Monday, January 23, 2012

Introduction to Junior Hockey

Our goal is to help educate parents and elite hockey players who are finishing AAA/High school hockey. We have worked to build this site with the desire to help hockey families prevent the preventable and to empower you to make smart choices at this very important crossroads. Very few NCAA players play college hockey without playing junior hockey first. So if you want to play D3 or D1, junior hockey is probably where you will find out if you have what it takes to move up.


1. Opportunity: To provide an opportunity for players in this age group to play organized hockey

2. Development To improve and develop the skills and abilities of all the participants

1. Skill Development - To provide talented young players with the opportunity to develop in an organized, structured, competitive and supervised environment

2. Quality Coaching - To provide considerable training time, quality coaching instruction & concerned oversight

3. Social Maturity - To provide players with a healthy, constructive environment in which to develop socially

4. Educational Advancement - To provide assistance and opportunities for the accomplishment of the participant's educational goals

5. Recruiting Exposure - To provide players with exposure to collegiate and professional scouts and recruiters

6. Advanced Competition - To provide players with exposure to national and international competition

7. Protection of Amateur Status(College Eligibility) - To protect the amateur status of all participants under the rules and guidelines of USAH, NCAA and National Federation of High Schools

This information was compiled with high school/Midget AAA players and their parents in mind. First, congratulations on a successful hockey career and your upcoming graduation. It's an exciting time, so enjoy!

Whereas most high school families with a senior are starting to think about prom, graduation parties and are proudly celebrating fall plans, many hockey families with a senior in high school are still many months away from knowing what the fall holds in store for their family. Those players who were already on a "before-after" / "split season" roster with a junior team, or who have already signed a tender, or who know that a junior coach is planning to draft you, your plans may seem a little more clear.

But as we will explain in greater detail later, no roster spot is guaranteed next year unless you are still on a USA Hockey junior team after the roster freeze (February 2013). You'll soon discover that the junior hockey system is not designed for stability, rather it is about opportunity. There is a lot of transition with players joining teams, leaving teams, being traded, being sent home. So we challenge you to enjoy the journey of junior hockey and see where it takes you.
If you are not already affiliated with a junior team, your family is at the beginning of what may seem like a frenzied, time consuming, unclear, expensive process filled with lots of best guesses. And there are lots of voices you can choose to listen to. The loudest ones are the ones who say what you like to hear like to hear. Things like "you are USHL material" or "you're son's so good he's probably going D1." The reality is that there are hundreds of other young men who have heard these same things and have believed the same things.

Frankly, not everyone is able to play Division I hockey.
There simply aren't that many roster spots. Similarly, not everyone will be able to play Tier I USHL hockey and many discover that they are fighting for regular shifts on a Tier III team. As you move up the pyramid of success, less spots are available. This post is not meant to squelch your dreams, but hockey players have been told how wonderful they are since their first "A" team tryouts in Squirt or Peewees. It is the rare exception when players have an opportunity to play at the junior level, let alone Tier I, let alone eventually making a D1 program, let alone playing on even partial scholarship, not to mention making it pro someday. Many captains team struggle to make it past the first round of showcases/tryouts and even fewer make a Tier III Junior A team.

In some ways the next few months will be like a "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" book that you make the best decisions that you can along the way; only after turning the page will you see what options are available next. One guarantee: What happens in the next few months, this summer and into next year will stretch you and your family far outside of your comfort zone! Sadly, some very talented players just hang up the skates because they get frustrated with the system.

We have coined this word: de-selection. To those who haven't already gone through juniors with another son and to those outside of our sport, the process of selection probably seems crazy. And in some ways it IS crazy -- but it's the best system currently in place in the United States for identifying and developing the top players in the country. The authors of this post have been in the junior hockey business since the early '90s and although the system has become better, even WE believe it's crazy. But the rewards are tremendous for those who navigate well and are tenacious.

This site shares LOTS of information so it may be tough to digest on the first read-through. All statistics are gleaned from public online sources like league websites, Pointstreak, the USAH website or from the "College Hockey Guide" edition which you may choose to research directly. We were looking for a site that compiled all this information in one place; when we couldn't find it, we were motivated to create this one-stop-research-spot. We encourage you to check out the links to the right, to talk to families who have recently navigated the process successfully to find out what they learned and see if you can apply any of it to your situation. But we REALLY encourage you to take some time to really think about which bus you board, or you might find yourself going someplace with some team that wasn't the best opportunity to help you develop.

You need to consider junior hockey as an investment of your time, energy and finances. You're buying a bus ticket for a team that you believe will take you to your college hockey destination. Just remember that boarding the bus simply does not guarantee that you will make it to your desired college destination. You might get dropped off against your will because the coach wants someone else. You might get injured and abandoned along the way. You might find yourself traded to another team and facing boarding their bus or going home. Some players get frustrated and ask to get off the bus. Others make poor decisions and are kicked off. And others find this junior hockey system "as natural as breathing" --those young men flourish and transform into the elite student-athletes that fill the university rosters across the United States because of the junior hockey experience.

