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Moving Away From Home Part 1

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Moving Away From Home | Young man walking in front of a building with his gym bag - SkateGuard

One of the topics with the widest discrepancy between the impact on a young player and the amount of dialogue it gets is the process of moving away from home. If a player is going to advance past youth hockey, he or she is almost always going to have to move away from home in some way. It is a major dislocation in a young athlete’s life, but they often receive little to no guidance on how to navigate this incredibly difficult process.

So, let’s rectify that. In the next two 3/8ths of a Thought posts, I’m going to share a few ideas on things a player can do to help make the transition happen a bit more smoothly. I appreciate that some of these are going to require a financial outlay; however, if you are able to, I suspect that you will find the benefits are well worth the hopefully modest expense.

Tip 1: Visit the town beforehand, and report early!

These days, it’s quite common for players to know well ahead of time (often months) where they are going to be playing the following season. Prep schools set their rosters early, and junior leagues almost all have some kind of draft or tender process. If you find yourself in this situation and know where you are headed, take some time to go visit the town or city you will be playing in. Reach out to the management of the team and ask them to prepare a “visit” ahead of time. This is done all the time at the NCAA level, but I find it is practised much more infrequently at the junior/prep level. In an ideal world, you would make your visit while the team is still playing the prior season. See if you can “shadow” a current player for a couple of days – it will give you an idea of what to expect when you arrive to start the season, what to expect on game days, and other important details you can only see by being there.

Additionally, players would be well advised to report to the city early to start the season. There is nothing more challenging than trying to perform well the first few days that everyone is in town, while trying to get your personal life and living situation sorted out. But that’s also when many opinions about you and your play are formed. And remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression!

There are lots of junior hockey teams that will arrange for you to move into your billets (the family that you will live with) early. I can almost guarantee that having a couple of extra days to get to know them better will be invaluable. You may be spending a lot of time with these people, so you want to establish quickly whether they will be a good fit, and it’s easier to do that when you aren’t running around town during training camp. Billets will have their own home rules in addition to the ones laid out by the team, so make sure there is proper alignment there. Some prep schools will let you move in a few days early, too. (Talk to your coach and GM; there can almost always be something worked out.)

One important point here: make sure you have your own space. You will need somewhere free of distraction to rest and recharge properly.

It makes sense to meet with your billets during your pre-season visit. (If you’re going to a college, the head of your residence is the person to meet.) And if you can’t manage that, at the very least report early and ask them to go to dinner ahead of move-in day. Bring them a small gift – they will earn it!

Tip 2: Ask the coaching staff for video from last year or from their previous team

This is a great way to find out very quickly what your new coaches value. If they give you a lot of cuts of d-zone coverage, you know that playing sound defence is really important to the staff. If they give you a lot of PP/PK footage, you know that it will benefit you to figure out what it is they’re looking for in special teams situations, so make sure you know it inside and out!

Watching the tape may also give you a good idea of the role they have envisioned for you. A smart coach will take your request and tailor the footage that they give you to the role they have in mind. If they don’t do this, take it upon yourself. Ask for more material on the areas of the game that you excel at and where you think you can add value to the team.

Tip 3: If at all possible, try and find a way to train through the summer with a returning or former player from your new team

A returning player is obviously ideal here. This will provide you with the beginnings of a built-in network when you arrive for the season, but there are also a number of other tremendous advantages to this kind of arrangement. Note that “training” can be on-ice, off-ice, or both.

Listen to this person carefully. Knowingly or unknowingly, they will provide you with a wealth of useful information – everything from who the different personalities are amongst the returning players to where the best places to eat are and what the coaching staff is like and what they value. If you’re moving cross-border, you’re likely going to need a new cell phone and a new bank account; they’ll know who has the best deal. If you are looking to get a part-time job, or take classes while playing junior hockey, they’ll likely know the best places to do that, too.

If it’s not something you’ve experienced before, this will also likely give you a taste of the veteran/rookie dynamic. While the hazing nonsense that was all too common 15 or 20 years ago seems to have subsided (and we at SkateGuard don’t have any time for anyone who undertakes this kind of abhorrent behaviour), it is still reasonable to expect the distribution of tasks to skew in the direction of the rookies. Ask your training partner about it. Find out what is expected of rookies on the team. Understanding expectations ahead of time will make your transition to a new environment that much easier.

In the next post, I’ll finish up my thoughts on moving away from home to play hockey with some advice on how to get the most from the “authority figures” in your life – namely, coaches, parents and others who have an interest in your success.

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