Representative Hockey: You just never know how close you really are!

By Inside the D Hockey

A real life story on a hockey player’s fight as to keep working hard regardless of the circumstances and disappointments along the way. Ignored by selectors as a junior he went on to prove them wrong. Whether we like it or not, players will come up against some disappointment in their playing careers.

In my time as a player and coach I’ve only seen a few players have what I would call a “smoother ride” than most in regards to representative selections in juniors and seniors and at some stage the majority of players will experience disappointment on not being selected in a representative team. Keeping this in in mind, it is important to have our young players deal with the disappointment and the adversity that comes with it in the right way by focusing on what they can control and the meaning they put to the disappointment.

I recently had breakfast with a high level player that I have known for a long time. I was fortunate enough to not only have played with this player on his way up in hockey but also to coach him at a senior level, but not once had I heard his “back story” on his success and rise to a national team selection. When we sat down and started to discuss the detailed insight of his journey as a junior representative player coming through the ranks I was blown away and the breakfast become an invaluable lesson to me as a coach and parent of young hockey players dealing with setbacks.

During this player’s junior representative playing career which started in the U13 age group, the player was never seem as a “star” hockey player and was never selected in any of the number 1 area representative teams from U13’s through to U17’s. He was only ever selected in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th teams. In fact this player never made the top team until his last year in U17’s and it was in this team that he was given the opportunity to shine and show what he could do. It was in this team where things began to change pretty quickly with him suddenly making the State U17 team for the very first time and surprising a few people along the way who were wondering where this player had come from. The irony of it all was that he had always been there but just overlooked all the time. To his club teammates it wasn’t a surprised because they always knew that he had solid skills for receiving and passing, was very fit, fast and could play hockey.

From here, things only started to look up for this player and whilst sitting at work a few months later he received a phone call by the State Institute coach about some games that his country were playing in for the Youth Olympics against India in his city. The national team had an injury to one of their key players and he was asked whether he would be able to fill in for the team that evening. He asked his boss whether he could leave work and go play and lucky his boss said yes. Five minutes later he was heading home to grab his playing gear to get ready to play for his country for the first time, 3 hours later he was at the ground in the national uniform and playing for his country for the very first time. Feedback after the match from the sport psychologist for the national team was that he could not believe how well he played under pressure and considering he was sitting at his desk at work only 3 hours before hand.

After playing at the U17 nationals for his state a few months later he then went on to be selected in the national Junior World Cup squad. This was a surprise to most as up until this time most of the players in the current Junior World Cup Squad had been training or in the squad for at least 2-3 years. 6 months later after a lot of hard work he was selected in the national team that went on to play at the Junior World Cup. This team ended up placing 3rd in at the World Cup and in he played every game except one in the whole tournament. Not bad for someone that struggled to get on the radar and make a top area team for most of his junior hockey career.

His words to me that day that stood out over our hot breakfast and coffee were “I couldn’t do anything about the selections in juniors, up until my last year U17’s I just wasn’t being picked or looked at for the top team. I knew I was good enough and playing well, I just kept working hard on my game and enjoying my hockey. You just never know how close you really are and you’ve just got to keep working hard.”

He believes not making those early rep teams when he was younger actually provided the continued drive and hunger to improve his game. If he had taken a different approach in his attitude and mindset, such as throwing the towel in and giving up all together, then no doubt there would be no story here just a line of disappointments and excuses or another player gone by the wayside with a dream.

There are many examples of some the best athletes in world not making teams in their junior playing careers and Michael Jordan’s is well known example when he was cut from his high school basketball team. In Michaels NBA hall of fame speech he said, “Not making that high school team was just another log being put on the fire!”

Some tips for dealing with set backs:

  • Speak to your coach on what they think you need to work on, and remember to be open to take to take the feedback on board
  • Find a mentor (preferably someone that has played or coached at the next level) and get their opinion
  • Look at your training time. Are you using this time to get better?
    Are you fit enough? What about your passing and receiving skills?
    What about your close in skills and first touch?
  • Progress vs achievement. Don’t look for huge improvements in one or two training sessions. Small incremental improvements (1-2%) are key, and stacked up over time can and will make a huge difference to your game.
  • Do the work – We don’t become the player we want to be, we train to be the player we want to be.

This player’s story is a great example of delayed gratification. Not making a team whilst it will be disappointing is not the end of the world. Set backs and disappointment will ultimately come down to how you respond & react. The setback could end up being that log that is put on the fire for you as player, a defining moment perhaps in your playing career, as you never know how close you really are………. you just gotta keep working hard!

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