One thing is pretty sure, it's very unlikely that you'll arrive at your desired college destination WITHOUT riding the "junior hockey bus." You might show up at college in your family car or try to walk on, but there will be junior hockey buses dropping off players that will take most of the college hockey roster spots. Junior hockey allows young men to grow up physically, emotionally BEFORE becoming a college freshman. Junior Hockey players have had the opportunity to transition to a higher level of play, 50+ games over a season, travel and tough competition night after night. They have been exposed to the discipline of daily workouts and off ice training. Most junior players have now lived away from home and have either "figured it out" or were kicked off the bus.

So come join the adventure. Buy your bus ticket. You may not know the final destination or who's going to be driving the bus or who will be riding it along with you...but you need to get on a "junior hockey bus" unless a college has already signed you. For a lot of families, this is simply too unnerving and the player hangs up his skates. Others mistakenly believes that he'll somehow "walk on" and make a D3 team. Not likely.

This site is to help you detemine if you are a good fit for this junior hockey bus lifestyle and to help you pick the best bus for YOU. The normal "recruiting speach" is about their titles, how many fans they draw and the fun you'll have riding the bus. Watch out for bargains and promises (unless the coach will backed it up in writing) and beware of deals that sound too good to be true. Perhaps they are! And protect your NCAA eligibility by not accepting discounts/deals/freebees/scholarships. Do your research and make the best choice you can with the information you have in front of you. Then buy your ticket, sit back and enjoy the ride as far as it will take you.

At the end of the day, you need to develop. You need to find an opportunity to personally improve your conditioning, your physical strength/speed/power, your sport specific hockey skills, and in some cases your academics. You need a place where you have enough accountability that you won't crash and burn. You need a coach who believes in you and can help you reach your goals. You need lots of practice time. All the other things fade away. If the goal is a college roster spot, you need to do something to get better and to separate you from the rest of the crowd. Can you find a team that will help you improve in the areas you need? Will your success be seen or will you be playing where no scouts know you exist?

Your decision-making should first include if you are willing to invest the time, energy and finances to chase a college hockey dream. Second you need to do some research, then make your best guess of which "junior hockey bus" will get you where you want to go. Make a plan. Buy your bus ticket and climb on board. There will likely be some unexpected stops, some transfers and some delays along the way -- that's junior hockey, but one of those buses is your best chance to get to the NCAA College Hockey Destination. Hopefully this site will help you choose the best bus for you.

Good luck as you navigate the next few months! In years to come, hopefully we will see that you have become a consistent contributor on a college hockey roster. And even more importantly, we look forward to see which college degree you earn, how you contribute to your community and how you find ways to give back to our sport.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Your Perceptions, Hopes, Goals and Values

Take the time to think through, write down and then discuss the following questions with your parents. It’s easier to change your answers and to dodge some touchy issues if you skip one of those steps. If possible, meet with a trusted family friend who is willing to help guide your discussion. Going back to the decision traps of group thinking, this may help you actually ask/talk through issues that may normally make either you or your parents feel uncomfortable.

Am I good enough right now to play college hockey next fall? If so what level? Would I get regular ice time? What’s more important: graduating in 4 years OR playing 2-4 years college hockey at the highest level I can play? Is it enough just to keep playing on a competitive team affiliated with my college or is my goal NCAA hockey? Would I prefer to be affiliated with a winning/more skilled team and not play OR to find a team where I contribute? What do I need to do differently next season/what do I need to do to help ensure that I are preparing for the possibility of college hockey? What do I hope to gain from playing junior hockey? Who should I ask for advice about this decision and a fair perspective about my current skill and my college potential? What kind of coach motivates me the most? My perfect scenario for next year would be…

How hard am I willing to work next year to improve? Lifting? Conditioning? Eating right? Sleeping right? Am I strong enough to do what I need to do even if others are not? Does a girlfriend or friends choices weigh into my decisions? How? Do I have my social life in the right perspective? Do I have an issue making good decisions regarding drugs/alcohol/risky behaviors? Do my parents trust me? Should they? Do I plan on attending religious services next year? How would I find a place of worship to fit in with my schedule? What are my biggest concerns about next year? Do I follow through on things without being constantly reminded? Am I self motivated? Am I grounded enough in my beliefs/faith that I will continue live with integrity when no one is watching or when I want to fit in? Am I good at saving/budgeting money? Where am I likely to fail / make mistakes this year?

Do I know what I want to do occupationally? Do I need college for that? Do I have a major picked out? Is college in your plans regardless of how things turn out with hockey? Have I researched schools with my desired major? Do they have hockey at the level I can reasonably play? Can I get accepted at that school? Am I ready (and do I want) to take full time college classes in the fall?Do I want to take part time classes if I play juniors? If I take a complete break from academics will I be more refreshed or less disciplined than I am now?

Do I want to move away from home? How far is too far? How often do I want to come home? Do I want my parents to come see me play next year? What is the total financial commitment your family will make (school and hockey)? Is this a loan that you are expected to pay them back? What percent? Where will I get spending cash this year? Will I need to work a part time job? How will we make these decisions? Who gets a vote? Who gets a veto? Do I want to live in a small town/metro area? What will I do for a car? When will I get to see my siblings again – how often will I want to? Do I want to be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Who is paying for the tryouts/showcases? How much is in this budget and how much have we already spent? How will I keep insurance?

