The game of hockey is, in my opinion, the greatest game on the planet. What other game can teach someone so many life lessons? If you had asked me as a young player what I thought it meant to be a successful hockey player, I would have responded, “to make it to the NHL.” As the years passed and I matured both on and off the ice, I learned I could not have been more wrong.
Nine months have passed since I played my last hockey game and I honestly have never been happier in my life. The game of hockey has taught me all the skills I will need to be successful in the next phase of my life. I believe that is how we should measure success and that is what should be trying to teach young hockey players. We should be using hockey as a means of teaching young people the skills they will need to be compassionate, contributing members of society. Parents, coaches, and players must all be on the same page and must keep the focus on the bigger picture. How does a young person learn accountability, work ethic, determination, and how to be a winner? With those thoughts in mind, I’d like to pose a question to everyone involved in youth hockey including parents, coaches, and even businessmen/rink owners: Why are you involved in hockey?
If you did not answer, “For the kids” then you should reconsider why you are, in fact, involved in youth hockey. You have agenda that you will never be able to see around. I tell you why I’m involved, and it isn’t to make money or support my family.
I have gained 25 years of experience doing a lot of things the right way, but I learned even more through things that I did wrong. I’m involved with youth hockey to help these kids on their journey any way I can. I couldn’t sit on the sideline and watch what is going on with this great game here in Kansas City.
If it wasn’t for you, none of this would matter. You guys are the ones who make this all possible. It’s your time and money that are being sacrificed. “Thank you” from the bottom of my heart for the countless sacrifices you make. However, your financial sacrifices do not exempt you from setting an example of good sportsmanship. Parents play a key role in hockey here in Kansas City. You must remember that you have a huge impact on your child. They are always looking to make you proud. Your child will also follow your example. The old saying that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” couldn’t be truer. If you beg for calls from the stands, what do you think your player will do on the ice? If you complain about this or that, what do you think your child will do? If you act like a victim, what do you think your child will do? I challenge you to set an example of good sportsmanship rather than contribute to the problem. Your child will learn lessons that will separate them from other players in their hockey career.
You have been given keys to the kingdom! You have been trusted with someone else’s child and your players look up to you. Your job is to teach players they must be students of the game. How can you expect them to be students of the game if you yourself are not still trying to learn? Hockey is a sport that has changed so much in the last 10 years! I don’t remember who told me this, but I was once reminded that “coaches do not win games, players do.” Coaches sure as heck can lose games though! Check your ego at the door. Your hockey career as a player is over when you become a coach. The player in you must step aside to allow the coach in you to stand tall. You can utilize your experience as a player but that is it. Your job is to develop players into a greater player than you could have ever hoped to be! By that, I mean that the team belongs to the athletes and their parents. Your job is to be the leader that keeps everything together and to develop hockey players as well as human beings!
Control what you can control. Focus all your energy on what you can control such as being a good teammate, working hard, having a good attitude, and competing with everything you’ve got! If you consistently focus on all these things, you will fly by others player year after year. There are a lot of different paths to get where you ultimately want to go, however, there is only one mindset that will ever get you there. This is not negotiable! It takes buy in every single day. The recipe is simple, the consistency is the hard part!
Finally, always think, “What I can do better?” You are not powerless! You have the opportunity to play an amazing game. Always take ownership of everything you do; your attitude, your behavior, and your performance. If you want to play more minutes or be on the powerplay, show the coach you can be trusted to perform under pressure. I’ll tell you from my short tenure as a coach that coaches do not favor players. Coaches have a responsibility to the entire team. They play the players that they can either trust or who they believe are the best option in that specific situation.
I’m speaking from experience because I made all these mistakes myself. Although I’m not a know it all, I was a terrible teammate and very selfish at times. As a coach, I’m trying to help players and parents learn from the mistakes I’ve made in my career.
There are two stories that I want to share, the first story is about thinking you are the victim. I was playing my first year in USHL for the best coach I’ve ever played for, Mark Carlson. Everything about Mark and the organization in Cedar Rapids is first class. One night, we were on the road playing in Waterloo (our biggest rival). I scored both goals in a 3-2 shootout loss. I was flying high! I was a 17-year-old trying to attract the attention of good looking girls and get on NHL draft boards. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I walked onto the bus smiling ear-to-ear. I made two steps onto the bus when coach absolutely lost it on me. Going off about how we lost, and guys have ice bags on and how I think my you-know-what doesn’t stink.
The next night was Parent’s Night at home. My parents never missed a home game. In fact, they never missed any game during my junior and college career. I got healthy scratched the next night. Let’s just say that both my parents and I played the victim. Looking back, I should have known that I was in the wrong. I should have seen what coach was trying to teach me. He wasn’t trying to hurt me or my career. He was trying to check my ego.
Why do we always play victim?
Because it is easier to find fault with the coach than it is to reflect on the lesson he is trying to impart and to take ownership of our own behavior!
The second story is for anyone who believes that developing hockey players can’t happen in Kansas City. I have had many people tell me, “This is just Kansas City.” To them, I tell them to please stop and look up Pekin, Illinois on a map. Then, rethink your thoughts about KC, think about my personality and consider what you think my response to that would be?
If you believe that my answer would be, “I don’t care that this is just Kansas City” then I say “Winner, winner chicken dinner!”
I’m here to shatter every excuse parents try to give their kid. I’m here to break every crutch a coach tries to give himself. I’m here to give a counter-argument to that every businessman gives for why hockey is where it is! Yes, I moved around and played on some of the best minor hockey teams in the country. But at my core, I’m still just a kid from Pekin, Illinois who grew up playing hockey because I love the game.
By the time I was 15 years old, I was working for an opportunity to participate in the US Select Festival. The Festival involves USA hockey hosting the best one hundred promising teenage hockey players in the country for a week-long camp. Players are being selected through their state association, then their district association before being accepted to the US Select Festival. The Central district which is what Kansas City falls in consists of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Kansas. The first two years I tried, I did not make it out of the central district. I finally made it to the US Select Festival during my last year of eligibility. On the first day of camp, the coaches gathered us together in one room. A gentleman stood up and said:
“Boys, look around the room. Only two of you will go onto have a ten-year career in the NHL. Better get to work!”
The point of the second story is that those of us involved in hockey in Kansas City are on a mission. We must trust the process. I learned from a young age that complacency is the worst word in the dictionary. I believe you can celebrate small success along the way, but your eye must always remain on the ultimate prize. Hockey careers are like a mountain. At the bottom, they are very wide. But as you make the climb, the mountain gets narrower and narrower until you reach the peak. The ultimate prize or peak here in Kansas City is to turn this place into a hockey town.
Please take a drive four hours east and then three hours northwest. You will find two of the biggest growing hockey markets in the Midwest producing hockey players left and right. Does anyone still want to think we are “just Kansas City,” or, do we finally want to take ownership of the roles that we all play in this?
I believe we should assemble the most powerful coalitions of hockey coaches, parents, players, and businessman we can find. Let’s get to work now and start the process. We all have more to give! We all need each other to make this thing work. Take your agenda and squash it because the end result is bigger than any single one of us!
Find out more about Bryce’s Hockey Academy and upcoming schools through his website.