Spring and Summer Hockey Tournament FOMO
Okay... If you're pretty heavily involved in your son or daughter's youth hockey experience and utilize social media, you've experienced this many times.
Late on a Friday night, a majority of your youth hockey acquaintances start posting things from a rink 3+ hours from home boasting that the team is off to a great start.
Meanwhile, you're at home.
Feeling left out.
Stop -- just stop.
I get it. Sometimes it feels like a slight that no one told you.
Sometimes it truly feels like you're missing a "real" event where everyone else is having so much fun...but I'll give it to you straight.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, regarding these summer tournaments: There's nothing exclusive, exciting, or important about any of them.
In fact, there is only one single "extra" youth hockey tournament out there that means anything -- the Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament -- and it happens in February so, like, during the regular season.
That specific tournament is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for youth hockey players for a variety of reasons -- I mean, if you've never been to Quebec City, that alone is an experience. Going there during the Winter Carnival takes it to another level.
Playing hockey in Quebec City, during the Winter Carnival, against teams from all over the world, well, yeah, it lives up to the hype. Thumbs up, in my book.
Every other tournament out there, however, is just another weekend in dark dumpy arena playing in front of a bunch of parents.
It's kinda like how the twice-per-week track meet at your local high school has an audience of 12 people (if you're lucky)...but the 100-meter finals at the Olympics has an audience of, like, 4 billion people.
They're the same...but different.
So, yeah, just a few weeks ago, my son's private lesson got bumped because his coach was trying to get out to Pittsburgh at a more reasonable hour. Pittsburgh is an 8-hour car ride so, yeah, I'd wanna leave early too.
Cool, we'll take the night off. No biggie.
At the time, I was under the impression it was a work-related trip.
That evening, though, I start seeing the posts on social media of former teammates posting in front of PPG Paints Arena, at the Pittsburgh Zoo, on that cable car thing across the river, and with the Roberto Clemente statue with the yellow bridges in the background.
Teammates. Former teammates. Acquaintances.
Like, my crowd, my people. Everybody, it seemed.
We should be there!
Did I feel like we might be missing something?
Against my own learned wisdom, you bet I did!
Dammit -- his awesome coach is there, teammates that are less talented than him are there, and teammates that actually might be D1 recruits are there...and we're not.
Missed the boat. (Did't get invited on to the boat? No, that's not it. That's not how these things work...)
But, now, 4 weeks and two tournaments later, I'm thankful we didn't go.
Cause that Pittsburgh tournament was just another run-of-the-mill AAA tournament...but 8 hours from home.
Since then, we've played in a tournament in the Boston area and another in the Providence area.
Both are roughly 2 hours from home.
Not exactly convenient but still do-able and neither really required a hotel stay.
And it was all the usual suspects -- even the ones that trekked out to Pittsburgh and Chicago and Buffalo and Nashville and who knows where else..
And that got my head screwed back on -- phew, glad we didn't go all the way to Pittsburgh for four un-inspiring games.
Well, five games for one of them -- we won that tournament.
But, yeah, even those, in hindsight -- had we not been there, we wouldn't have missed anything!
Not one thing.
Well, unless killing time in rink parking lots is your jam...
Or meeting Rob from ButtEndz. Or Jeremy from "How to Hockey". Or the "On the Bench" clowns. Or some current NHL player.
I get it -- you all saw Brent Burns at the rink this summer. Stick with this game for a couple years, you'll cross paths with Hall of Famers with regularity -- not just far away tournaments.
Guess what? Most of them are hockey parents just like you!
I mean, c'mon, all three of my kids have shared the ice with and been coached by NHL players -- it's not something to get whipped up into a frenzy over. I feel bad for Mark Messier and Jarome Iginla. I wouldn't want to set foot in a rink ever again.
How come no one approaches Tom Poti for photos? Oh, wait...
But, really, when you see those posts on social media or hear folks talking about it at the rink the week after, for real, bank it high off the glass and go for a change.
