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An Open Letter for Tryouts

By Marty Rubin, 04/19/24, 2:00PM PDT


The way we approach and talk about tryouts has been on my mind lately.

This upcoming season there will be more hockey businesses in the state of Washington than ever before. More options, more offerings, more choices, more pressure. It is exhausting to navigate what is best for finances, family time, player development, leadership development, where friends are playing, promises from each program, and on and on. And that does not even cover the desire to explore other programs without retribution, the fear of rejection, the extra lift it takes to console a sad child, and all the rumors and misinformation in the hockey world.

Hockey leaders do the best they can to project confidence in their program, create opportunities that will differentiate their business from their competitors, and invest in short-term and long-term strategies to ensure their futures. Nothing about that is wrong, on the face of it all that is. But are hockey leaders empathizing with the parent and player experience? Are programs making changes that acknowledge and address anxiety, attempt to educate about the written and unwritten rules of tryout season, and even provide opportunities to learn helpful skills to navigate this time for players and parents alike?

Here is a thought experiment to ground your reflection: Why do you continue to enroll your child in hockey? Many want their kid to have a well-rounded athletic and social childhood and for them, hockey ticks a lot of boxes. Hockey is often the place where many kids meet and bond with their most impactful role models and mentors. Some parents feel inspired by their child’s passion for the game and want to support it to see where it goes. Others have their own personal passion for the game that they aim to pass on to their player. When you know your ‘Why?’ it is much easier to navigate the hockey ecosystem because your values will always guide you to the right place for you. What is your ‘Why?’

After you know that, and when you finally have the ear of a hockey program leader, what do you ask? Program flyers and websites will have ice times, cost, league plans, and other pertinent program pieces. That is transactional information. But, what kind of character do programs demand from their coaches? From their players and their parents too? How do programs plan to teach leadership skills? What is the plan to hold my player and all the players accountable to our goals on and off the ice? How does the program create and implement curriculum for excellent player development? In other words, how much do you care about my player as a growing, learning, living whole person and athlete, and not just a hockey player? If their answers are satisfying along with the other programmatic aspects, then you are in the right place for your kid regardless of what level the teams call themselves.

If you are still in the throes of the tryout process, watching organizations battle for market share, and you are wondering what can you do to maintain some sanity, here are some tips for parents:

  1. Do your research. Know PNAHA’s Rule 14. Know about PNAHA, PCAHA, CSSHL, HPL, NAPHL, and any other league. Learn about how pipelines to WHL and NCAA work. Understand that DI and CHL players all come from different background and were found by scouts in different ways. Ask Hockey Directors the questions you need answered about the program.
  2. Avoid letting hockey math influence your decisions making. Any organization that runs a fair and transparent tryout process will have all spots open for players and goalies until the right players earn their placements. And being in an organization that does not align with your values is a painful investment on all fronts.
  3. Know that hockey coaches choose players, but they also choose parents. Organization leaders hear about current and previous conduct. We are looking for growth mindset to be modeled by parents just as much as coaches.  
  4. The words you use are important. Youth hockey players do not ‘make it’ or ‘get cut.’ They are placed on a team that will best set them up to develop throughout the season.
  5. Prepare your player for all outcomes of a tryout ahead of time. If a player is not placed on the team they want to play for, it is because they need more time to develop before they are ready to play at that level. Politics, personality judgements, and favoritism did not play a role in their placement. Playing with friends is fun, but making new friends is also fun. Finding ways to make positive meaning out of difficult results is a practice just like skating or shooting, do it every day with your kid because it will come in handy someday soon (think job applications, college applications, romantic partnerships, etc.).
  6. Know that playing U11 AAA does not have nearly the baring people think it does about a player’s future prospects. And, know that kids with high drive and a learner’s mindset always make it further regardless of their team’s National Bound status.
  7. Ask for tangible feedback from your evaluators. You never know what feedback you have never heard before can do for your game!
  8. Be honest and forthcoming with your current organization about your plans. ‘Playing the game’ so to speak is not a good look and our kids pick up on it. Those are not the lessons we want to teach.
  9. Hockey is a long, long, long road. Tryout outcomes for 10U and 12U kids are still in the first half of their minor hockey careers. That kind of perspective seen in the positive can make way for more family time, other hobbies, and even new and amazing memories.

If you are wondering what you can talk to your player about to ground them and give them a chance at a less anxiety-stimulating tryout experience, here are some good conversations to have ahead of their skates:

  1. When you are at your most honest, what are the best three things about your game? How do you plan to show those off during tryouts? In other words, you do not have to be a player you think the coaches want you to be. Coaches are always working with incomplete players in minor hockey, so do what you do best during tryouts!
  2. How do you show your character through a tryout? Be the first in line for a drill, be the first to pick up pucks at the end. Shake hands with all adults on the ice, thank them. Skate hard back to the bench! Be loud on and off the ice! Help your teammates with the drill. Don’t cheat on your races! Ask questions when you don’t know something! Coaches want to work with kids who demonstrate high character, it means we can grow more!
  3.  How do you bounce back? You are allowed to be upset about today’s tryout for one hour, no more! Return to your mindset, your routines, and your self-care. Reflect: What did not go well today? What can I control to be my best tomorrow?
  4. How do you accept and make meaning from success? I was placed on the team because I am ready to play at this level. I was placed because of my work ethic and character, not my talent. The real work begins now.
  5. How do you have perspective during a tryout? When it is all said and done, no matter who has a clipboard or a whistle, hockey is just a game we all love! So, go out a play and sweat and work your hardest and try something new.


Good luck in your tryout process, not the results necessarily but the experience. When hockey programs and families work together to refine our goals, planning, communication, and culture we will thrive as a community for our players and our members alike. If you would like to discuss anything further, please do not hesitate to reach out to