Gap Year

What if a very young promising player isn’t ready?

Do you rush them or give them time?

Do you expose them to harsh reality of the next level or do you take it slow?

What if, at 16-years-old they are not quite prepared for the rigours of the next level?

What would you do?

This isn’t the cult 90’s hit Speed. Nevertheless, making the wrong decision on player development could be similar to a bomb going off within the organization.

Hell, where’s Keenu Reeves when you need him?

Who’s to say a kid is or isn’t ready?

Every player is different, every player is unique and grows or develops at their own pace. However, this happens more than you think in all sports not just the game of hockey.

There’s no blueprint for the developmental ceiling of a player when it comes to be overly cautious or rushing the process.

Hockey’s equivalent to a gap year can mean a lot to a young player, but at the end of the day it should always come back to what’s best for the player. Nonetheless, that’s when shit gets complicated.

There’s tons of shining examples of a young player quickly adapting, growing and excelling at 16 at the junior level, while there’s tons of devastating stories where the kid were in over their heads from the get go.

There’s tons of stories out there where players were essentially coddled and eased along and reached amazing heights by the end of their rookie season. But on the other hand there are tons of stories where players come back to the Midget ranks and regress.

Not regress from a skill set perspective, regress because they weren’t challenged or pushed enough.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a “gap year” league?

Of course we all know that will never happen, the old school hockey fraternity will never let that happen, it would be way too co$tly. Some would say Junior A is a perfect place for 16’s to go if they aren’t ready? Some would say that’s the worse thing that could ever happen. Some believe the developmental process should take the five year plan?

Some organizations want to keep their prospects close and work with them, you know control the process, while others tell the player the cliched point blank response “we love you, but we feel you aren’t ready just yet, but you are our future and will be a big piece of this organization moving forward.”

You see there isn’t a magical formula, a set protocol when it comes to young players.

We all say, oh let’s see where they are in the fall or Player A really needs a good summer, but seriously it all comes back to what’s the best for the player.

You see that’s where all of this gets extremely complex.

The agent and player’s entourage believe they have done everything they need to do to play at the next level, that they proved themselves, while fundamentally the organization realizes they can’t rush them or set them up for failure, but they need to satisfy the owner and fan base while keeping the relationship with the agent and player intact.

You see everyone has their own theories on this hockey dilemma.

Everyone turns into an expert when it comes to the gap year.

As for me I’ve seen both sides of this dilemma since I started covering Junior hockey and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

No one really has all the answers, no one truly knows, that’s what makes the gap year so intriguing, perplexing, controversial and unique.

I guess it’s kind of like player development, everyone believes they are doing what’s right, believing they know what’s best for the player and person. They share stories of their former players, both positive and negative.

Some people believe in this direction, some people believe in that direction. Everyone wants what’s best for the player, but those decisions are often tainted by a vast array of bad takes and opinions.

What do you think we should, is a commonly asked question around the rinks?

I wonder if people ever ask the player what they want?

Honesty, transparency and the truth , three aspects of the game of hockey that everyone involved at any level needs to improve on.

I think we can all agree on the importance of the gap year and doing what’s best for the player, now we just have to see that through and make sure that everyone involved closes the gap and gets on the same page.

What would you do?

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