What are some critical "deal breakers" that I will not accept in a junior hockey experience? When is the drop dead deadline to make a decision? What will dictate that deadline? How uncomfortable/stretched am I willing to become before I quit? What will be considered failure? What happens if I get hurt this summer? During the season? What happens if I get cut or traded? Will I accept that or choose to come home? What if I don’t like junior hockey and want to come home? What grades do my parents expect? If I deviate from this plan am I going to be the one financially responsible?

So you think Junior Hockey is for YOU

We salute those of you who are busy trying to sort through information about junior hockey and how to compile and make sense of all the readily-accessible information that you can find. This packet will hopefully help you to ask more educated questions, to find the answers to other important details that sometimes get overlooked, and how to somehow make a more intentional and informed decisions. Without some research and strategic thinking about what you uncover, you might still find a junior hockey roster spot, but it may not be the best fit to help you reach your long term goals. All teams are not the same, all leagues are not the same, just like all elite players and all coaches are not. This packet is designed to help you find the right fit for you as you work your way towards the goal of NCAA college hockey.
Ironically there are some players that keep working hard, that get a little lucky, and that work their way up to a college roster spot in a few years over someone who was more talented when they were 18 years old. Honestly, some very talented players de-select themselves from playing juniors and ultimately college because they get frustrated with the selection process and the system. Some make life choices that prevent them from moving up. Some players who did not have good grades in high school could use the time in juniors to get their academics in order to allow this option in the future but don't do it. Some players will sustain injuries that they won't enable this level of competitive hockey.
But for those of you who do find a place on a junior hockey roster, you will probably look back on this time of your life fondly because of the friends you made, the lessons you learned, the host family you lived with, the adventures you experienced, and the great competitive hockey you played. Juniors is a step up so the demands on your time will only get tighter - more ice time, more lifting, more dryland, more travel, more of everything. Taking some college coursework to keep your brain from getting soft is a wise decision even though you’ll wonder how to fit it all in. But taking classes now will lessen your load when you start full time college course load and varsity college hockey. As long as you take less than full time college coursework you won't jeopardize your NCAA eligibility. This is a great time to learn how to balance work, school, the demands of hockey and relationships. And with fewer colleges accepted or playing "true freshman" this stage in your development on and off the ice is critical to chasing your dream of playing college hockey. (See the NCAA College post below for statistics)

Tier I: USHL United States Hockey League
For-profit business runs the team that pays your hockey fees & housing expenses
13 teams located in IA,IL,NE,OH,SD,WI x 23 = 299 SPOTS
Veterans of that team: 106 spots = 33%
Veterans of Junior Hockey (trades/advancement): 20 spots = 19%
Young Projects: ’90 and ’91: 58 spots = 21%
Remaining: 80 spots = 73%
Tier II: NAHL North American Hockey League
For-profit business runs the team that pays your hockey-related fees but you pay room/board).
18 teams located in AK,IA,IL,MI,MN,MO,NM,ND,OH,TX = 450 SPOTS
Veterans of that team: 161 spots = 35%
Veterans of Junior Hockey (trades/advancement): 134 spots = 30%
Young Projects: ’90 and ’91: 104 spots = 23%
Remainging: 51 spots = 11%
Tier III Junior A 1675 SPOTS
Teams are most often run by a non-profit organization. Player's family help contribute up to $6500 to the team’s overall hockey-related budget (i.e. ice time, uniforms, team travel, staffing) Room/board expenses are also the responsibility of the player billet house coordinator.
AJHL (Atlantic) 11 teams in CT, MA,NH,NJ,NY,PA,VA = 275
CSHL (Central States) 13 teams in IA,IL,MI,MO,OH = 325
EJHL (Eastern) 14 teams in MA, NH, NJ, NY VT =250
MNJHL (Minnesota) 9 teams in MN,WI = 225
NORPAC (Northern Pacific) 11 teams in ID,MT,OR,WA,WY = 275
WSHL (Western States)13 teams in AZ,CA,CO,LA,OK,NV,TX = 325

Even if every Tier I-Tier III A junior hockey team had complete roster turnover every year (no veteran junior hockey players stayed in the USAH junior hockey system for more than one season) still only 2.6% OF THE USA ELIGIBLE PLAYERS would be able to find a roster spot in these levels. Because many junior hockey veterans return for more than one season, these roster spot opportunities decreases significantly. It is extremely competitive to get a roster spot, let alone play or to keep your spot all year.

*Note: There are other junior hockey leagues that are located in Canada, that are not sanctioned by USA Hockey and that are lower levels; therefore this number does not represent all of “junior hockey” which is not a trademarked term. Traditionally the percentage of players that advance to college hockey (especially to the higher levels of hockey) outside of the Tier I- Tier III A leagues in USA Hockey and Canada junior hockey system is quite small.

