Play for Your School. Play for the Present, Not Just the Future

By Coach Pete Russo

peter-single5Today, some kids spend their entire careers, mites through juniors, focused on adding an additional four years of hockey in college. They sacrifice everything in between. These kids aren’t playing in the present; they are playing for the future.

When did we stop valuing the experience?

Coaches will sell you a bill of goods on where you need to be to get to the next level, but here is the truth. If you are truly a Division I player, they will find you. I don’t care if you play prep school, juniors or for the District 5 Mighty Ducks.

What really matters is being a good person, stand up kid, hard worker and good student. The hockey part will take care of itself if you focus on the other things. It’s not where you are it’s who you are. That is why I believe in choosing a path that provides you with an overall present experience and gives you the tools to be the best all-around person you can be.

There needs to be a balance between experience and development. I spoke with an NHL scout last weekend and he told me that college hockey or not, the highlight of these kids’ careers will be playing for their secondary school.

Playing for your community, representing something greater than yourself and playing in meaningful games is an unmatched experience. In college you represent your school, so why wouldn’t you in high school?

Look at the Catholic Conference in Mass. Here is a common scenario each year. BC High playing Malden Catholic in February with the league title on the line. The place is packed, the fans are emotionally invested and the rivalry is huge. It is an athletic event, not just a “development” game.

I look to my senior year at Burlington High School before I went to Prep School as a PG. I got the chance to play for my entire town, with the kids I grew up with in front of 10,000 people at the Boston Garden for the Super 8 Championship. The ride that entire season was a once in a lifetime experience that most people don’t get.

It’s the same story at Prep School. The buzz on campus all week is about the game on Saturday against the league rival. All of the students and faculty are behind you, following your season and routing you on. Every single game across New England each Wednesday and Saturday has huge playoff implications. Everyone is following the Kent vs Avon Old Farms game in CT while the Mass crowd is waiting for results from Belmont Hill vs Brooks. The great part is, both games effect EVERYONE in both leagues. Also the history in the buildings of these schools is incredible.

Again, whether you are on BC High, Burlington High or at a Prep School, if you are a Division I player they will find you. Families are literally trading in these types of experiences for what they believe to be better development.

Why would you ever want to give that up? Instead of treating your high school years as a time to focus on development, treat it as an overall experience. Some kids don’t play in a meaningful hockey game their ENTIRE career.

Here is my opinion. Kids should play on a competitive half season midget team before the season. Once the winter hits, play for the school that you attend. In the spring, play a spring sport and learn how to be an all-around athlete and competitor. In the summer you can really take advantage of time off from school and develop your game. A more serious player should be on a well-constructed off ice regimen, four days a week. They should also be skating once or twice a week with other players of their talent level in a modern, up to date skills clinic. Play in two, maybe three tournaments if you want, but focus on getting better, not on getting exposure. Take an SAT prep class and keep up with your summer reading. Go on vacation with your family and hang out with your friends. Be a kid (without being an idiot).

No one loves hockey more than I do. I’ll talk about hockey all day if you let me. I live in the rinks and on the ice. But with that said, I recognize that at the end of the day, hockey is a GAME. It is a great game that can be used as a vehicle to so many things. A game where you meet most of your close friends, learn valuable lessons and pick up important characteristics.

I am involved in hockey for others. I want to help kids develop as people and players and make sure they grow up the right way. I want to help change this money driven hockey world we live in. I give guidance and “advising” for free 100% of the time to anyone who asks and always will. People won’t do anything for anyone anymore without a price tag. Half the people in the industry won’t even look at you in the rink unless you have a check in your hand. Then they are your best friend. It is completely asinine.

I am not afraid to piss off the big guns and more people need to step up and call for a change. After youth hockey is over, if you are paying to just play hockey, you need to take a step back and think about why you are playing the game. Graduate from school, look at your options, get advice and then make a decision on the next step.

Value the experience. Play in the present. Work for your future.