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It’s the Least Wonderful Time of the Hockey Year

April 20, 2013
by JRiddall

Last week provided the first opportunity to somewhat reluctantly redon my coaching hat to participate in six days of tryouts for the Devil’s and my team for next season. The first three days were designated for the team above mine, which would provide a preview of players I would be evaluating and selecting a team from. And then my own three relatively intense days of nervously anticipating player selections and, more importantly, releases. I and my evaluators would be given the unenviable task of having to reduce a pool of 45 players down to 17, with the most challenging task being the selection of 9 forwards from 27 skaters; with only 4 1/2 hours of evaluation time to do it. In order to make things manageable, the bottom 10 or so players would need to be released after the initial 90 minute session. Hardly time enough to make such a weighty decision.

You might think, at this point, after 13+ seasons of having gone through the process as a parent and/or coach, things would get easier. It’d be old hat. But rather, if anything, they get harder because closer ties and relationships have been formed between players, coaches and parents. You’re tasked with selecting from a group of players, many of whom you’ve spent significant time with, perhaps even over the last six months and who you (or more importantly your children) call friends. Everybody knows everybody. It would be nice to leave emotion out of it, but there is just no way you can. No matter which way you slice it, someone will be left feeling rejected. For my part, I try to do everything I can to maintain objectivity by leveraging multiple evaluators and lending credence to their experienced hockey opinions. I try to choose people with little or no affiliation to the players they are evaluating; who can provide unbiased opinions based on what they see on the ice.  Sometimes this can result in having to make decisions I would rather not make, in order to build a team comprised of the most deserving tryout participants.  This is not to say previous knowledge of a player’s ability or attitude do not creep into the selection process because they likewise have to. Ultimately, all of this info and input are combined with gut instinct to form a team of players you hope will gel and have some success on and off the ice.

I was a little dismayed when one of the players being evaluated, who had played with the Devil this past season and who had shown quite well throughout the tryouts thus far, did not return to the ice after our first session. When questioned, the player’s parent commented “We were told the team had already been picked and didn’t see any point in continuing to try out.” Anyone who knows me would realize my approach is quite the opposite. I believe I give everyone a fair opportunity to compete; sometimes to a fault. Yet in this crazy minor hockey world stories have a way to taking on lives of their own. The old broken telephone conjures up backroom deals and hush-hush conversations. And I’m not naive to think this doesn’t happen on other teams or in other jurisdictions. One issue with the way girls’ hockey is run in our area is any player, from any centre can play on any team she chooses, which can lead to some of the more skilled players jumping from one centre to another with little to no allegiance in the hopes of advancing their personal agendas; sometimes of their own accord and, of course, sometimes at the bequest of their parents. The same resulted in my own tryouts having a whirlwind of activity surrounding the goalies competing for a spot on my team. In a two-hour period on the second day of my tryouts, there was a confluence of four teams and five keepers in a situation akin the to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon as the actions of one affected another and so on and so on. All I could do was wait for the dust to settle.

The biggest challenge of the entire process is having to deal with the emotions of those you’ve released and this time around was no exception.  To start with and in a unique twist, after my first round of “cuts”, I was approached by a parent questioning my logic on releasing a player, who wasn’t his daughter. I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret this or what, if anything, needed to be done about it. I thanked him for his feedback and got ready for the second session.

The second round of releases was, as expected, a little more challenging and resulted in a little more emotion. In fact, in one case, if a parent could have slugged me in the jaw without fear of retribution, I am certain they would have. And all I could do was apologize with no doubt faint explanation of the reasoning behind the decision. With this particular player, I’d had some history and had wanted to not have to release her, but could not justify keeping her in light of the other competition on the ice. Having been more often on the parent side I could understand the parent’s interest in inflicting some degree of bodily harm on my person.

I was a little dismayed when one of the players being evaluated, who had played with the Devil this past season and who had shown quite well throughout the tryouts thus far, did not return to the ice after our first session. When questioned, the player’s parent commented “We were told the team had already been picked and didn’t see any point in continuing to try out.” Anyone who knows me would realize my approach is quite the opposite. I believe I give everyone a fair opportunity to compete; sometimes to a fault. Yet in this crazy minor hockey world stories have a way to taking on lives of their own. The old broken telephone conjures up backroom deals and hush-hush conversations. And I’m not naive to think this doesn’t happen on other teams or in other jurisdictions. One issue with the way girls’ hockey is run in our area is any player, from any centre can play on any team she chooses, which can lead to some of the more skilled players jumping from one centre to another with little to no allegiance in the hopes of advancing their personal agendas; sometimes of their own accord and, of course, sometimes at the bequest of their parents. The same resulted in my own tryouts having a whirlwind of activity surrounding the goalies competing for a spot on my team. In a two-hour period on the second day of my tryouts, there was a confluence of four teams and five keepers in a situation akin the to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon as the actions of one affected another and so on and so on. All I could do was wait for the dust to settle.

Regardless the perception or the politics, my concern, at the end of the day, is to try to manage a fair and equitable process, where hopefully no one’s feelings are too badly damaged. Unfortunately,  sometimes trying to be fair ain’t always that easy.

After three days, three relatively sleepless nights, a fair amount of hand wringing and a couple of pointed debates with my evaluators, I did manage to select a final group of nine forwards, six defence and two goaltenders. Suffice it to say, I was glad to put those three days behind me.

Now the fun starts in trying to bring together these 17 budding personalities and getting them to all row in the same direction or at least having them get along to start.  If I’ve chosen right, there is great potential for success, and if I’ve chosen wrong, there’ll just be more a little more work to do. Either way, there’s will no doubt be a tale or two to recount along the way.

#imahockeydad

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Catlin permalink
    April 20, 2013 11:31 am

    Very well said. My family is now a few years past this “ride”. We made some good friends along the way and unfortunately, lost a few as well. It is not without bouts of both exuberance and tears but in the end, the most important factor should be that our kids learn lifelong skills both on the ice and off and hopefully, parents learn just as much along the way. Best wishes for a wonderful upcoming season to you, the Devil and her teammates!

  2. Jeff Catlin permalink
    April 20, 2013 12:00 pm

    an exceptionally well written article again sir, telling it like it is can always be difficult for those standing on the outside. Having been a parent, coach, executive,assistant coach and evaluator for yourself as well as others I can truly say that your process is as fair as can possibly be. Unfortunately some parents (including myself at one point), will never see or understand the difficult in trying to hopefully select a good team. Good luck to you and the devils teammates for a great season.

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