The day is nearly here: tryouts.
Hockey players all over the country are about to officially switch from offseason training mode into preseason tryout mode. They’ll lace up their skates with a new mindset, a mentality hell-bent on achieving their goal of making their intended squad.
And the puck drops, their first shift is underway.
And they screw up.
It’s over, right? After missing a check or missing the net or flubbing a pass, there’s no way to overcome the adversity at this point, the coaches have all seen the error.
Once a team is set, coaches want players they can trust in important situations. Does one bad pass define a player for the rest of the tryout, or even the rest of the season? The key to rebounding after a mistake is not to repeat that mistake. Do that and the evaluators will recognize the player’s ability to adjust and improve in-game.
Players don’t enter tryouts cold any more. With the amount of offseason training and preparation leading up to tryouts, most players are at their peak in late August. This means that as much as making a single mistake doesn’t matter, the same rule applies for making a big play or scoring a highlight reel goal. First impressions don’t mean as much because coaches want to see consistency - a constant ability to make plays.
The easiest thing for hockey players to do during tryouts is rest on their laurels. Coaches approach every player with a level of cynicism, a product of our game’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture of winning. It’s tougher to maintain habits throughout the tryout process, but a consistent player with a strong work ethic is more valuable than a player who only turns it on once in awhile.
The easiest players to bring though to the next round are those who make positive contributions at both ends of the rink. Today’s game has room for all sorts of players, from the danglers to the grinders to the playmakers to the goal-scorers. Oh, and goalies who stop the puck, too. This is how coaches build their teams, through a careful process of scrutinizing every move a player makes. In other words, it’s not the first impression that matters so much, it’s the ability of the player to respond to adversity.
There’s no question that first impressions help players get noticed and it’s important to try to make that impression a positive one, but hockey is a game of second chances. If a player is completely dismayed by a mistake, how are they going to react in November when they didn’t prepare properly for a game and they’re subsequently benched?
The player gets distraught, the parents get involved and the player deflects the responsibility for their actions and the coach is ultimately blamed.
To that entire scenario, I say no thanks.
High maintenance projects such as this frighten coaches. It’s what keeps us up at night. It’s why coaches tell players to “seek a second opinion”.
Or a second chance somewhere else.
So don’t worry about first impressions this season. Worry about every impression afterwards.