Q&A: How to Deal With Cliques During Hockey Tryouts


cliques_during_hockey_tryouts_postBreaking into hockey at the travel level can be very difficult. Add to this the problem of favoritism and cliques and you have the recipe for a less than positive experience. Former NHL player Lance Pitlick and founder of SweetHockey and OnlineStickhandling.com offers the following advice regarding how to avoid this unfortunate scenario.

Chris asks: I’ve only been involved in travel hockey for 3 years. Unless your kid is a superstar, it seems hard to get into certain teams. The coaches and parents already know each other and ignore the other kids and parents. I’ve been to tryouts where there are 40, even 50 kids on the ice at the same time. The coaches watch a few kids and ignore the rest. Do you have any suggestions for coaches and parents to avoid this situation?

Answer: Where I am located in Minnesota, there are two hockey seasons, winter and then AAA. Players skate with their own association during the winter months and migrate to different AAA teams for the spring/summer & falls months. Each association has a tryout process that lasts roughly 1-2 weeks. Players are slotted for teams based on scores received during the tryout evaluations. Most associations in my area bring in independent evaluators or use individuals within the association that do not have a vested interest in the kids trying out. At the end of the tryouts, most players are put on appropriate teams and levels, based on what they showed during ice sessions. There will always be a few players that are on the bubble and could probably play up or down a level, but from my experiences, the majority end up on teams they should be on.

The AAA season is different. Teams are put together with players from a number of different associations. These teams are more like all-star teams and can be more difficult to get a foot in the door. Most have tryouts, but the more high-end organizations recruit players year after year and scout players during the winter months.

At the end of the day you have to be realistic about your player’s ability, passion for the game and willingness to improve. If you think players in your association are getting preferential treatment, I’d suggest getting involved in the process.

Looking at tryouts from a parent’s perspective, typically, all they want to know is how a player makes a team and the criteria that is part of the grading or scoring process. A parent within the association I’m involved with suggested having an open forum for parents to attend. At the meeting, parents will be informed of what to expect during tryouts. This can include the format that will be used, who will be evaluating the players and what criteria will be a part of making the final selections. At the end of the meeting, open the floor to questions. I have found that this process has great merit and should be implemented year after year.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Lance Pitlick for his valuable advice.  For more information about Lance please visit www.sweethockey.com or www.onlinestickhandling.com.



  1. My son won't even try out for the travel team in our area because of this problem. He enjoys the kids on the House teams and prefers to play at this level. It is unfortunate, since he is a far better player that many of the travel kids and outshines most of them in the summer camps he attends. I am always shocked when I see coaches overlooking talent to preserve both youth cliques and parent cliques. How sad for the program!!

  2. This happens where I live as well. Especially when the high school coach is coaching travel and fills the squad with his own players and his assistant coach's kids.

  3. My son always seems to make a low level travel team as a 2nd year player but because of his size and grade he makes friends with the 1st year players. The next year when he has to move up he usually get cuts back to house. Our last experience with house hockey was horrible. This year as a 1st year migdet minor he was cut again to house. He does not want to play. He has more fun playing pickup hockey with adults and is ready to quit youth hockey. I really dislike the fact that associations want you to register in May and give them a large amount of money so they know what there numbers are, but they feel it is OK to go out a recruit several players between May and tryouts so they can push out the bubble kids like my son. It is not his hockey skills that hurt him but his size.

  4. I am so sorry for your unfortunate situation. It is good, however, that your son finds other outlets to play. In the end, it is about the love of the game and playing it for enjoyment! Does anyone have any advice for Colorado Mom to deal with her situation? Please share!!

  5. hockeymom,
    Thank you for sharing your situation. It is unfortunate that this happens, however, I am happy to see that your son is still finding a place to fill his passion and love for the game! Does anyone have any advice for hockeymom in this situation or have a similar story? Please share!

  6. Lance's answer was fine, but it did not address the question. Many coaches and many organizations within the Denver area choose teams quite subjectively as opposed to being scored on skills, play , speed, etc. If there was a consistent scoring where the scores were posted publicly, and this scoring was done by impartial, divested experienced coaches and players, this would all go away – its hard to argue objectivity. There is no consistent way that a team seems to be picked other than if the coach knows you and likes you, your chances go wayyyyyyy up. The converse is also true. We endured 4 years of Travel and tryouts and the player cliques and the all important parent cliques are very significant. To deal with parent cliques, you need to meet the coach, call the coach, but you must do this months before the tryouts. You must make sure that your player is also known to the coach, and encourage your player to be social with other players.