Most of us picked up a hockey stick before we could even walk and talk.
Next thing you know, our parents no longer needed to help us get dressed from head to toe in our hockey equipment and before you know it, we fell in love with the sport of hockey. Was it for the friendships? the camaraderie? the road trips and all the fun that comes with all of it? Perhaps, but as a kid you only have one dream; to play in the NHL. You grow up watching these superstars, how much work they put in, learning about their lifestyles and it doesn’t take long before the only thing you want to do is follow in their footsteps.
Let me put it into perspective for those who don’t know how hard it is to make it to “The Show”.
Pardon the time line as the stats may be a little more updated now but in 1985, there were 22,000 10 year olds playing hockey in Ontario. Of those 22,000 kids, 110 of them made it to the Ontario Hockey League whereas 22 others chose to pursue NCAA Div 1. I’m not here to shut down dreams by any means. With countless hours of hard work and commitment, you really just never know what the future holds, but at what time do kids forget about simply having fun and begin to deal with all kinds of pressure from just about everyone around them… coaches, teammates, parents, fans and most importantly themselves.
I can remember that it wasn’t until my first year of bantam that I began to learn about major junior as well as NCAA hockey. You start seeing scouts in the crowd and finally cluing in that how you play when you are 14-15-16 years old could impact the next five years of your life if not the rest of it. As mentioned in a previous blog, I was fortunate enough to be drafted by the Sudbury Wolves in the 10th round of the 2010 OHL Draft and that is when my OHL dream really began. Things are a little different now, major junior hockey is being advertised more than ever and a lot of these young teenagers are already said to be the future of the NHL, young stars, whatever you want to call it.
Pressure on hockey players is at an all time high and it could be for the worse. A friend of mine told me the other day that he ran into a group of nine year olds at the rink talking about their OHL draft, nine years old! What is that, grade four!?!
First of all, how are kids that young supposed to have fun growing up with all the pressure that essentially takes the place of learning life lessons while growing up with the game of hockey? You know… learning how to lose, playing as a team, fair play, and obviously how to have fun, it just doesn’t make much sense. In those cases, the dream is over before it even begins. As you get a little older, entering into major bantam/minor midget, teenagers are now full aware of what’s at stake and what they need to do if they want to continue moving on in the hockey world.
Off-ice trainers are raking in tons of money, AAA programs are more prestige than ever and coming back to it again, the pressure keeps on climbing.
By this time, everyone has dealt with the pressure at some point and have gotten used to it whether it’s in the rink or outside of the rink, but what parents and kids alike don’t realize is all of the intangibles that factor in when it comes time to getting drafted. Some of the things that people fail to realize is that a lot of the exposure kids get is being in the right place at the right time. What I mean by that is playing the perfect game in front of the right scouts, having a good weekend at the right tournament at the right time, who your coach has you playing with, injuries, etc. On top of that, for anyone looking to pursue hockey, you have to move away from home at a young age. You think moving away from home for university at 18 is young? Try it at 16 or 17, moving in with a family you have never heard of or met and basically having them become your parents for the next couple of years. You’re no longer playing with your buddies and people your age but players as old as 20 who are obviously more physically developed than you.
That adjustment alone is enough pressure to make a kid stop and think if this is really for them because trust me, it’s not for everyone.
All I’m trying to get at with this topic is that young kids and teenagers aren’t built for the kind of pressure that’s put upon them throughout their young hockey lives. Those who are able to deal with it are often successful and go on to play junior hockey (whether it’s junior C, B, A or Major junior level), and I would be the first one to praise them because it sure as hell ain’t easy.
If you are fortunate enough to get drafted or play junior hockey, please enjoy it and everything that comes with it. It really is a unique experience that I was lucky enough to go through and that thousands of kids wish they did.
To the parents reading this, for the sake of your kid, just let them play the sport they love. Let them find their motivation and commitment as they grow up. Let the coaches help their development and simply enjoy watching them and supporting them. I was fortunate enough to have parents let me do as I please and if I wanted to hang my skates up five years ago or even today, they wouldn’t bother asking why but instead ask what’s next.
To the kids and young adults, be open to learning from those who are volunteering their time to teach, work hard every chance you get and everything will take care of itself. You will learn with time if this really is your passion and your dream and if it is, GO AND GET IT!
Until next time,
Taylor Dupuis #29
Look for new “Between The Pipes” segments throughout the season. You can follow Taylor on Twitter here.