Ask the agent: Best route to develop skills?
Posted by Dean Holden at March 11th, 2014
by Neil Sheehy, 5 March 2014
Question: I seem to be getting a lot of advice from agents, junior coaches, college coaches, pro scouts, etc., about the best route to develop my skills, who should I listen to? Can I play other sports in high school or should I just focus on one?
Answer: The two questions above seem to be completely unrelated, but I will answer the two together as I believe the answers to these questions and many more are directly related to the inner drive and passion of the hockey player.
There are many fine people in hockey and most have great passion and wish to guide players in the right direction. Oftentimes, however, the people offering the advice are also stakeholders in the final decision of the player. Therefore, it is difficult for players and families to know who to listen to. I am not here to criticize any program, coach or person who believes in their individual program and tries to sway a young boy or girl to their program. I do, however, have a different approach in deciding whom to listen to when you are a young player or a parent going through this for the first time.
I cannot give the very best answer to questions without getting to know an individual player and his/her family. However, I can give perspective from my experiences. The final success of any player ultimately depends upon him, his drive, dedication, skill, work ethic and passion. These traits are all intertwined and are a part of each player and his makeup.
There is no advice that is one size fits all. As each player has different traits and experiences, coaches, scouts and agents are not always the best ones to get advice from because they usually are swayed toward the experiences they have had which may not be in-sync with those of a player. There are many different cultures in hockey and I believe it is best to speak to people who understand development within the culture in which the player is raised.
For instance, when Paul Martin (pictured above as a youth hockey player) was a junior at Elk River High School, he was being pressured to leave high school for his senior year to develop as a hockey player. He was told that if he didn’t leave high school that he would “miss out” on development which might be the difference between him making it to the NHL or not. He was told that other players would pass him by if he did not leave high school.
When Paul finished his junior year at Elk River, I met with him and his parents (Dale and Bev) in their living room and was asked for advice on what I believed Paul should do or consider. I fully understood that Paul didn’t want to find himself way behind other players, nor did his parents want to hurt Paul’s chances of reaching his dreams of continuing on and playing hockey at a high level.
When asked for my advice, I said that I had a very novel approach. I turned to Paul Martin and asked him what he really wanted to do. His answer? “I want to play football.” Paul was a top receiver in the state for Elk River’s football team and he loved playing football. My advice at that moment was, “Then you should stay at Elk River and play football.” I assured the Martin family that Paul would be no worse off, but more importantly he needed to follow his passion and follow what drives him inside.
Paul Martin finished high school at Elk River, enrolled immediately at the University of Minnesota, won two national championships for the Gophers, is in his tenth NHL season and played for the United States in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He obviously has not missed out and he was motivated because he followed his own passion, which is the recipe for success.
I find that too many hockey people think that you have to play hockey 24/7/365. I believe that the best hockey players are the best all-around athletes. If a player wants to play 24/7/365, that is OK and I support that if that is what the player truly wants to do. However, if a player wants to play other sports with his friends, I do not believe that he must quit every other sport and focus only on hockey. I see a high burnout rate in hockey and I believe that a player must do what he really wants to do and what drives him inside. I believe he needs to have fun playing and growing up as a kid, and a big part of that is having fun with friends.
A player will excel when he is motivated by fun and friendship. That is when you see players work hard, but it is not hard work. It is fun and that is when players get better and better and better.
It bothers me when people sell fear and give advice as if one size fits all. Beware of the “fear sellers.” Be aware when people say that you must play here (or there) in order to get better. Where a young player plays is not as important as how he plays or what he does while on whatever team he ends up playing on. If a young player goes where someone tells him and he hates being there, I guarantee that the player will not develop as well as if he stayed at home. The key to success always comes down to the player and the decisions he makes and by the player and his family taking full ownership in those decisions.
Jordan Schroeder played high school hockey for St. Thomas Academy as an eighth-grader. He also won a state championship as a ninth grader. When he was asked to play in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NDTP), he was excited, eager and certain that he wanted to leave high school. His parents, John and Deb, were supportive but were not sure if this was the best decision for Jordan or their family.
After much time getting to know Jordan and his family and having numerous conversations regarding the NTDP and how badly Jordan wanted to go without reservations, the family decision was to allow Jordan to go. Jordan won two under-18 world championships, a world junior championship, played for the Gophers and currently is playing for the Vancouver Canucks. He has had success because he had no reservations personally about leaving home and he and his family took full ownership in the decision.
The key to any decision is how badly the player wants to leave home and go to a program as well as the support for that decision within the family. If a player and his family does not take full ownership in the decision of leaving home to play hockey, then the best decision is to stay home and play until the player is ready to leave in the normal course of time.
So who should you trust about the best route to develop skills and whom should you listen to? Try the novel approach of asking the player what he really wants to do deep down. Also, parents, follow your instincts and please do not check your common sense at the door because some coach, scout or agent told you to do so.
A former NHL defenseman, Neil Sheehy is now a certified NHLPA agent. A native of International Falls, Minn., Sheehy led Harvard to the ECAC championship and the NCAA title game. He later earned an economics degree from Harvard. Sheehy also played for several U.S. National Teams. After his career, Sheehy earned a law degree from William Mitchell College.