Being a Good Canadian Kid and Taking one for the Team…
Well today I figured I would change gears a little bit and focus more on advocating and editorializing and a little less on comparing leagues or career paths.
I was reading a fan blog the other day and it got me quite animated and contemplative. Long-story short, fans were outraged because a player that their team traded for decided not to report and instead left the Tier II Junior level for the QMJHL. This controversy forced me to put my ADVOCATE hat on and think hard about a subject that should be paramount to players and parents; WHAT DO YOU actually owe the team…
There is an interesting dichotomy that exists that is unique to our sport. Players literally will go through the boards to help their team win, they will lie down and block a shot that is going 100+ MPH and shrug it off as part of paying the price in a Man’s game and wear those bruises and scars like badges of courage. They are also expected to be a team player OFF the ice, even to the detriment of their own career.
However, while you are supposed ‘take one for the team’ that very organization, in practice, does not have a reciprocal obligation to look out for your best interests. In fact, in many instances at the Junior or Pro level, they will not hesitate to cut you, trade you or frankly screw your career over (and we all know it happens all too frequently). When it is in their best interests, they write their actions off as “just doing business”. We as fans and hockey ‘citizens’ accept that fact all too easily. Yet, the moment players are perceived as acting les then selflessly, worlds collide and the very fabric of our society is torn apart. OK, I’m being a bit dramatic here… but you get my point!
There needs to be a fundamental shift in this mindset and dichotomy. A player can in fact give selflessly to the team on and off the ice to win a championship but at the same time he has to be utilitarian in his approach to the business side of the game. Business is Business; We need to begin envisioning these separate concepts as two parts of a larger whole that can function side by side.
Now a lot of the notions associated with being a Team-Player, in and of themselves aren’t necessarily bad things. Being a leader, hard work, sticking up for your friends and giving selflessly of your time and effort are commendable character traits. I’m all for instilling the highest values and morals as possible in the next generation, but we clearly blur the line between hockey as a cultural extension of our society and hockey as a billion dollar commercial enterprise. Far too often children are placed in highly exploitative situations that we just accept as part of ‘our’ culture and the sport when the reality is that these rationales are misplaced.
Yes, amateur sport plays a large role in keeping kids out of trouble and teaching them important community values and beliefs. The key word there is AMATEUR. When we begin speaking about U16 Provincial Teams, the BCHL, OHL or NCAA, let alone the pro level, we are talking about multi-million dollar companies and organizations that are trying to make a buck. Their products are your children. Let us not over-romantize this inter-dependent business relationship. Yes, they provide opportunity, but not wanting to have to go to Wichita or Moose Jaw to follow your dreams shouldn’t be frowned upon when a person in fact has other options.
One of the most startling differences that I noticed in the years I lived, scouted, recruited and played hockey in Europe was that most players grew up playing in their home town for their local club team. The Swede’s, Finn’s and Czech’s do not typically send their kids away at 15-17 to play hockey. That model hasn’t reduced the talent level of their hockey stars. Now, I’m not going to argue the merits of one system over the other, or whose is better, I just want to bring up the issue that there are other options and the ONLY reason the current system ‘operates’ as it does is because most people are too afraid to complain or challenge the status quo and tradition.
Player’s as Livestock?
OK, I’m clearly being a bit dramatic here with this subtitle, but the fact is that it has become part of our unique ‘Hockey culture’ that children are allowed to be turned into commodities and sent away from home as young as 16 (younger for MANY who are sent to various Academies throughout the country because local associations were not providing whatever parents found lacking). The worst part, is that we as a community act like it is perfectly OK for million dollar companies to buy and sell our children and then thinks poorly of the ‘character’ of a player when they decide on a different course of action then is prescribed by the club that ‘owns their rights’ which objectively is probably better for their lives, families and careers.
The point of this illustration is that fans and those of us swept up into the hockey world have become so enraptured with old notions of what it means to be a ‘good ole Canadian boy’ that we forget that for the Management and local teams it is about business and money. Full Stop! If they can get you waving the flag and buying into quaint old fashioned traditions which result in them gaining a further monopoly on their products then they will continue exploiting generation after generation of our young men.
Look, I’m a part of the whole apparatus, which means my role as an agent or advisor is and may very well be part of the problem. I’m as guilty as the next guy. The bottom line is, as long as everyone buys into the ‘rules of the game’ as they currently stand, nothing will change. I’m not advocating a revolt that tears down the system. No, revolution is not a realistic option. I just advocate that you as players and parents focus on what is REALLY important. You and I aren’t just fans, we are stakeholders in this billion dollar industry and you and your son’s cannot simply accept the status quo without asking the hard questions. You cannot be a YES man or woman; you need to look out for your own interests.
Know your rights, know what you can and cannot do.
Do NOT be pressured into a playing situation that is against your best interests.
Make sure you take the time to find out EVERYTHING that you need to know.
Explore every option you have in advance of having to make a life changing choice.
Please do NOT let a 15-17 year old face Professional Junior Coaches alone to make life changing decisions. If you cannot be there, find your own advocate. They aren’t prepared to deal with the inherent power-imbalance in that kind of negotiation.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice. As an Agent, I always try to reveal one important truth to my clients. Once you move beyond the Atom level and you are focusing on exploring ANY future REP hockey opportunities – be they Junior, college or professional – You are now a professional player. You have to treat how you train, think and act from the perspective of being a professional. Everyone else in the industry is already doing the same thing so you cannot afford to remain in the dark.