Remember that junior hockey is for young men between 16 and 20 years old. This means that some of these roster spots will be filled next year by veterans in their second or third year of juniors. So when you are looking at the actual number of junior hockey roster spots available each year, the number drops dramatically. With 12-15 Forwards, 6-8 D and 2 goalies positions per team it is wise to see how many of each position are actually open to be earned (not taken by veterans, drafted or tendered players). Most levels in USAH allow teams to roster 23-25 players, but only 20 players dress per game. Many teams allow more than 25 players to come into training camp and see how they perform in exhibition games. This level does not require a firm roster until February so it’s not like you “make a team” and then you’re on it for good. Likewise, you may not be formally on the USA Hockey roster list yet you are receiving some benefits in being allowed to practice with a team. Ask the coach where he sees you fitting in and then decide if that meets your goals for where you want to be in two years. You can see that in some cases, in order for you to develop as a player, it might be more beneficial for your development to play at a lower junior hockey tier in order to get more regular ice time and the opportunity for special teams. Take into account your morale if you are not given opportunities to play in games because there are just too many players ahead of you in the line up or dead-even that will rotate in and out.

Put another way:
“Are you good enough today to play on a NCAA college roster spot TODAY? If not, then you need to do something besides just get older and not get hurt if you want to improve and change your future!”
Will playing in five to ten games next year be enough? How many pucks do you need to shoot? How many pounds of muscle do you need to give you more mass? How much more intentional do you need to be to hold the blue line? How many shots do you need to take? How much faster can you get? How many times will you finish your check? How will you get re-trained to not circle and to make crisp starts and stops? How will you improve your backwards skating? How will you get confident and take the needed chances? How will you learn when to pinch and when not to pinch? Will you learn a new move so that the opposing team doesn’t have you completely figured out just by watching one game film? How many face offs do you need to win? How much better does your passing need to be? What save percentage do you need to demonstrate night after night? Those who thrive in junior hockey realize that this is a chance to focus everything you’ve got on getting better in your sport. At the end of the day you need to decide if a winning record or being included on the practice roster of a higher skilled team is more beneficial than playing lots of games and working on your weaknesses. Again, look at YOUR goals and what you aim to get out of juniors.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Are YOU Ready for College?

If your goal is to play college hockey and to graduate with a bachelors degree, congratulations because you have two long term goals set! Many students complete high school not knowing what the next big milestones will be... and therefore they can't effectively choose the path to get there. Because you know these two things, you can now focus on how to set yourself up for success.

1) What occupation do you see yourself beginning in five to seven years?
2) What degree / major /minor will be needed to qualify for an entry level position?
3) Are there only certain schools that have this degree/major? Do any of those schools have NCAA varsity hockey? At what level? D1, D2 D3? Do those programs have a D3 JV program or ACHA club hockey team?
4) Is your desired academic program automatically open to all students or do you need to apply? After how many credit hours and pre-requisites are you able to apply? Do they give preference to students who have attended their university prior to selection?
5) What ACT/SAT scores, GPA, class rank, experience, references are required for program admission? Do you meet these requirements?
6) When are the deadlines for early decision, final application, financial aid?
Many college students enroll without the goal of a specific occupation and many other students will change their minds once they start taking classes. The first two years of college help direct students to a major that fits. Don't stress if you don't have all your life mapped out when you're 18 years old. And it is a fact that many people completely change occupations once they are in the work force. You may be one of the few people who has the future mapped out and will simply go from point to point without any side trips. If not, embrace the adventure!

Congrats again! You have some options on the table for the fall that many junior hockey players do not at this point. Some questions for you:
1) Do you have the option to defer for one year?
2) Have you already paid a deposit for housing? Refundable?
3) Have you already paid a deposit for tuition? Refundable?
4) Have you spoken with the head coach for next year?
5) Did the coach guarantee a roster spot for you? Does that mean you will dress and play in games as a freshman? Does he see you on special teams? Does he see you starting? What line? Or does he plan on "red shirting" you for a year (another year of college hockey eligibility while you attend this university without playing any games)? Does he plan on having you train with the team and work yourself into the lineup (possibly this year but better chances as you get veteran status) What did he actually say? What did he put into writing? Make sure you are hearing what is being SAID not what you want to hear!
6) Did you verbally commit to a D3 program? (not binding but a matter of integrity)
7) Did you formally commit in writing to this program?
8) How many freshmen from the last two year's classes actually played as freshmen? How much? Is there any reason to believe that you would play more than them?
9) How many seniors are graduating this spring which would technically open up a playing spot? What about spring 2009?
10) If you were injured and couldn't play hockey anymore, would you select this school?
11) If for whatever reason you didn't make this college varsity team OR if you weren't going to play in a game this year, would you still select this school over another school where you could play this year?

To be considered a full time student, you need to be registered for 12 or more credit hours per semester. Each course is assigned a specific number of credit hours which is indicative of how many hours are spent in the classroom or lab. For instance, most Freshman English courses are three credit hours, and meet either for 90 minutes two times a week or for one hour three days a week. College guidebooks suggest to allot a minimum of one hour of studying, reading and review per week for every credit hour you are enrolled. Some courses demand three or more hours of preparation time per credit just to keep up with the workload. So if you are taking 12 to 15 credits, you should allow a minimum of 24 to 30 hours a week outside of class and even more if you are taking sciences, math or literature courses. You can see why the distractions of college life can snare so many students and they soon become unsuccessful students. This could be a very expensive social life at $5000-$35,000+ / year.

