A few days after my new team’s tryouts concluded I am still sorting through exactly what went down. I thought having gone through it a couple of times previously as a coach and a few times more as a parent that I’d seen it all, but I should know there’s always room in minor hockey to be surprised. I think the Hockey Gods were bound and determined to make my last go round a memorable one. Minor hockey politics drama might bore the tears outta most, but this coach needs his catharsis so bear with me if you will.
A couple of years ago at my first rep tryouts as a rookie head coach, the surprise came when two players I’d chosen and whom I’d thought had accepted positions with my team decided less than 24 hours later they wanted to play elsewhere; leaving me in a bit of a predicament. No fun having to tell a player you just released she is no longer released because you need her.
This year’s version of Silly Season started at the tryouts for the team above mine, where I knew a couple of my players from the season just passed would be competing for spots. Long story short, I would not have a couple of players I expected trying out for my team. However, the reasons were quite different. One, to her credit, cracked the next level with a great audition and one simply decided she did not want to play on my team, which is her prerogative. The admittedly troubling part about the latter was finding out this player claimed to not have “fun” last season, which made me feel as though I’d personally failed this player. Yeah, it bothered me a little. Anyone who knows me, knows “fun” is a key verse in my hockey mantra. At the same time, I’m reminded some players and parents put more weight on winning in their definition of fun. And don’t get me wrong…winning is definitely more fun than not. Though in all due respect to Mr. Lombardi…it is not the only thing.
Fast forward a couple of days and roughly an hour or so before my first tryout to when the next shocker arrived and the floodgates opened. A second of my players from last season let me know via email that she wouldn’t be attending my tryouts. Instead she would opt to play one level down. I’d realize in short order a plan for a mass exodus had apparently been hatched. The Devil, for her part, seethed in her room as she realized what was happening. She also started texting other players/friends, one of whom decided to yank her chain by saying she was not showing up, only to text “gotcha” a few minutes later. The Devil was not impressed. Momma and I chuckled at her expense and appreciated the levity in light of everything else.
On the face of it, the underlying goal (no pun intended) would appear to be building a stronger lower team with players who shouldn’t really be there. For the uninitiated, this reveals a general flaw in girls hockey in our jurisdiction where, at the competitive level, players are effectively able to pick and choose where they want to play. This would not be a problem and I believe the intention is well meaning in not wanting to restrict player’s choices or ability to play at the highest level possible. However, in this case the opposite is occurring and having a ripple effect for other teams and players. Hours before my final skate the defection was complete as a player who had been skating at my tryouts suddenly remembered a previous commitment which conflicted with our last ice time. Not surprisingly, she would pop up at the next team’s tryouts one day later.
So back to the players who did actually want to play on our team. Prior to my first skate, I asked my first typical question “Who else is nervous?”, which elicited a show of about 10 out of a possible 20 hands. My evaluators and I had a limited number of players to choose from making final decisions on a few both a little easier and a little more difficult. On the heels of losing players left, right and centre before my skates even started, I chose to go against a personal policy and lock up a few team members I knew would end up at the top of my list. I don’t like doing this because I feel every player should have to skate and earn their spot, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So I had 4 players officially after skate one and 10 after two. As chance would have it, the same silly season rule which saw me lose a goalie also found me gaining one as a late arrival who was released from another team in another centre made her way onto mine after only showing up for one skate. Not particularly fair to another competitor who’d show up to all three tryout sessions, yet again the system kinda sucks sometimes. In the end, I was pleased to have what I believe will be a great group of 15 skaters (with exact positions of said skaters yet to be determined) and two goalies, all of whom want to play and compete on this team.
Now I’ve left the best of Silly Season for last cuz it doesn’t have to be all drama and hard feelings. The story here centres around the Devil’s pre-tryout prankster pal whose boyfriend was looking for a unique way to invite her to an upcoming prom; what with “promposals” being all the Instagram rage of late, or so I’m told. The plan, devised by this young lad, was to fashion the promposal around my player release process. In our system, final selections and releases are done via sealed letters. Each player receives either a “Welcome to the Team” or “Sorry You’ve Been Released” letter. The promposee’s letter would be something along the lines of “Sorry You’ve Been Released…Unless…You Agree to Go To The Prom with Your Mr. Wonderful.” In order for this to all work, yours truly had to take on the role of the bad guy. I actually had to start the fibbing early as this player was one I had already “signed”. Before the last skate I grimmly told her the guaranteed spot I’d offered earlier was in jeopardy because she just hadn’t proven herself yet. Her bleak countenance told me she swallowed my ruse hook, line and sinker, which meant she would sweat for the next hour and a half thinking she might in fact be cut. As all the players filtered out I, along with several others who were now aware of the practical joke/invite, stood out in the lobby waiting for the still unknowing victim. The boyfriend stood around a corner with flowers in hand. The dupe was, of course, the last player out of the locker room. I blankly handed her “The Letter” and softly said “I’m sorry.” She slowly walked around the corner with her parents and I literally heard her say twice “I’m gonna kill him.” Luckily, her misguided hatred for me was short-lived as she read the fake out letter and Mr. Wonderful arrived with his bouquet. When next I saw her I offered a simple, sincere “Bazinga!“.
Shortly thereafter, the new group assembled for the first time, for quick congrats, a brief intro and to share some basic contact stuff so we can organize the next time. I looked around at few faces I knew, but a lot I didn’t recognize. And so, the new challenge began. Bring together a group of 17 teenage athletes and turn them into a team. Win, lose or draw I’m sticking to my mantra, will do my best to provide a positive atmosphere and I sincerely hope the majority of those I’ve chosen have fun.
For now we’ll take a little break from minor hockey and retire to watch some Stanley Cup playoffs of course. I’m cheering for the Hawks if anyone is asking.
So how were your tryouts? Any stories, bad or good to share? I’d love to hear em and commiserate.