All you missed were a handful of meaningless summer hockey games and a photo op you'll get countless opportunities for later on down the road.
Maybe a plastic trophy too.
All of which are forgotten during the car ride home.
Now to pile on...
If you don't already know, I'll spill the beans on these tournaments for you.
Nine times out of 10, these are not "teams" that play in these off-season tournaments. They're just a collection of players -- many of which don't even know one another.
Simply put, they're pick-up games. Glorified pickup games.
Real teams have tryouts.
Real teams play in a league.
Real teams have home rinks and, you know, practice.
Real teams have matching gloves, shells, and helmets -- that's the dead giveaway. Just look at the bench.
So, yeah, 90% of these tournaments are just pick-up games. Both the local ones and the ones you need to board a plane to play in -- it's just a bunch of randos coming together for a pick-up game.
Don't ever think otherwise.
And then there's the cost!?
Around here, currently, spring and summer tournaments run around $225 per player or, roughly, $50 per game.
Of late, of the tournaments we've participated in, to keep things on schedule, they've been running the games with two 18 minute periods at all age levels. So... not even an hour's worth of ice.
At best, it's 45 minutes.
So, in these 4-game minimum tournaments, you're getting around 3 hours of ice time, total. So, now we're talking around $75/hour for ice time.
Hardly a bargain at that rate and I'm not even taking into account the lack of team system or actual, you know, instruction or coaching.
Stick Time -- which is pick-up hockey -- at your local rink runs maybe $15/hour.
Realistically, for $75/hour, a private lesson from a coach, locally, would be more beneficial than flying out to MSP. 100% of the time.
It's all about value -- that is what matters.
Everyone knows that players get better via practice. It's never the games. And certainly not in games where you don't know your linemates, your coach, or even the level of competition.
How many tournaments have you been to where one team is outscored by 40 goals during the duration of the tournament? Happens at almost every single tournament, right?
There is no parity. Like, ever.
So, developmentally, there is limited value in these tournaments.
Monetarily, though, it's a no brainer. Off-season tournaments are stupid.
For us, a semi-local tournament with a couple nights in a hotel rapidly turns into a $600 weekend. If we have to travel further or stay longer, it tops $1000.
Been there. Everybody plays the fool sometimes.
Now, where we live, regular season tuitions at the youth levels are pretty close to the most expensive in the nation. Going ballpark and over generalizing for simplicity, at the club level, PeeWees are $6k, Squirts are $5k, and Mites are $3k.
Those dollar amounts are for a full season. Like, 50 games and 60 practices, give or take.
So now, how can you possibly justify paying over $1000 to play four 36-minutes games for a team that has never once practiced and will never play together again?
If you're me, you can't justify it.
It's lunacy. I mean, unless it's one of those fantasy camps and Wayne Gretzky is playing center, Bobby Orr is your d-partner, and Ken Dryden is in net.
But, like I've said before, the false exclusivity of it all draws in a new round of suckers each and every year, err, weekend.
Every single tournament team is a 'pretend' allstar team for parents with disposable income.
Sure, their rosters are filled with really good hockey players...but they're far from collections of the-best-of-the-best.
And frankly, U15 All Star games all the way up to NHL All Star games are pretty crappy hockey, overall.
You know it.
So, yeah, I still get emails every single week with invites for my kids to suit up with "Blue Chip" this or "Selects" that.
Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Nashville, Toronto, Chicago, Boston, Tampa Bay, you name it.
I ignore every one of them unless I know a bunch of kids on the team, the coach, or it's a super convenient drive.
So, yeah, we weren't at the Montreal Meltdown a few weeks ago.
Because it lacks value! It's expensive and it's crap hockey.
But, hey man, you wanna play in Detroit next weekend?
If your kid is under 10 years old, I'll help you get on that mailing list to be invited all over the place.
Here's the first tip -- attend a single Brick team tryout. Boom, that's it.
