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Moving Away From Home Part 2

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Young man waking through the frame of a door while holding a plastic container with his belongings - SkateGuard

In the previous blog post, I began a discussion of a challenge that nearly all elite hockey players face but very few people in the industry talk about enough: moving away from home. A new town, a new team, a new coach, a new living situation – these can all be hugely disorienting realities for a young player, whether they are at college or in the Major Junior system.

Yet there are ways for players to navigate this challenge well and set themselves up for success in their new environment. We’ve already touched on three of them:

  • Tip 1 – Visit your new town before the season starts.
  • Tip 2 – Ask the coaching staff for video from the previous season.
  • Tip 3 – Try to train with a current or former player from your new team during the summer.

Here are the last two tips – and they are important, so listen up!

Tip 4: Arrange a meeting with your coach/GM as soon as you arrive

This can give you a huge head start on understanding what the expectations are for you personally, as well as the team in general. Success in hockey is as much about figuring out what a coaching staff wants and finding a way to deliver that as it is about your skillset, your conditioning, or how sick your style is!

Try and do this within the first couple of days of your arrival. And yeah, I can hear the average 15- to 18-year-old now: “What the hell do I talk to this coach about!?!”

Here are few suggestions:

  • Start with this: “I am working on setting my goals for this season, and I would love your input.” See what they say. Their answer might be quantitative (“We’re looking for 15 goals from you this year”) or it might be qualitative (“Be our team’s best penalty killer,” or “Make sure that you’re always bringing energy.”). Find ways to get the staff to elaborate on those first thoughts out of their mouths.
  • Find out who the top team in the league was last year or who is favoured this year. Ask the coach, “How are we going to stay ahead of Team X this year?” Their answer may be very telling. If the first thing they say is, “Well, we know they have Player Y and Player Z,” ask them what makes those players special.
  • Ask what made your new team successful last year. And what are the things the team needs to improve upon this season?
  • Particularly if team captains haven’t been named yet, ask the coach who they view as the leaders in the room. What do those players do right? Listen carefully, and then try to emulate the traits that they mention.
  • BONUS: This goes for ANY time you move to a new junior (or pro!) hockey team. The team will have some kind of community outreach program in place. Ask how you can help take the lead on these programs! Coaches love it, ownership groups love it, and it’s an amazing way to build long-lasting connections that will almost certainly persist long after hockey is over.

Tip 5: Set up a routine with your “support network”

Note: If you manage to get to college (or pro) hockey without having ever lived away from home, then this tip is even more critical – I would go so far as to say it’s essential.

Your away-from-home support network will almost certainly include your parents, along with some combination of former coaches, teammates, siblings and your player agent. Schedule times for you to call these people.

When everything around you is changing, it’s critical to continue to get touch points with those who know you well and care about you. If you are a player jumping from U16 AAA into a major junior program, there’s a decent chance you will have at least one or two ex-teammates from your U16 team who are doing the same thing. Set up times to chat with them, too. I can guarantee you that you’ll both be dealing with similar challenges. Do this at least a couple times a week early in the season.

Same thing with some of your trusted hockey advisors: the coach of your U16 team, your skills coach, your player agent/family advisor, or whoever you have a connection with through the game. These people all want to see you succeed and will give you all sorts of guidance/advice.

If you’re fortunate enough to have had a sibling play high-level hockey before you, lean on them. They will help you through this process.

Additionally, bring anything from home that you know will provide you comfort. Favourite pillow? Desk? Poster? Mug or bowl? Make those a part of your new living situation. That source of consistency and familiarity can be really helpful at this point in your life.

Consistency and familiarity also apply to what you eat. Nutrition is an important part of excelling at today’s game, so make sure that your billets are aware of your dietary needs and will support them. Be open to the guidance you will get from team trainers and/or nutritionists, but communicate your needs as soon as you get settled in. As one person who has billeted many junior hockey players told me, “Your fuel directly ties into your performance.” Don’t forget that.

And while you’re not forgetting things, don’t neglect your parents. They are a valuable resource. If they have put in the time, money and dedication to get you this far, then rest assured that they care deeply about you and your success. Leverage this!

As part of a player’s journey, the challenge of moving away from home for the first time is something that receives far less coverage than it should. If you can employ the strategies I’ve talked about here to some degree, it should set you up well in your new location. How you start in a new place can be the difference between success and a meaningful setback in your hockey career.

And if there’s a running theme here, it’s about the importance of communication. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are some members of the hockey community who continue to push the “show no weakness” narrative. That is bad advice. Leveraging the resources at your disposal is critical for your success, at both a personal and a “professional” level. In any elite hockey player’s career, there are many, many people who want to help. But it’s hard for them to give you support if you don’t let them know that you need it.

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