Remember that as an athlete you will hold another “job” that includes lifting, dryland, on ice practices, team related activities, travel time, games. Then you have the balance of the other crazy things like eating, sleeping, doing laundry (and only 24 hours a day and 7 days a week that God gives to all of us!) College coursework and college life demands a lot of time and energy and being a student-athlete and is a big transition from high school. There is a reason why players who go through the junior hockey system are more mature –--beyond just the “age factor.”

Over the course of four years, most bachelor degree programs require approximately 120 total credit hours. With simple math you can see that at this rate (12 cr/semester) x two terms a year, you would achieve only 96 credits in four years. That is a substantial amount of classes but not enough to earn a degree. So assuming you want to graduate, not just play college hockey, you have some options to keep on track to finish in four years once you start full time:
● start working on getting some of those credits finished now and transfer them to the four year school
● take a heavier load once you enroll full time (i.e. 15 to 18 credits/term rather than 12 credits)
● take summer courses
● take classes after your NCAA eligibility is over to finish up your degree program

Students who wish to graduate in four years without taking summer or January term courses need an average of 15 credit hours per term. Compared to our example above, this student would need to take one extra 3 credit class/term. Take an honest gut check and determine if you are really ready for that level of academic commitment. College isn’t just for the “life experience” but hopefully also to prepare you for the workplace after you jump through the appropriate hoops and learn how to learn. Certain communities just expect high school graduates to go on to college without questioning if this is the right decision or the right timing. Junior hockey allows families to take a look and decide if full time college is the right choice or if this break will set you up for greater success in the classroom. Again, only you and your family have the insider’s viewpoint.

If you choose to wait for full time enrollment, we strongly encourage you to find a way to make academic progress during your junior hockey career. Consider online classes, summer courses or other creative solution to getting college credits completed successfully before enrolling full time. This will lighten your load once you enroll full time if your goal is to graduate after four years of NCAA hockey and college.

Although colleges vary, these are some of the general changes as you transition from high school to university
A. More difficult subject matter which translates into more study/reading time required, more papers
B. Less “spoon-feeding” by instructors. You are responsible for your education! Tests cover lecture not just text books so you need to figure out what the instructor is actually going to test.
C. Fewer activities that are graded. Three tests and a project may be the only grades that factor into your final grade rather than homework (which is often just for your benefit and not collected/graded).
D. Attendance not taken. Miss a lecture and for D3 programs you just wasted $300 tuition and missed important details that could be on the midterm. It's easy to slack off and get behind in just a week
E. Class size are often bigger. In some cases you may attend class in a lecture hall and the instructor will never link your name with your face and your work.
F Some intro classes are taught by graduate students/teaching assistants rather than professors.
G. Distractions are everywhere! It's easy to procrastinate, sleep in, stay out later than you should, not sleep...
H. Money drains are also all around. Learning to have enough money for food and gas at the end of the semester is a tremendous life lesson that students often fail (hopefully only once and figure it out). You must figure out the money balance of eating out, movies, college games, poker, dates, clothes, music, latest technology... Eventually you have to pay off college loans and credit cards.
I. Poor diets. Without mom cooking and a full fridge, there's a reason for the "Freshman 15" pound variance. As an athlete you need to
J. Underage drinking is a fact of life. If you want to party, you'll find a party. The unchecked calories that go with it can balloon your percent body fat quickly. Oh yeah -- it's also ILLEGAL. Many great athletes crash and burn because they can't say no when they should or leave when they should.
K. Stress: Welcome to college!
L. Relationships take a bigger role (time, wallet, energy...)
M. Poor examples all around: You can justify every poor decision you make -- because poor peer role models are easy to spot. Besides, someone in your dorm (maybe even your roommate) is making worse decisions than you are!

If you are not socially mature enough to make decisions that keep you focused on your academic, occupational and life goals, maybe a year in junior hockey might save you thousands of dollars in tuition and a bad GPA. However, for others it is a natural next step to enroll in the college of their choice and to start full time classwork. Each player and family will sort through this process in their own way and time and the outcomes are as varied as the young men who navigate this process. After you figure it all out, write a book or join a speakers circuit! Or better yet, just share what you've learned with the families coming from your program behind you. :-)

Another avenue to keep playing competitive hockey but typically without the travel and intense training/practice/game schedule is to join an ACHA College Club Hockey team. D1 & D2 : 80 programs = 5600 SPOTS. D3: 120 programs = 2400 SPOTS
Be aware that this is still very competitive and many players come from the junior ranks to this level too.

