Whew, alright, I know there’s been some negativity over the past couple weeks…
... that’s actually the end of that thought.
ANYWAYS, I’ve heard this one many, many (many) times in my years running groups at hockey academies in Edmonton and now Vancouver.
Parents make the claim that their son or daughter would play better if only they had a chance to play with stronger players.
The message being sent to the player in this case flies so hard in the face of everything sport is supposed to teach young people it's mind-boggling.
First, the point of playing hockey is to support your existence as a person. Not the other way around.
Honestly, think about it - let’s say your child has the fortune, skill and timing to make it to the National Hockey League. They’re 23 years old and complaining about playing on the 4th line with the Edmonton Oilers (who will probably still be the worst team in the NHL in 2025).
“If only I got to play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, then I would light it up” they tell you.
What would you do then? Call the team’s 143rd consecutive head coach and complain?
Sounds crazy, right? Well, it’s not really that different in minor hockey.
Alright, I’m not saying that being on the receiving end of a couple Wayne Gretzky passes didn’t help Dave Semenko slightly, but Dave Semenko still had to earn the right to play with The Great One.
Being able to do something and trying to do something are two very different things.
Execution: the ability to perform a skill
Effort: the willingness to try to perform a skill
Encouraging young players to work harder in order to earn the opportunity to play with strong players is akin to teaching a man to fish rather than simply hucking a breakfast trout at him.
The most difficult thing to coach is internal motivation. Because it’s internal, right?
So unless you’re willing to book a black market surgeon to transplant the hearts of the entire American Olympic Hockey team from the Miracle On Ice into their chest then you’re just going to have to accept them as they are.
In plain language, if your kid wants to play with better players, then your kid will need to play better.
Which may or may not be possible, it’s just the reality.
When Dave Semenko was racking up assists and scoring goals off his face by standing in front of opposing team’s goalies he wasn't magically being transformed into a Jari Kurri clone. His style of game didn’t change, it just happened to make Glen Sather look like a genius.
If we allow young hockey players to believe that there’s a right and a wrong time to perform, to work hard, to dedicate themselves, then this poison will creep into the rest of their habits.
“It’s not my fault, I made a perfect pass, Jimmy just can’t finish.”
“It’s not my fault, that pass wasn’t good enough. I’ll wait until I get a perfect pass.”
Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier played on different lines. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews play on different lines. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play on different lines. Rob Klinkhammer and Nail Yakupov play on different lines.
Alright, ignore that last one. Hockey is about playing as a team and making other players better. Individual contributions amount to a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Wherever the motivation comes from, hockey is about continual improvement every day.
The bottom line is that "he plays better with better players" is the worst argument ever because it trains kids to worry about what they can't control.
Don’t like your current circumstances?
Do something about it. Change might not happen immediately, next week or even in the same season, but ultimately every hockey player everywhere still has the power to choose what they’re going to do with their energy.
Wait for an opportunity?
Or create an opportunity?
Related argument: "If you make him the captain he'll play better." "Ahh! Why?"