Yes ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we are rapidly approaching a great time of mayhem: tryout season.  This is the time when people can forget their manners, act as though their child is the next Wayne Gretzky, Sydney Crosby, Shane Doan or Patrick Roy, and not really care whose feet they trample over in an effort to get their child a tryout “win” at all costs.

I beg you.  Slow down.  Breathe.  Engage your brain before your pen or wallet–or mouth.  Here are a few pre-tryout tips to consider while running through the gauntlet at the rink:

  • Unless your child’s name is Auston Matthews, your child is NOT going to the NHL next season.  I know, the truth hurts.  There are no NHL, AHL, KHL, WCHL or any other “HL” scouts at your Squirt-aged child’s game.  No one in the history of professional sports has ever been drafted as a 12-year old Peewee.  Your eighth grader looking at Bantam teams is not going to suddenly be discovered as the next Alexander Ovechkin.  CHILL OUT.  This is not to say your kids shouldn’t dream–and even dream big, but reality can be icy cold.  Don’t pump your kid up with false expectations for what he/she should expect this season.  Don’t let a coach, team manager, coach in chief, or rink custodian feed you a sales pitch about the pros either — unless its a former pro talking about how he’s taking the team to a Coyotes game where the kids will get to MEET someone.  That’s probably real–but also probably not a good reason in-and-of-itself to join a team.
  • On a similar note, please don’t be one of “those parents.”  You know the ones…the parents that call the potential coach to brag endlessly about their son or daughter’s accomplishments, the parents that talk as though they expect the coach to roll out the red carpet for their kids, wine and dine them, and make them an incredible contract offer.  STOP–or don’t.  Your child will get opportunities to demonstrate what he or she can do on the ice, that’s what pre-tryout camps and tryouts are for.  The more you harass the coaches and managers, the more likely you are to hurt your child’s chances to make the team.  Or if a coach likes that kind of fluffing of your kid from you, he probably likes it from everyone else too…which means you’ll be on a team full of parents that think their kids are the superstars…which never leads anywhere good, certainly not to a unified, happy hockey family environment at the rink.
  • Take the time to get to know people around you.  Hockey is a great sport, and the rink can be such a fun, friendly environment.  Talk about anything you’d like–just don’t spend your time touting what a superstar your kid is.  Compliment other kids, for sure, but be humble when it comes to your kid.  Just talk about your hockey experiences in general, the good things you’ve seen and experienced at the rink, the fun your kid has had in the past, and hopes to have in the future.
  • Stay away from parents that make you feel like you’re at a used car lot.  You want to know what each organization is about?  Drop in for a couple pre-tryout skates with each one.  Ask questions of parents, coaches, volunteers running the tables.  Look at what kinds of things are on the website.
  • Do you know what the difference is between B, A, AA and AAA at the Mite, Squirt or Peewee level?  $$$.  USA Hockey only recognizes one kind of Mite/Squirt/Peewee hockey: House/Recreational, aka A/B/C hockey.  Do you know what makes kids better?  Those kids enjoying the game, being driven and self-motivated to get better, being good teammates, listening to coaches to learn what they can.  The only thing a Mite, Squirt or Peewee “AA” or “AAA” team can truly guarantee you?  You will pay more money for your hockey season than an organization that doesn’t stand by the number of vowels at the end of the team name.  Does that mean those are bad teams?  Not at all.  But be wary of teams that try to make eight and nine-year olds into superstars.  Fun should outweigh pressure to perform at any level where the kids are still in elementary school.
  • Breathe…and budget.  Hockey is an expensive sport.  Look for deals on gear–Behind the Mask in Arizona does a really nice job of price-matching online resellers, and you get the benefit of actually having someone help your kid try things on.  If you’re going to Southern California for a vacation or hockey trip, stop into Monkey Sports or Goalie Monkey in Santa Ana–but first check out the clearance area of their websites.  Often, the clearance items are kept in a separate warehouse–if you’re interested in something on clearance, call ahead to see if they can have it brought over to the store for you to check out.  NEVER be afraid to ask what the costs associated with a team will be.  Even if someone can’t give you exact numbers, you can usually at least get a ballpark figure.  Remember to factor in the player contract cost, any team account contribution you need to make, travel expenses (is your kid going to be just going with the team, or will the whole family–or at least a parent–need to go), equipment for the season…  You’re far better off pulling the plug or changing gears before tryouts because a team will be too expensive than having your kid make the team only to have to tell him or her, “Sorry–it’s great that you made the team, but we can’t afford $14,000 for you to play for this team.”  If that’s still where your child really wants to be, ask about scholarships, payment plans… If you get a crooked grin, or a “we don’t have those,” you may not be in the right place.

When tryouts are all done, make a good choice.  Never be afraid to say no, regardless of the pressure being applied, if you want to check out another option.  When the contract is in front of you, ask questions before you sign it.  What does this include?  What does this NOT include?  If I’m giving someone $4500 for a hockey season, I’d like to know-at least generally-speaking–exactly where that money is going.  Is only $3000 going to my team, and the other $1500 going to be redistributed to help pay for someone else’s coach?  Remember folks, socialism isn’t always taking from the rich to give to the poor–that door, in wealthier circles, can swing the other way too…

So, go to the rink, get your kids lots of ice and exposure, but be realistic about your expectations, and don’t be taken in by a fast-talking salesman…not even me.  🙂