By Sean Cassidy
Social Media Director, Grand Valley Minor Hockey
Many young hockey players grow up with the dream of becoming
the next NHL star, and this is a wonderful and exciting aspiration for them to
aim for. However, as they move into their early teens (Bantam) and can more
objectively assess their skill set, reality often begins to creep in that it
may be too late to become a Hart Trophy winner, or they may not possess the
skill set to score 50 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
At first blush, there is nothing wrong with this realization because they are more than likely correct – currently, the odds of an Ontario minor hockey player making a living playing NHL hockey is around 0.02 %. Not good odds to bank on!
However, while fundamentally accurate, there is an issue with this type of thinking. Nothing in life is ever, “black or white.” This type of thinking runs rampant among teenagers and can lead to frustration, anxiety, and depression. Psychologists call this cognitive distortion all-or-nothing thinking. All-or-nothing thinking refers to thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally bad. If you are not perfect, then you are a failure. This way of thinking does not account for shades of gray, and all the good things that can come out of not reaching your initial goal.
Teenagers, generally, do not have the emotional maturity to recognize the value of “failure” and understand that, while they didn’t reach their initial goal, they have generated an opportunity to try again, to reinvent themselves, approach the problem from a different angle, and learn from these different experiences. Instead they, all too often, apply all-or-nothing thinking and give up, particularly if they perceive not achieving their objectives as embarrassing from a social perspective. For example, “I didn’t make the rep team, it's too late for me, I’d better give up,” or “I didn’t get into university, what do I do now. . . I’m already 18 years old. . . "
While we are creeping outside the scope of this article, a quote from Winston Churchill sums it up brilliantly, “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Look at the smiling faces of the young men in the accompanying photo. They belong to Jeremy Wick and Jake Weidner, both former Grand Valley Minor Hockey players. Neither man followed the path they had originally charted in Atom for playing their careers in the NHL, but they kept trying and continued working hard and found ways to turn their passion for hockey into tremendous successes even though they never achieved their initial goals. Instead, they didn’t give up; they kept plugging away, and, as a result, hockey helped them achieve university degrees, and now they are fortunate enough to be touring Europe while being paid to play the sport they love.
There is no question Mr. Wick and Mr. Weidner are more talented hockey players than most, but the fact remains that they didn’t give up and continue to find new paths as doors open and shut and they have created life experiences that would be unfathomable to imagine as a 13-year-old starting out in Bantam.
If teenagers love a sport, whether it be hockey or any other game, encourage them to continue pursuing it in an organized fashion. While they may not make the NHL, become pros in Europe, or receive college scholarships those are not failures, merely opportunities to go down a different path that would not have previously been open had they quit and no longer continued pursuing their passion.
It is a massive win for teenagers to remain in organized sports, it encourages physical fitness, teamwork, organization, life prioritization, and exposes them to mentors, such as coaches, that teach discipline and hard work. Whether they are going to become pros or not, these coaches help them understand the value of hard work and how it applies to every endeavour in life, regardless of the outcome. Studies have repeatedly proven that teens who remain in organized sports have lower incidences of troubled behaviour than those who drop out and are left to their own devices for leisure time.
The benefits of remaining in organized sport are endless as children mature into adults and range from options to play in recreational leagues in college, university, or industrial leagues as they start out their careers. This continued participation is one of the surest ways to meet healthy like-minded people as they branch out into the larger and challenging new social situations of adulthood.
Hockey also provides an excellent opportunity for "networking" and even if it turns out a player doesn’t have the natural ability to continue playing at higher levels, the connections they have made, the hard work ethic they have demonstrated, and the interest they have shown never goes unnoticed. This passion and dedication will continue to resonate years later with the many people they met who have progressed down different paths. It is important to note, these are relationships that would have never developed, and door openings that would have never materialized had the player quit playing organized sports when they were 15 and resigned themselves to giving up.
From a career perspective, the time is also right to continue pursuing hockey as long as possible as sports are now a very big business and there are many emerging careers in sports sciences that didn’t exist 15 years ago. The longer a player continues playing at the highest level they can achieve, the more likely it is the contacts they have made will start to pay dividends as they look to get hired in new sports science careers such as nutritionists, physiotherapists, sports psychologists, analytics experts, statisticians, and even coaches, trainers, and media-related jobs.
For example, the current Maple Leaf’s General Manager Kyle Dubas is only 32 years old, and while he was never able to make the NHL as a player he continued to pursue his love of hockey and attended Brock University, graduating in Sport Management (BSM) and the rest is history!
In summary, how hard your child works at hockey and the level of dedication they apply should not be relative to their chances of making the NHL. Hockey, and life in general, is not an all-or-nothing proposition – if a teenager is 16 years old and hasn’t been considered for the OHL draft, this is not a failure. If they continue working hard, pursuing the highest level possible, expanding their social networks beyond their own communities, and stay positive life will surely open doors that they could never have imagined had they given up.