Breaking 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.