Perspective Check when Being Recruited

Scouts get their information from a variety of sources including online stats, tournament rosters, team websites, news articles and showcases. Each team sorts through copious amount of information as they try to find and attract the top players that they believe will be the best fit for their team. It is possible that they may have seen you play and not just relied on secondary sources. They may even think you have a chance to make their team and want to bring you in to their camp to see how you stack up against their veterans and other recruits. But also recognize that you are now on an easy mailing list that can be used to simply fill a camp with paid participants. After you have paid the $40 USA Hockey registration you can participate in as many camps as you desire. And each camp/tryout costs money. They vary in cost – both with direct fees paid to the team and indirect fees like travel, food, hotel, time not spent working etc. The fees paid to the team cover the actual cost of the tryout camp but it also can serve as a big budget boost to a team if they bring in lots of prospective players.

Tryouts are a good and necessary method which allow staff to narrow down the field and select a team. If you were not drafted or tendered, you may still be the Cinderella kid who makes it through open and final camps and earns a starting spot on a team because some drafted/tendered players will not make the team they thought was a lock. So consider some camps/options at different levels after doing some research to find out what positions they are looking to fill and how many spots are open. Some teams disclose more information than others but many families simply do not ask questions. After deciding a strategy for next steps, accept invitations to tryout by completing the appropriate paperwork and submitting fees. It is human nature to hear what you want to hear and to be swayed by a good sales pitch. Work through the process more like selecting a car or making a major purchase.

Although it can be fun to go to tryouts together with your buddies from your high school and regional teams, with so few spots open at the next level, it is unrealistic that both you and your friend will move up. It is even more unlikely that you would make the exact same junior hockey team. It's fun to plan for next year with sharing a car, being roommates, coming home for break together, your families road-tripping to come see you both play, etc. With that being said, be sure to tryout for a team that is YOUR best fit, not your friend's best fit. Even if you do both earn a starting spot on a roster together, depending on how the billet family situation is organized, you may not have the option to live together. One of you might be traded, injured or released altogether. The numbers don't lie - many players do not end the season on the same team they started on, regardless if it's Tier I, Tier II or Tier III. It's fun to plan and it's great when things work out like we think, but the "numbers game" explained below doesn't always fit a family's expectations or hopes.

Again, we share all of this information not to discourage you but to educate you about the terms and process. Some families have expectations and the reality that hits in late summer can be unexpected and even painful if they don't have a backup plan. Even if you believe that you have everything worked out, we strongly encourage you to apply to colleges and think about the "what if" scenarios.

Deciding "How to Make Decisions" for your Future

While you have some free time, make some time to think about what you value, what you hope to achieve. Then you can fill in some of the blanks with strategic plans for how to reach those goals in a way that is honoring to your values and the values of your family. Making decisions about whether or not to play Junior Hockey and then ultimately deciding the team can be a daunting task.

By default, some families wait for the decision to be made for them - which teams recruit them to tryouts or offer a tender/draft them or by which team(s) actually offer your an initial roster spot in August.

But we suggest a series of questions and a logical sequence that will help you arrive at a better decision for you as a player and as a family for this particular time. This process of decision making is a great learning experience and can help you learn to make other tough decisions in life (like what college to attend, what major/minors to study, how to pick a college adviser, whom to marry, which job offer to take, which house to buy, and so many more choices). For most families, the "junior hockey question" or the "college question" is the first major decision they face together with the strong input from their young adult. Many families are inexperienced in this process and they don't have pre-defined roles and methods for making decisions. This process is designed to help you decide how you will decide.


TRAP #1) Plunging In: Making a conclusion without really thinking about the MAIN issues or thinking through the PROCESS you will go through to make the best decision.

To avoid this trip, decide the METHOD/STRATEGY you will use to make a decision before starting to weigh options. Otherwise, you haven't defined what the real issues are and what you believe is really important. It's easy to be swayed and to make a wrong "purchase" when you let someone else decide what is important

►►ACTIVITY: Decide how you will decide. Agree on your process. Write this answer down and then when you must choose between options, you will better see the main issues as the main issues without getting distracted by the "non-essentials."

Some methods we have observed over the years
A. One party decision: Parents alone, parents with player's input, player alone
B. Parents narrows down choices then player decides. Tryout for your top pick
C. Player narrows down choices then parent decides. Tryout for your top picks
D. Group consensus: Each parent gets a vote and player gets a vote
E. Rely on a coach or mentor to make the decision for you
F. See what teams recruits you; if none, skip a summer of tryouts, save $ and go to college
G. See what teams recruit you; if none, do whatever it takes to get into as many tryouts as possible with hope of making some team somewhere ("any team is better than no team" philosophy)
H See what teams recruit you; from that group make a selection
I. See what teams recruit you; weigh those against going directly to college
J. Sign immediately with the first team that contacts you because who knows if you'll have another choice
K. Decide where you want to play and do whatever it takes to play there. No opportunity with that team, go to college
L. Straight intuition after meeting a scout or coach and sign on the spot if you get a good feel after the "sales pitch"
M. See what team(s) recruit you; then measure each team against your standard list. Determine which choice makes it through the “approval round,” then go back and weigh the “extras” for making a final selection.

The list above is not exclusive: we've observed other blends of decision-making. We don't aim to make a value statement about the selection process you choose. What works for one family may not work for another. Maybe you need to select a different process for different decisions. But intentionally selecting HOW you will proceed through the decision-making process can prevent a lot of wasted time, energy, confusion, frustration and potentially money.

