Team Selection! I Hate Releasing Players!

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Let’s get this out of the way.  Bad blogger, bad.  I know I have fallen off the wagon here.  It has been one month since I made a contribution to this blog post.  Wordpress has even had a slight makeover in that time.   Oops.  So I will start with a soft topic and work my way back into the flow.  My postings will probably be fairly irregular during the hockey season, but I will try to show a little better commitment.  You know for my 1 loyal reader, thanks Mom.

The hockey season started for us on August 21.  It is true, while many laughed, and enjoyed the nice summer weather, just prior to the turn towards fall, we buried ourselves in an arena.  The constant hum of artificial lighting and purr of the zamboni (or olympia) filling our ears between ice times.  The clap of hockey pucks of the glass, I don’t know why these kids don’t hit  the net more, and the nervous chatter of hockey parents filling the ice times.  The standard week of evaluating from the stands, coaches with sore asses and progressively worse sleep depravation issues.

Finally evals completed and we did our team draft.  I think the kids are pretty poorly educated on this process.  Sometimes guys are disappointed a certain coach they know didn’t select them.  So here is a run down.  There are 3 teams in our area at bantam AA, we take turns in a snake draft making selections.  So the draft board looks like this 1-2-3-3-2-1.  Unfortunately we don’t get to pick the 24 kids we want the most.  So sorry to the couple of guys who have met us in the past and hoped to get us again, we probably wanted most of you on our team, but the truth is we just didn’t get a chance to select you.

The draft is actually fun for us.  It is a bit of anxiety, you sit down with your list of where you think players should be selected.  You know how many you need at each position and you know you have to meet a certain standard of first and second year players.  The draft starts, and as your pick draws near, you hope the players you want are available.  When it gets to your pick a small bit of excitement when the players you most wanted are available there.  I sinking, sad feeling, when someone else calls the name of a player you want.  I will be honest, the two seasons previous to this, we had a very different philosophy than the other two teams.  So we mostly got the players we wanted.  Worked out well for us.  This year a new staff entered the equation and the existing staff changed philosophy a bit.  We were really sad to see some kids we were really hoping to get, go to other teams.  But that is the beauty of the draft, pure joy and disappointment are all a part of it.

After we make the draft we go to our team camp.  We spend about 2 weeks whittling down our roster from the group we selected to tryout.  The AAA team cuts us a player at each position as well.  We have a set of parameters to work in.  We need to fill our roster to 19 players (ideally 2-goalies 6 defense and 11 forwards), we must carry eight first year players, no less, no more.  So we start figuring things out right away.  As a staff we have a couple of rules we like to follow.  Barring some sort of unforeseen issue (an injury maybe), everyone gets to our first exhibition game.  They have worked hard and putting on the jersey is the least we can do.  We have to sit some players out for the exhibition games, we assure these players they won’t be released at that time.  Everyone gets a game to prove themselves.  We offer all of our potential releases to the other teams, this avoids a player getting cut and then called by another team.  It also ensures that everyone has the best chance possible of staying inside our association.  If the point is to develop players for the next level and another staff feels they can do that, while we may not feel that way, then we should ensure they get the chance to do that.

All of this info is a lot to keep in your head and you have to be aware of who is your potential release at all times.  It is good to know who is competing for spots.  But all of this info to keep track of is nothing compared to the hardest part of the process.

See, our players are all 13 and 14 years old.  They are pretty young.  All of them have been told they are very special by their parents for a long time.  Everyone who is at our camp, really wants to play this level of hockey.  There is a lot of prestige with wearing our jackets and it is a great opportunity for development.  They also all think they will be on the team.  So as we prepare to make cuts, we also have to remember the most important part is that they are kids.  Mostly really good kids.  I won’t blow smoke up your ass or anything here.  Most of the kids we really learn to care about, but there is one or two you release and one or two you keep, that you just aren’t on the same page with.  They can be frustrating.  That being said, no matter who it is, they all have a desire to play and their hearts look broken when we tell them we are releasing them back to their community.  We always give them a couple of things to work on and some positives but I am sure very few hear those words.  It is a truly awful moment as a coach.  All too often I am telling a kid that has worked hard and really has been great, but he just isn’t ready yet.  I certainly lose sleep over it.

There are three reactions we have come to expect from our releases.

1) Tough it Out – This is the guy who is upset, he wants to cry, but his dad told him to be respectful.  Or maybe he is just that type of kid.  He listens and nods his head while you talk, stands up and thanks you for the tryout.  This kid breaks my heart because I know how much he must be holding in during this painful couple of minutes.  Just wishing the coaches will shut up so he can go home.

2) Tears – This one is less common then you would think.  There are varying degrees of it as well.  But this guy is ok with showing his disappointment.  He cries a little bit while the coaches finish their talk.  He offers a thank you through his tears and leaves with his head down.  Tough one for the coaches.  You see a kid you really enjoyed working with crying, you just want to make him feel better.  There is nothing I can offer that player but I hate seeing it.  Just a real tough one to watch.  Easy to empathize with this guy.

3) Angry – A fairly common response is the angry player.  This guy doesn’t want to be cut, he worked his ass off for you and now you are releasing him.  He listens mad, almost at tears but too mad to let the emotion get the better of him. Usually he doesn’t say much and walks out in a bit of a huff.  I know you think this one might be easier to swallow, but it isn’t.  I know at this point I have released a player who cared a lot about our team.  He wanted to be there and had done everything he could to be there.  He cares so much about the team in that first two weeks, he can’t believe I have released him.  I get it, and am totally fine with it.  I never mind a guy who is mad and storms off a little pissed at the coach, it shows me a burning passion.  Nothing to be worried about.  Only once in my many years has the crossed a line where a kid got very verbally aggressive with the coaches.  That guy went a little far and wasn’t an affiliate option after the things he said.  But the guy who doesn’t thank us or shake our hand, doesn’t bother me, he cared.  Everyone deals with it differently.

The moral of the story is, none of the kids we release are easy.  They are all just kids and they all have big dreams.  I hate this part.  While I am excited to get to work with the full time team, I let myself be burdened by my guilt for a couple of days.  Remind myself they are kids and I am a dream crusher.  The day I don’t feel bad about making cuts and am comfortable doing it to all the players is the day I quit as a coach.  A real smart friend of mine told me “You have to let them know you care about them.”, and I really do believe that.  I can’t be demanding and tough on them unless they know I care about them and their success.

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