This touches on the fact that, while tournament teams are a rip off and don't make players better -- you do want your player's name out there.
Brick team tryouts are a great (and easy) way to get your foot in the door.
My older son's ridiculously long and winding hockey path has led me to experience more than a few "Why didn't anyone warn me?" moments.
This is your warning -- $1000+ for 4 pick-up hockey games is not a good value. Ever.
Your kid gets nothing out of it. They don't get better. They don't even remember it a week later.
Do one local tournament with a "fancy" named team as a mite or maybe as first year squirt...and then watch the invites pile up...for years.
But, as I've said in the past, always remember that there's nothing exclusive or prestigious (or worth boasting about) when it comes to Spring and Summer tournaments. You're not an allstar. It's not an invite only tournament.
You pay an entry fee and...you're in. It's that simple.
I mean, my kids aren't near the top of the depth chart in the grand scheme of things -- like they're not on USA Hockey's radar, not even close -- but I can get them on teams with names that make it sound like they're among the top 20 elite players in New England.
Or, I could play for a team from Toronto with a fancy name -- Steven Stamkos played for them -- but a mediocre roster.
Here's a real world example from just last month. Out of the blue, I received this email:
Henrik Rutsch: Team New England 2011 Elites Selection/Invitation
Good Afternoon Henrik and Family,
I'm excited to share that Henrik has been identified and selected as a member of our Team New England 2011 Elite team for the 2021 spring/summer tournament season. My staff and I have worked through many different avenues, and spoken with dozens of coaches, in an effort to identify players from throughout the Greater New England area, as well as other regions of North American, to compete and develop with us this spring/summer as a member of Team New England.
It went on to list the tournaments and the costs and had a link to accept the invitation.
Team New England, huh?
Offially identified, selected, an invited to an elite team.
Sounds pretty impressive, no?
I mean, Henrik isn't even a top line player on his regular season team -- fast tracking his way to the third line -- but he's been "selected" to suit up for the Team New England 2011 Elites team. Wow!
Clearly, their imaginary evaluation process has pinpointed something in his game that no one else ever has.
Since then, I've received multiple invitations from the "illustrious" Boston Junior Whalers for both of my oldest to skate for them. It's comical. Like, we have a number of folks in our social circle that wear the Boston Junior Whalers logos on their helmets all winter long as though it's a badge of supremecy or something but, fact is, they're inviting unknown players on to their roster the night before.
That's not elite. That's not exclusive. It's pick-up hockey. Expensive pick-up hockey.
Point is, it's all false.
I mean, it's not a scam like most cold emails, it's legit...but it's not prestegious.
My family has just been "identified" as one that throws money towards these things -- low hanging fruit -- and it all stems from a single Brick Team tryout 5+ years ago.
That's the truth of it.
I like the exposure but I'm not going to be used. Uh, anymore. That photo up at the top is my oldest...about 8 hours from home for a meaningless set of hockey games in Brantford, ON. So dumb.
What does my kid remember of it? He remembers the hotel sucked and that we bought a ton of fuzzy peaches to smuggle back across the border. Nothing relating to hockey was retained. Nothing.
So, yeah, get on that mailing list...but don't fall for the hype.
Now I know, I've lambasted summer tournaments in the past just like I'm doing again here so, yeah, maybe I'm just a negative Nellie.
But really, they're fun. They are definitely fun.
And they have a place.
More from a social perspective than hockey related.
There's a ton of team building that can come from them -- if it's an ACTUAL team -- especially if it's a winter team that's had a large roster turnover going into next season. Like, building chemistry while killing time in the hotel -- playing knee hockey in the lobby -- before the regular season even begins is always a path to success.
I mean -- it doesn't make anyone better at hockey...but it certainly creates a better team.
Even better, we've participated in a few events where the kids' talent levels have diverged greatly over the years...but they still like to play together. You know, getting the old Mite B team back together. Garbage hockey, but great fun!