Clinical researchers in decision making sciences suggest a strategy like (M) -- where you measure possibilities against each of your defined standards. If more than one option makes it through the first round, compare the options head to head in those categories to see how well they deliver those criteria. If it's still tied, bring in other criteria that are bonus or part of the "cool factor."

TRAP #2) Frame Blindness
Setting out to solve the wrong problem because you have unintentionally created a skewed mental framework for your decision, causing you to overlook the best options or lose sight of the important objectives

Frames have enormous power over your thought process because how you frame the question will have great influence the outcome. Think of your frame like choosing where to build a window frame in a house you're constructing. Depending on where that window is, you might see a different view. The best frames will showcase what is important and the walls will block out the rest. How you frame your question will control your reaction and next steps. You need to glean information to make an informed decision; but with so much information out there from so many sources, you need decide where to place your frame. Select your reference points wisely or you may find yourself with skewed or incomplete information

Decide what will you use as reference points that ultimately make up your frame. Which of the following "information sources" will you allow to influence your decisions ? (Friends of the family who navigated junior hockey last year? Your high school coaches? Grads from your school? Team websites? League websites? Chat pages? Stats pages? The verbage in a legal contract or team manual that you have been given to read and consider? Overheard conversations? Host home parents? Disgruntled player who came from that team? Several players who have come from the same team? What you have observed? What a recruiter from another team says about a competitor? News articles? How far back will you look to find answers? (one season, five years?) When you get information from outside of your set frame, throw it out immediately! Don’t listen to those sources.

TRAP #3 Being Overconfident in Your JudgmentFailing to collect key factual information because you are too sure of your assumptions and opinions.

Size up what you know. List the questions you want answered to make sure they aren't overlooked. Search out those questions systematically that you will use to compare the answers. Confirmation bias is the term that means finding evidence that confirms your assumptions and throwing out anything that seems to the contrary. Most of us seem to possess a built-in tendency to find evidence that will help build a mental case to support our current beliefs and to ignore other evidence to the contrary. A diligent search can turn up hundreds of pieces of evidence that seem to confirm a hypothesis even though the hypothesis isn't true. The wise decision maker is a realist when making a decision but an optimist/positive thinker when implementing that decision.

TRAP #4 Shortsighted ShortcutsRelying inappropriately on "rules of thumb such as trusting the most readily available information or placing too much power on convenient facts.

With so much information out there about junior hockey and college hockey, it is unrealistic to believe your family can discover ALL the important, useful information. And if you did, it's unlikely you'd be able to strategically sort through things, ignore biases, properly frame the right question and arrive at a wise conclusion in the few weeks between now and fall. And the time does go by in a blink! So some shortcuts are necessary. Simply be aware that CONVENIENT facts or opinions are not always best. Similarly, scouts/recruiters use shortcuts to narrow down the lists of the thousands of eligible junior hockey players when they try to select their twenty-plus roster. If all they did was look at players height and points for the season, some great prospects would be overlooked and they might select players that really did not have as much potential as another player. Here is a list of mental shortcuts families often take. These can be part of the final decision making process if all the other information is equal between choices but we caution you to not exclude a possible team based on the following shortcuts.
A. Final standings last season (Reason for error: Does that prove the coaching was good or that the team just didn't mess up good players? Are those talented players returning? Will you be able to get lots of game time in order to develop?)
B. The head coach played in the NHL (Reason for error: Does that mean he can COACH this level?)
C. The "Cool factor" number of fans, feel of locker room, flashy color brochure with lots of photos, sweet jerseys (Reason for error: if these are not needed to help you reach your goal, then they are extra and can distract you from the main questions)
D. What's the cost for me to play there? (A better question would be: "What are you getting for your money" Everything costs something. Consider opportunity cost)
E. Did players move up to Division I colleges? (Some players will move up regardless of where they played. Don't automatically give credit a team for developing them.)

None of these things above are bad. In fact, I'd check into those things too! But just make sure you are basing your decision on what will aid your development on and off the ice as an athlete, a student, things you value not just what sounds great on the surface. Get a deeper picture of what is not talked about as much.

Look through the list of other short-cuts and select some criteria that you might consider as good complimentary information.
A. Has the team been consistently competitive? If not, ask why!
B. What types of players, student/athletes do they tend to recruit? What kind of people will be my teammates? Which spots are filled for next year?
C. Is the team located somewhere you would enjoy living? Metro vs small town or rural? Part time job opportunities? Proximity to community college? College town life?
D. How much does the team travel? How many days of school/work missed?
E. It is possible to work or go to college with their game/practice schedule?
F. How much time/money would my family spend commuting to see me play this year? How realistic is it that my family will be able to come and see games? For me to go home periodically? How much is a trip home?
G. What has the press reported about this team?
H. What guarantees/details did they put in writing about what they offered? (Look past the slick brochure and look at what they are really selling you. Is that truly the opportunity you want to “buy”
I. Will I be able to spend holidays together with family?
J. What does my team fees/housing fees pay for and is it worth the investment?
K. What is their policy regarding drugs, alcohol and tobacco?
L. How billet/host families selected? How are players matched with billet families? Do players get own room and bath? Do they share with another player or family members? What is expected of me if I live in their home? How long of a commute is it to the rink and how is traffic at the time of day I’d be commuting? How are winter road conditions?
M. Describe the workout facilities and the off ice program.

