As the Chair of the United States Hockey League’s Competition Committee, when I’m at the USHL combines, I’m often asked “what does my son need to do to get into the USHL?”
While having talent is obviously a key prerequisite, my reply for the parents asking is always the same - “Your son (and this applies to girls/women players as well) has to WORK at his game, work constantly, consistently, and incessantly. Starting right NOW!” Most of the time, honestly it’s too late, the work needs to have been done already.
While telling someone that the key to their child’s success is "to work hard" sounds like a trite reply, something that is obvious and shouldn’t need to be said, the fact is - most kids don’t work at their game as hard as is required. Not only do the kids not understand the work ethic achieving success in the game requires - most parents don’t want to make the effort and commitment to get their child to the rink as often as they need too. Success in AAA hockey and above is a commitment and a sacrifice by everyone in the entire family for a child to achieve greatness. This is true in any sport, in any activity. Nothing can change this fact. Oh, we’re always told - “you don’t need to focus and make commitment on a single sport” by “experts” on the recreational side of the game, well that sounds nice, but it’s not truly accurate. You can play other sports (and should), but you have to work year-around on your skating and your puck skills (puckhandling, passing, shooting). If you don’t do this work - you won’t make it. It’s that simple. You won’t make it because other kids will do the work - in fact - other kids are doing the work in other communities right NOW!
I write this with the experience of 26 years working in college and junior hockey, having coached at the University of Maine (D1), having been an assistant in the NAHL, a Head Coach in the NAHL and the USHL, a GM in both league, later becoming Team President, and finally owning a NAHL team, and 4 different USHL teams - nothing will change the fact that if you don’t work hard constantly, year-around - you won’t acquire the skills necessary to move up, and move on. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery - the sooner you can put those 10,000 hours in, the better. Excellence requires mastering the skills of the game, and excellence in your play is required to move up to the next level.
Furthermore, the notion that parents shouldn’t place expectations on their hockey player to work hard is ludicrous. Parents have a right, and in truth, the responsibility to EXPECT their serious hockey player to work hard constantly. My observations of the 500+ D1 scholarship kids that I’ve had on my teams over the years - one thing those players all have in common? Their parents all had the expectation that their player must work hard, and give their best. Because without that high expectation - you’re giving the athlete a “free pass”. Why make any sacrifice as a parent if your player isn’t going to work hard? The player needs to understand - once he is 14 - there aren’t vacations where you get to take 2-3 weeks off in the summer, and that means Mom and Dad (and siblings) often don’t get to take vacations - its “all in” to achieve greatness, and there is nothing that can substitute for long hours of hard work. It’s not fun, greatness isn't fun often (its rewarding) but this is why you see athletes breaking down in tears when they achieve a goal, or win a championship - those are the tears of sacrifices made long ago.
This isn’t a happy “ feel-good modern” post - no sugarcoated soft stuff here - as I’m fond of saying, “If you want a friend, buy a dog.” The truth is unavoidable: success in this sport requires a tremendous work ethic and sacrifices to achieve that work ethic. It’s lonely, expensive, and the athlete is going to question his or her self about “is this worth it?” But if you love the sport of ice hockey, and want to achieve your goal of high-level AAA, and Junior, and college hockey (let alone professional hockey) you must make these sacrifices of time and labor. It’s hard to do, especially here in Indiana, where we don’t have the culture of elite hockey to show the player the way, but it’s also why we built the Ice Barn: so the dedicated hockey player (and their family) has a place to go year-around to get better. We change the culture here 1 player at a time, and thus achieve success 1 player at a time. It’s up to you to do the work, we’re here to help you.