Union College head coach Rick Bennett knows that patience pays. The Springfield, Mass., native led the Dutchmen to their first-ever NCAA national championship last season and only one of his players (Shayne Gostisbehere of Pembroke Pines, Fla.) was an NHL draft pick.
Most of his players were considered late bloomers – players that took a little longer to develop. In other words, players that required patience.
“Our roster’s not filled up with 10 to 20 NHL draft picks. That’s just fine with us,” said Bennett. “It’s not to say that we don’t like draft picks. It’s just to say, ‘You know what, so be it.’ We feel the sign of a good player is getting better throughout the course of a season and dealing with the adversity of being a student-athlete.”
Patience is required from all parties – the player, the parents and the coaches – throughout the youth hockey development process. This is especially true at 14U/16U, as players continue maturing and aspiring toward their full potential.
But that can be difficult. Bennett admits it, as both a father and a coach. Some parents want to go, go, go.
“I’m kind of going through that now with one of my children,” said Bennett. “You see it from a distance. Let the coaches coach. Be there for support. You might not like everything the coach does, but you be supportive through that.
“I’ve seen programs that are supportive at the youth age, and I’ve seen those teams thrive. You can see it at other levels when everybody has to have their hands in the cookie jar – and it just doesn’t work.”
What’s the Rush?
It doesn’t matter what your neighbors or teammates are doing. There’s no need to panic if other players are moving up to juniors or midget majors or committing to colleges. It might be the right move for them, but it could be the wrong move for you.
“When they see a teammate commit somewhere, they feel they have to run out and commit or push the process,” said Bennett. “We try to practice what we preach here with our own family. If we’re fortunate enough and the time comes that one of our children is lucky enough to be a student-athlete at the college level, then we’ll go through the process together.”
Jumping Up and Falling Down
Players should avoid jumping to the next level of hockey if they’re not ready. It could prove to be detrimental to their development. They might lose ice time, responsibility and confidence – all critical to the growing process. It could drain their love of the game instead of fueling it with ice time, puck touches and experience.
Rushing development won’t make a player, but it could break them. There’s still tons of development happening even at the college level, so just imagine all of the development happening at the 14U/16U levels.
Coaches and parents need to recognize it and remain calm.
“You definitely need to have the patience to work with these players,” said Bennett. “Everybody’s a different learner throughout the season.”
Preaching Patience and Commitment
Preaching patience doesn’t mean “sit back and wait,” or “do nothing.” At 14U/16U, now is the time for the player to start taking responsibility for his or her development. If they’re serious about getting to the next level, it’s now on the player, not the coaches and parents.
“The common denominator: You’ve got to be willing,” said Bennett. “You’ve got to be willing to get better. If you’re not, then it doesn’t work.”