TRAP #5 Shooting from the HipBelieving you can keep straight all the information you've discovered, and therefore "winging it" rather than following a systematic procedure when making the final decision.

TRAP #6 Group Failure Assuming that with many smart, good intentioned people involved in the decision process that good choices will follow automatically

If that is the case, then in theory, our government could have prevented 911, the space shuttle should not have blown up, and every elite player with a caring high school coach and supportive family would find a perfect match for a junior hockey team that will develop him and prepare him for Division I hockey scholarships. Except that there are less spots than there are "elite" hockey players and there is no way to scout every one of them. So scouts use short cuts like height, plus/minus, selection to the Chicago Showcase, regional selection to all star teams, GPA etc to recruit players they think will come play for them, trying to second guess who will earn a NCAA college roster spot before the age of 21. It is really a pretty daunting task to match players with the best option for them. So until an site is created for junior hockey, we all get by the best way we can. But just recognize that involving more people in the decision making process doesn't mean that you will arrive at the best conclusion. We all have biases, frames and limited information. You don’t know everything you need to know about a team and they don’t know everything they need to know about your recruiting class.

After analyzing catastrophes and scandals like Chernobyl, the Bay of Pigs, Watergate etc, researchers discovered common elements - though apparently innocent- that seemed to lead toward disaster. So as much as possible, avoid these things if you are going to use a group approach for decision making because these things led to bad group decision making:

A. Cohesiveness: People who know and like each other and who want to preserve relationships/good feelings often leave things unsaid and don’t challenge other people’s thinking as much as they should. You walk off the cliff together
B. Insulation: Groups that don’t have all the information because they didn’t know the questions to ask or where to look for critical answers can’t be expected to make wise decisions. These groups appear quite busy but are operating without key facts. (Teams don't often disclose information about what kind of players they need to fill in roster spots; Players aren't all seen by the people who want them; Last year's veterans don't have an avenue to share what they've learned; Released players disappear and don’t share what they have learned).
C. High Stress: The perceived importance of the decision, its complexity and tight deadline often lead groups to select something just to select something. By contrast, many of the best decisions were made later in the process by groups that resolved to keep working towards a solution after other groups would quit. Not knowing is so uncomfortable to some groups that they would risk a less appealing or wrong decision just to have closure.
D Strong Leadership: If the head of the group/family clearly states up front what he/she favors it is likely that others will
naturally follow that train of thought rather than come up with an alternative, maybe even better answer. You would think that a strong leader involved in a decision is helpful; but in group decision dynamics, unless that leader is willing to listen and guide the discussion rather than impose personal ideas, it really isn’t a group decision.

DECISION TRAP #7 Not Keeping TrackNot keeping records to track information prevents you from analyzing details later and from learning key lessons to regroup
For families that choose to research opportunities and sort through possibilities, there is a ton of information out there to weed through. Start compiling the answers to your important questions into a format that you can find and process later. Don't jot notes on scrap paper that you can't sort or retrieve later. It may take more time to get organized on the front end, but when you really need the information, if you can't remember for sure if that was about Team X or Y or who you "heard it from" or if you already asked'll either waste a lot of time looking for it or worse yet, you'll just rely on your memory. Put paper by the phone, get a box to put letter in. Start filling out charts that include space for the important questions you’ll use to compare.

Credit: This is an application of the book "Decision Traps: The Ten Barriers to Brilliant Decision-Making and How to Overcome Them" by J Edward Russo and Paul Schoemaker

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A FINAL ANALOGY: What Kind of a Hiker are You?

Consider your college / career preparation time as a mountain hike. You may see the peak and aim for it, but without a map or a guide, you may not know exactly which path will take you to the top most directly and safely. Some hikers stray off any path at all and just head up the side of the mountain only to find loose rock. Some hikers freak out if they don’t have specific steps laid out in front of them and won’t dare leave on the hike until every question is answered and there are contingency plans. Some hikers would like all the answers first but they are too antsy to just sit at the bottom and wait until the map arrives -- so they just take off on a path and figure they will just adjust along the way. Some hikers are satisfied with knowing that they just need to head towards the top and although they recognize that they may go several extra miles because they don’t which peak to head for but they simply enjoy hiking. Some people shop at REI and buy all sorts of cool looking clothes and gear but never learn how to use any of it an d will never hike. Some people just want to hang out around the base camp with people who are on the trail but never want to hike it themselves. Some people take the time to pack appropriately and be prepared while others just head out without a map, flashlight or provisions because they assume that some other prepared person will come along the way and bail them out if they get stuck. Some people don’t care if they ever reach the peak but just want to get out and enjoy the woods for awhile. And some people have never considered that maybe they should find a different hobby. What kind of a hiker are you?