Alright, I really want to write this one, but I know it’s going to strike a nerve. So, prepare yourself if you have sensitive nerves.
First, let’s examine the circumstances that would lead to a player being classified as the ‘best’.
Even defining these aspects of strong players leaves us with questions. By what metric are we classifying ‘best’?
Alright, have we sufficiently covered ourself from the subjective measurement inherent in the term ‘best player’?
Good. Because there’s usually a player who stands out for one reason or another, and they shouldn’t be punished for that.
If you asked every player on a team to line up in order of skill level you’d get a pretty good idea of your strongest players. Kids normally have no problems deferring to their stronger peers (it’s only parents who have a hard time with the comparisons). A player who can definitively state they’re at the front of that line is a player with confidence. Similarly, players who are comfortable with their place in line, even if it’s at the end, will build confidence as well.
And what more could we want for our children?
Confident players make others around them better. They learn life skills like teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership and they develop at a comfortable pace.
One of the common arguments against being the best player on a team is the development aspect. People think that playing with weaker players will stunt growth and development.
This. Is. Not. True.
Dave Semenko used to play with Wayne Gretzky. Making a pass to an allstar is easy - it’s a lot tougher to work with someone who needs the puck placed in the perfect spot in order to pick it up. Being one of the strongest players while also needing laser-sharp precision when passing with teammates?
Sounds like a recipe for development to me.
At the higher levels, like bantam and midget, being a strong player comes with rewards based on ice time and special teams. The best coaches find something for every player to do, but instead of making the jump to junior hockey early, older players who stick around in midget hockey gain more experience and more confidence as a result of their performances.
Ultimately the system works - I’ve released players in atom and peewee who’ve went on to leapfrog players I’ve kept and vice versa. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. This is why you get new coaches every couple of years.
I currently coach a team where our two best players are our goalies. Simple! We probably have the best goaltender tandem major midget has ever seen - both David Tendeck and Beck Warm are signed WHL prospects.
In initiation, atom, and peewee, however, it’s rarely so cut and dry. Having strong players on the ice can be difficult for the parents whether they’re kid is the strongest or the weakest.
But it shouldn’t be. There’s always someone better than you somewhere. Heck, there’s probably a bizarro Kelvin in Norway or something writing about hockey in his sweat pants too, but he knows how the Oxford comma works.
As a hockey society, we’re always concerned with the weaker players and how they’ll develop. That’s fine, everyone deserves a positive experience, but it’s ok to be the best player, too.