Do you need a hockey family advisor?
That is a question that over the past decade has become an annual topic for debate. People in the “family advisor” business are quick to point out the numerous player options that kick in once a player ages out of 14U.
In general, youth hockey is pretty simple when it comes to “path.” Overzealous parents can complicate it by considering club-hopping and driving an extra 60 minutes each way in order to join a “better” club, but for the most part youth hockey will always be a local option for the non-crazy majority.
While the timing of this piece would be better served in late February, when players start to look toward next season, many of the issues that start to come up in October tend to become Advisor-based – namely the issue of playing time.
When expectations aren’t met regarding playing time, and we get to mid-October and reality sets in regarding a player’s current role on a team, everyone gets a little squirrely. If an advisor has been hired, it has become a “that’s his job to fix it” issue.
Playing time, disagreeing with a role on a team and unmet expectations are nothing new, but having an advisor as another outlet for entitled players and parents to demand action usually ends up with an advisor reaching out to the team, or suggesting another team on which the player would be better suited.
These suggestions lead to a number of questions, that are rhetorical in nature, and only meant to point out the downside of dealing with disappointment via advisors and/or trying to leave a team:
Why do you think a "better" environment wouldn't be full of players in October or November?
If a better environment, wouldn't they fill their injury problems with players who are already on the team? If not, what makes you think they won't replace you in a week or two?
Ninety-nine percent of the time you signed a contract - what makes you think you can break a contract because you're not happy with playing time or your situation?
Did you know USA Hockey youth contracts are to be paid in full -- period? And in some Affiliates you cannot move to another similarly registered team with or without a release.
Didn't your family advisor place you on the current team? Why would the next team be any different?
Why would quitting be a better option than sticking it out, showing up for practice and waiting for your break? Or simply doing the best you can and enjoying the ride?
Again - rhetorical questions but they apply 99 percent of the time in my experience.
Getting back to having a family advisor, if you go with one you should know a couple of things.
First and foremost is you should always have a “somewhere” that you’re trying to get. If you don’t have an end goal, there isn’t a lot of point in spending thousands of dollars chasing high level 16U, 18U, prep or Junior hockey. A family advisor cannot define that "somewhere" for you.
If you want to pursue engineering as a career, set your sites on an engineering school. One that fits your academics, geography, etc. The best engineering school may not be right for you, even if you can get in, if you’re a bit of a homebody and the school is 2,000 miles away. Everyone has his/her fit.
Secondly, if you're going to have an advisor you do need to pay him/her to preserve your NCAA eligibility. In short, you are not allowed to get a benefit that is not made available to other players. If an advisor offers to advise for free ... run. Logically, what other free services do you know of that have your best interest in mind? What other free services are of high quality (think Starbuck's internet ... slow service that comes with $4 coffee).
If you are an elite player and you are legitimately trying to choose your path by all means. NCAA Division I eligibility is different than Division III, but being an elite player comes with many different options and risks. Having an advisor who has experienced those options and navigated that path is a great idea. The truly elite player is a very small sample size, hence this one paragraph. If you are choosing between signing a first-round NHL rookie deal or playing college hockey, or trying to figure out how to best improve your NHL Draft position, enlist all the help you can get.
However, if you get to the Junior hockey point and you are not finding NHL or Tier I or Tier II Junior options then you are in the pay-to-play world. Paying an advisor to steer you to pay-to-play tryout camps and then a pay-to-play team is throwing good money after bad.
If you are in this position you should let the aforementioned "somewhere" plan kick in so you can tie in the best hockey option with the best academic option and work toward it. Common sense would be to play for a club or in a league that puts its players on the ice near the school you'd like to attend. That way the coaches can see you a few times per year. You don't need an advisor for that.
Also, your Junior coach should be your advisor. That is part of the service offered by a solid Junior organization. The proof is in the long line of college advancements that they advertise and can prove. If a coach can't show you how he has advanced players to college then he probably can't do it. It's not the easiest part of their job but the good Junior coaches know it's why their program exists.
It's easy to check out a program's advancement prowess by checking out their website and then verifying the Junior or college rosters to which they claim to have moved players. Eliteprospects.com and hockeydb.com can debunk any organization that isn't as truthful as it could be.
It's also easy, via social media, to contact and communicate with players who have played for this organization or this coach in the past. Perform the due diligence so you know what others think.
You don't need an advisor, who has failed in the Junior hockey business or the coaching business, who has been to jail or who has job-hopped for a decade, to steer you around the pay-to-play world.
Having said all that, if you still feel like you need an advisor to navigate the youth and Junior hockey-to-college world please reach out to me and I'll refer a couple of legitimate people who do more of a life-coaching service that ties hockey into the mix. They are good at what they do and they don't take kickbacks from Junior teams for placing players.
Lastly, don't sign a contract that you haven't read and with which you aren't comfortable. How many times have I heard, "This contract isn't fair" after someone has signed it?
Don't sign it.
Find a club or contract with which you are comfortable.
But by all means don't sign it and then complain about the content of it two months later after the ink is long-since dry.
Keep all this in mind as the February doldrums set in later this season and everyone starts to get antsy about the future. In the meantime, enjoy the ride and have fun playing the game we all love. It doesn't last forever.