects of your child and what he is offering your child. If, for example, he says that he expects your child to play third line, and he doesn't, he should be able to discuss with you why that is happening. A good answer might be that your child is not applying his talents. That's sort of like not studying.

Host families should also be open, in the same manner, to open discussion. They are going to be surrogate parents for your children for most of the year. How many other players are they hosting? What is the age difference? What is their philosophy about religion, spirituality, schooling and discipline? Think about how you'd answer these questions before you ask them. I assume that hosts have considered these ideas, but they might hesitate if they are new.

Your child is taking a huge step towards their independence. And the years of love and care you've given them will be tested. Most children in the US and Canada are not tested like this for another four years, when they are 18. They will be exposed to drugs, alcohol, sex and crime.

Let's not make the mistake of thinking that if you kept them home they wouldn't be exposed to these things. High school is almost defined by these things, in any community in the country. The value system you've given them will be tested whether away or home. For the most part, I felt that years of being able to talk to my child paid off big when she entered high school.

Thinking back to my own high school days, I think that the weaknesses of my family became the weaknesses I had to deal with. Alcohol was a problem in the family and it was a problem in high school and college. There was a lack of personal relationship in the family, caused by a hierarchical structure. That survived to poor relationships with my girlfriends and first wife. It really seemed true, in my case, that the sins of the father were visited upon the son. Time for some reflection. These are hard issues to deal with in yourself, and your child.

Someone has suggested the OHA to you or your son. If you want to find other schools, there are some good publications. Everyone has a bias, my favorite hockey publication is the Hockey News. Here in Illinois we have a local publication just for juniors. I find it in the sports equipment stores that sell to kids.

Now, is there nepotism in hockey? HELL YES. It seems to exist on every level and every position in the sport from the guy driving the ice surfacing machine to the coaches. It can be profoundly disturbing. I'm thinking of the appointment of Frasier relatives to positions as on-ice officials in the pros. There is also such good ole' boy networks throughout life. Help your child recognize it is human nature and to use it for his advantage.

Now the last thing I wanted to add popped into my head as I was watching ESPN's Outside the Lines last week. Perhaps you saw the story of the high school football player who claimed he was recruited by Cal? There is a lot of pressure on children to succeed. This led in Nevada to an issue where the young man felt he had to hide his failure to be recruited from his parents, his school and his coaches. A county standout, he wasn't good enough for the PAC-10. But he told his school and the local press he was headed to play for California.

The situation happened in part because no one around him, including his coaches, but especially his parents, had the experience to know how a college recruits athletes. John Anderson, now the coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, and a parent of a child in the juniors, told me that a parent has to be the biggest and the best advocate for their child in this system. Get educated and stay in touch with everyone.

There was an article in the Hockey News this season. I remember it as saying that Sidney Crosby's parents putting together the cost of bringing Crosby to the level of expertise he is at. Now, I might be wrong about the player, I can't locate the article. However there were a number of important facts. First, his parents owned auto dealerships. That allowed them the wealth and the freedom to support their child. They were at every home game and many away games. They sent the child to two camps each year during off-season. They spent $160,000 over the years on equipment, training and education.

There are only about 600 professional NHL athletes in North America. About another 600 in the minors earn maybe $75,000 a year. After that, their parents support them. In Europe, I'm not sure of the numbers, but there is greater income and there are more teams, but you need to include the European population, including of Russia and parts of the former Soviet Union. You can easily see that there are just a few thousand jobs. Easily less than 3,000, worldwide.

There are hundreds of thousands of children in the hockey system. While hockey is a game that your children will likely enjoy for many years, unlike football, people are playing it well into their middle years, the culling in professional athletes is chilling.

Now, it will probably cost me or my daughter about $160,000 in education and other costs to make her an expert in her field. The cost of medical school, to be a lawyer, a manager or many other positions, approaches $160K from one side or the other. But it is a tremendous sacrifice of your time and your wealth for your child. Unlike the dentist, at the end of the line, a coach will be faced with a prospect camp of young adults, perhaps 50 of them. One will be given a professional position in the minors.

1 comment:

Powderhornhockey said...

Hockey Dad, Kissane and I have been giving your email great thought for some time, as parents we share your concerns for the well being of your son, however we can't comment on a school we have not had any personal or professional experience with. However as parent and someone who says with pride that “I grew up on a pond” I might have a few insights.

First if you decide to follow the path with your son of Juniors. Know it is a well worn and you should be able to easily find parents and billet parents more than willing to talk to you about the glories and pitfalls of the system. If you have no other connections get to the closest Major Jr game and talk to every parent or billet parent in the stands . As a woman past 40 I have been mistaken at times for a players mother by other parents and even when they find out I'm not part of the club but with the press they still extend a warm welcome to the arena. You should have no problem getting honest information from these people within the Jr. community. If they don't know someone in the area you are looking at someone should be able to refer you just keep getting to games.

I have to admit to an American prejudice at this point, I worry about the end product of the Jr. experience. At 19 if they're very lucky and all goes well they start in the pipe line of the professional system and end up climbing the ladder from the OHL, to ECHL,AHL and into the NHL. Kissane and I have seen several kids beat all odds and do this through the various rookie camps over the years. However even as they make it to the NHL each and every young man is one injury away from unemployment with no education to back him up. On the other hand, consider a player who comes up through the American collegiate system: the NCAA. He will enter it at 18 and leave at 22 with a college degree to start the climb through the minor leagues. One player who I have been following closely for a year is Jordan Hendry, a Chicago Blackhawk prospect. Hendry had the misfortune to sustain a facial injury last spring on the ice. Last night he was injured again, my sources say it looked like a knee. Given Hendry's history of last springs dramatic recovery he will probably bounce back. But if he doesn't, he has a BA in Business Finance from U of Alaska Fairbanks to help him along. As a parent I would think about this.

Although I did not play I graduated from a Division 1 school, Rochester Institute of Technology. I'm an RIT Tiger where hockey is something everybody does whether it be every dorm floor's club team or the school's team. It was part of the air we breathed, dorm games late at night and Tiger matches on the weekend.

Lastly, when your child enters any system, you and you alone are their best advocate, teacher and support. Know their rights and responsibilities. Good luck.