And if it's just random collection of players, it's neat to meet some of the kids you'll play against during the regular season and be crossing paths with for years to come. Connections are important too.
Like, re-uniting with a former coach? Or taking a new coach for a test drive?
Two very valid reasons to blow a couple hundred dollars for some pick-up hockey, right there.
But, please, please, please, don't ever get fooled into thinking the further away it is, the more exciting, or competitive, or more important it's going to be. That's just not the case.
Here in New England, where I live, there are at least 3 tournaments per weekend, probably more, within a 2-3 hour drive.
Why on earth would I go to Chicago to play for a team of misfits from all over the place -- and either demolish the competition or get shutout for the entire weekend?
I mean, unless your idea of a good time is hanging out at a dumpy rink with a gross bathroom and snack bar food that will, you know, ensure that you venture into said bathroom.
Hilariously, just as the teams have glorious overstated names, so too do the arenas! You ever notice that?
The number of self proclaimed Ice Palaces we've ventured in to is staggering.
Not one has actually been a palace. Not even close.
I mean, the locker room artwork at Kasabuski Rink in Saugus, Mass is something to behold but, yeah... I'll just stop there. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. It'd make Andrew Dice Clay blush.
We've travelled to over 100 arenas since our youth hockey thing got going and I can't think of one destination worthy of the cost of a tournament weekend.
West Edmonton Mall is decrepit. I mean, I guess you need to see it for yourself...but it's just a big version of the crappy mall near your house with the creepy Easter Bunny that you never go to cause the other one is nicer... Oh, and it has an ice rink in the middle.
Do the tournaments for fun -- not for you or your kid's ego.
If you're doing it for the latter, there are a lot of experienced hockey parents biting the insides of their cheeks in your presence.
All paths lead to...mens league.
Hey, even the guys that do make it to the NHL eventually end up playing in men's league too.
Just something to keep in mind before your drop $1k on a trip to...Columbus, Ohio.
(Nothing against Columbus -- your zoo is my absolute favorite in the country. Better than San Diego, even. But tournament schedules seldom allow enough time to actually enjoy a leisurely visit to something like the zoo!)
But, not lying, these kids -- the ones at home and the ones having $1k weekends -- will all play in the same low end men's league a decade from now.
If, as a parent, you've made it a priority to invest in your child's hockey development -- I'm raising my hand -- there are most definitely more productive and beneficial ways to do it.
Next summer, before paying your fee, think about what your return (and your player's return) is for one of those summer tournaments far away from home. Chances are, you could get the same crappy experience at your local rink for less than 10% of the cost.
And, at your local rink's stick time, hopefully there isn't any fabricated pressure to perform either. I dunno about you...but I've learned that my kids get better, faster, when they're just on the ice having fun trying to mimc NHL player's shootout moves rather than in the falsely tense atmosphere of a meaningless game where an 80-cent trophy is on the line.
Always best to keep your own expectations grounded.
Further Reading on the very same Subject
» AAA Summer Hockey Tournaments
» What to Gain from Summer Hockey Tournaments
» An Alternative to Spring & Summer Tournament Hockey Teams
» The Pluses and Minuses of Private Lessons
» Boston Junior Bruins Brick Series Tryouts
» Boston Junior Bruins Training & Evaluation Camp
» Dream Big Hockey Stars Tryout
» Brick Tournament Team Call Backs
» Take the Dad-Goggles Off
» Brick Tournament Team Call Backs
» Talk to People. Talk to Everyone.
» Review: IPH Hockey - Private Coaching and Lessons
» Youth Hockey Nutrition, err, lack thereof
» Snobbery in Youth Hockey?
» Realistic Expectations: Take the Dad-Goggles Off!
» Skate Faster: Don't Skip Leg Day
» Product Review: SISU Mouthguard for Hockey
Agree? Disagree? Let me know -- I love the feedback from all angles!