What’s The Rush?

“Be quick but don’t hurry.”
John Wooden

“Let’s not be in a rush to look like crap……”
Unnamed Coach


One of the age old questions in sport, and in hockey especially, is when should a player move to ‘the next level’, or play at a ‘higher level’? Obviously there is no single correct answer. All players develop at a different pace and no one path is correct for everyone. Nobody can accurately predict what a very young player can turn out to be and what they should or should not do to find their way.
(It is important to remember and note at this point the large number of players playing in the NHL who were undrafted…..)
What seems to constantly appear though are players rushing to get to the ‘highest level’ they can play at as soon as they can. Not factoring how much they are going to play or even how much they will be able to develop in that environment. It is a very dangerous area and can make an extreme difference in the development trajectory of a player.
Certainly there are players that can excel and need to be challenged by older more experienced players, but they are few and far between. It is only my opinion but there seems to be a huge focus on ‘getting there’, and not really thinking about what can go on once ‘there’…….
This is something that has been sticking in my head for quite a while so I wanted to get some other opinions and ideas about this topic. I asked about ten Division 1 college coaches about this and it was really interesting to hear their input. A common thread became obvious. Here are some of their answers:

Coach 1: “When we look at a player to recruit, remember we are looking at what a player will be like two, three, four or even five years down the road….. but we want to see them play, what they can do in a game, whatever the level. It is no use trying to evaluate a young player sitting on the bench in a really good league.”

Coach 2: “The most frustrating thing we come across is seeing a young player who is a huge part of his team, a leader, playing in key parts of a game……..move to a higher level too quickly, hit a wall and start to struggle. Some of them, a lot of them…don’t recover.”

Coach 3: “Do we like to see players play at the highest and most competitive level? Absolutely but it is not the league or level we commit to…..it is the player. Whether we recruit at the U16, U18, Junior, NAHL or USHL, that player has to be a big part of that team. No question about it……”

One of my favorite quotes from a coach was this, “There is a difference between playing at a high level and playing with a high level of intelligence……..”

In having these conversations, the common thing that kept coming from these coaches was that in their opinion, it is best to be patient. Take your time. Do not rush into chasing a higher league or level. Make sure whatever team you are on, you are going to be a very important player for that team. If you can do that and be that player at the highest level, then go for it!

Here are some interesting numbers about the best junior league in the United States, the USHL and it’s players. A lot of young players I talk to say they are looking and ready to go play there. But are they really?
We took a look at the players birth years on the active rosters and broke it down. The NTDP was eliminated as all their players are mainly 96 birth years. Here is the remaining 15 Teams and the approximate breakdown.
Birth Year
1993-41 players
1994-138 players
1995- 126 players
1996-51 players
1997 12 players

What is really interesting is out of the approximately 60 or so 96 and 97 birth year players, less than half seem to be playing average amounts of minutes or contributing significantly statistically to their teams. 

There is always a lot to consider when making the decision on what level to play at. 
I hope some of this helps when evaluating your options. 

All the best!

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