The familiar expression, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” simply means that complex endeavors take time and effort and should not be rushed. In hockey terms, it’s the understanding that, like the construction of an ancient empire, the path from learning to skate to the Hall of Fame may take a bit of time to traverse.
Yet all too often, young players and parents are in a big hurry to climb the hockey ladder. The fact of the matter is that athletic development, regardless of sport, is often a lengthy, yet typically rewarding, journey.
“I know when you’re in it, sometimes there’s a bit of a rat race and comparing of your situation to what others are doing, but it’s not really beneficial to skip steps in the process,” said Jon Ammerman, Moorhead boys' varsity head coach and former St. Cloud State Husky. “Being challenged is good, but there’s also a chronological order to what kids need to do. They need to be leaders, be challenged and be successful. And if they are pushed forward too quickly, sometimes kids miss out on key aspects in development and ultimately, their long-term goals.”
Progress Takes Patience
“Level jumping” – parents moving their kids up a level for increased competition and additional challenge – is one example of what Ammerman is referring to. If a child is moved up too fast too soon, they may feel overwhelmed, lack opportunities to experience success, and not be ready socially or emotionally for that level.
“It’s important that kids are playing at an appropriate level and also having success at that level,” Ammerman said. “I’m a teacher, so I look at it from a teaching standpoint. If you skip part of math and then try to teach algebra, you’ll hit a dead end and have to go back and reteach. And those learning windows close at a certain point, where people can absorb information as fast. It’s tough to go back.”
Ammerman believes social media has contributed to this impatience, and “keeping up with the Joneses” type decisions to move kids up and out ahead of schedule.
“It used to be that you were aware of players in your community and that’s all you had to compare yourself to,” he said. “Now it’s national, so by the time kids get to the 14-16 age group, they’re being compared to peers across the country and that has accelerated this process. People think – if he’s good and he’s doing it then it must be good for me too. That’s not always the case. Each step is an important one and if you skip them, you may miss out on an important part of your foundation as a player.”
The Grass Isn’t Always Greener
Sometimes, parents get frustrated with a particular program or coach if their player isn’t improving at a rate they believe is “normal.” Maybe their child didn’t make a certain team. This can lead to the desire to move the player to a different association or team, but that approach often backfires.
Remember, two-time Stanley Cup winner Ryan McDonagh (Mounds View) did not make the A-Squirt team his first year – he played on the B team and had a blast. The same thing happened with NHL defenseman Nate Schmidt (St. Cloud). Making the most of each situation can have better long-term benefits for young athletes.
“In Minnesota, there are countless examples of players who were either late bloomers or had pressure to go elsewhere and stuck around and eventually rose to the top,” Ammerman said. “An example is Will Borgen (Moorhead). Going into his senior year of high school, he was captain of the soccer team and while he was a very good hockey player, he wasn’t a guy that people were ranting and raving about. But he worked hard, had a great year and started to attract some attention. Then he committed to St. Cloud State, played for the U.S. World Junior Team, was drafted by Buffalo in the 4th round, played in the Olympics and is now 24 and in the NHL (Seattle). It just shows that you always have to be patient with development.”