Coping with AAA Tryouts

    Posted on Friday, May 13, 2016 at 9:30 AM

    Posted by Mike McPartlin on May 13, 2016 9:30:00 AM

    Top 5 Reasons to Stay Positive

    by Mike McPartlin, Headmaster, Bridgedale Academy


    Advice from Coaches who Get it

    We interviewed head coaches from each of the four Illinois Tier 1 AAA organizations. The main question we asked was: what is the best advice they can offer to parents during AAA tryout season, and especially for those whose sons might not make their teams.

    Surprisingly, a strong consensus of opinion emerged. Over and over, what came up were the 5 main reasons to stay positive.

    1. Your son is an excellent young player.

    Each of the coaches we interviewed said that almost every year they end up cutting a player or two who are good enough to play AAA hockey. They said that in some cases the player just isn’t the right fit for their teams. That they have enough skill players and are looking for a player who brings more grit, or vice versa.

    Excellent youth hockey player at tryoutsOther times, and very often, they believe that the player just needs another year to develop, and that it’s therefore just a matter of the player continuing to work hard at his game. (Each coach was quick to add that being on a team where the player gets to play in all situations is the best way to ensure that development.)

    Related to the needs-another-year-to-develop thing is the reality that getting picked for a AAA team often comes down to the player’s physiological maturity. Because as a rule at AAA, all else being equal, the bigger, stronger team will have the advantage. (It was clear that, generally speaking, the coaches we spoke with were not entirely comfortable with this reality; but as AAA head coaches they obviously have to deal with it.)

    And all the coaches emphasized that, although it’s sometimes hard for a youngster (or even a parent) to accept, NOT making their preferred team this season might turn out to be the best thing that could happen to them. And that, if it turns out they don’t make their “dream” team, they must not allow themselves to become discouraged over it. This was another common theme in terms of advice to players in that situation: Keep going and don't stop!

    Coping with Youth Hockey Tryouts

    2. Your son needs to play as a regular (maybe even to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond).

    The fact is that making the AAA team is not always the blessing it might appear to be; not making it can sometimes turn out to be the best thing possible for a young player. 

    And so often the question becomes: Is it better for a young player to be on a super strong team and rarely see the ice in “crucial” situations?

    Or conversely, is it better for him to be a go-to guy on an average, or even a weak, team? 

    Former NHL star Dave Poulin once told me that virtually all of the NHL players he knew had been, at some point during their youth, the very best player on their team. Many had been the best player in their entire youth hockey league. 

    Poulin himself said he never made a AAA team until midget. And even after a stellar playing career at Notre Dame, no NHL team drafted him. Yet he managed to play 13 NHL seasons anyway, playing in two All-Star games and serving as captain with every organization he played with.

    His theory was that “being the guy” has a way of feeding the soul. If you’re the best player on your team, you get to play in every situation. You are relied upon by your coach and by your teammates. They look to you to carry the day. And even if you’ve never been the guy before, you learn to be by doing. 

    As with everything else in life, you learn to be the guy by being the guy.

    And there’s another benefit. Once you’ve been the guy, you come to expect it from yourself all the time.

    Hockey Coach at youth hockey Tryouts

    3. Your son is the one trying out, not you.

    As obvious as this may appear to be, this doesn’t always hit home. The reality is that way too many parents will get way too wound up about things at this time of year, almost as if it was THEIR self-esteem at issue in the process (or at least in the outcome).

    More than one coach talked about the perceived “status” that some parents might envision will come their way because their son is playing AAA, or is playing for some particular AAA team. And all the coaches agreed that this should never be a part of the equation.

    Simply put, that’s just wrong thinking.

    All the coaches commented that they see some version of this at every tryout, and they agreed that this one thing is the most unfortunate, and potentially the most destructive, of all the issues that they see come up during AAA tryouts.

    Because the seemingly simple matter of a parent being “wound up” about the tryout can turn out to be a real negative. After all, if the parent is showing his unease and nervousness about the situation, then what sort of impact is that having on his or her child?

    Youth hockey player with dad on the iceMost 11- or 12-year old youngsters look up to and depend on their parents for direction and guidance with ... well ... everything.

    One coach likened it to what happens in an intense game when a coach gets all wound up and emotional. Because if the coach gets angry or frustrated, then so will his team. An experienced coach knows that if a situation demands that his team be calm and focused, then he needs to be exuding those qualities first and foremost.

    The coaches all agreed that, during tryouts, the player trying out should be nervous to the degree that he has butterflies. Because that type of nervous is good. But being uneasy nervous and “tight” can and usually will have a negative effect on the player’s performance.

    And so the positive message to the parents is: You have it in your power to stay calm and confident that your son will give his all and do his best at the tryouts. And there’s good reason for you to do so, because when your son sees that you have command of your emotions in the situation, the odds are he will too.

    Youth hockey player looks to adult for guidance4. Hockey is known for the success of late bloomers.

    College and professional sports are filled with athletes who were cut from teams in their youth. When it comes to late bloomers, hockey is no exception. As a rule, an early-maturing boy will be bigger, stronger and more aggressive than the other boys. Very often such a boy will be able to dominate his chosen youth sport simply because he is bigger, stronger and more aggressive. 

    On the other hand, a late maturing boy, because he isn’t yet as big, strong or aggressive as the other boys, will often be more coachable. In other words, he will work harder to refine his skills and listen better to understand the thinking part of the game. He will do this because often it is the only way he can compete effectively. And of course when he finally does reach full maturity, his skills set and mental approach to the game give him the edge.

    Every single coach was able to recall multiple instances of kids they cut from a team who ultimately developed into fantastic players.

    5. No matter what happens, life goes on.

    Not making the team of your dreams this year is not the end of the world. This season is one out of many, none of which can ever totally be “make or break.” It is the proverbial “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” argument. Youngsters who stay the course and maintain their determination and commitment levels will eventually surpass those who do not. Ultimately, finding a good developmental environment is more important than being on the best team. 

    And in the meantime, as long as your son is on a hockey team, he will continue to be able to play the greatest game on earth. So enjoy hockey, no matter what!

    The above 5 points proved to be a consensus among all the coaches. And so was the hope that every player who tries out will be able to look back afterwards and know with certainty that he'd given his best effort. 

    And they all wished the kids and parents the very best.

    (For another excellent article, check out's "10 Tips for Tryouts.")

    To learn more about Bridgedale, please click the button below to schedule a time to chat with Bridgedale's Headmaster.


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    You might also enjoy reading another of our blog posts at: "Top 7 Reasons for a Sports Academy Like Bridgedale Academy"
    Bridgedale Academy is an all-boys school for athletes, a prep school for serious youth hockey players. We will offer grades 5 through 8 in the 2018-19 school year. In addition to our winning combination of sports and academics, we focus on leadership training. We use a classical academic curriculum and our graduates go on to attend some of the most prestigious high schools in the midwest, including Lake Forest Academy, Culver Military Academy, Shattuck St. Mary’s, Northwood School, Benet Academy, Fenwick Prep, St. Ignatius Prep, Latin School and Providence Catholic. We pride ourselves on being the top youth hockey prep school in the nation. Eleven (11) of our former or current students have already received their NCAA Division 1 college hockey commitments. Three (3) of our former students competed for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and will begin their college playing careers in 2018-19, two at Notre Dame and one at Michigan.
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