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Yesterday, I arrived to the office to find a small envelope, personally addressed to me.

Contained within, was an invitation, with a handwritten note.

It was from a young man, who we began working with approximately 10 years ago.

The invitation was to attend his upcoming graduation from university.

Reading the note, it reminded me of the journey that we have taken together, during which, we have shared so many “high and lows”, but always moving forward.

This young man grew up 3,000 miles away from where I live.

His father and I first spoke in January 2010.

The player is a left shot defenceman. He was about 5’7” (at the time). When we first talked, he had just turned 16 years of age.

He has a September birthday.

His father first e-mailed me, after reading of one of our newsletters (like this one).

At the time, he wrote to say that his son was playing midget hockey, and that he hoped that he could attend college while playing hockey, someday, in the future.

I did some research on the player, and talked to a few hockey friends, who had seen him play. I spoke to the young man, and attempted to determine and identify the presence of a number of important key characteristics.

While conducting my research, I realized that the young man had already made a grave mistake. If he ever wished to play NCAA college hockey, he was on the wrong path, at school.

To play NCAA Division I athletics, players must have taken very specific classes between grade 9 to 12 (inclusive) , and they must complete those courses within 4 years of entering grade 9. If a player fails to complete high school in eight semesters, core courses taken after the eighth semester will not count towards their NCAA academic-eligibility requirements.

Unfortunately, by the time this player’s father had reached out to me, he was already in his fourth semester of high school (including grade 9), and during his third and fourth semester, he had not taken any of the core courses required to be NCAA eligible.

To successfully meet his goals, we had to devise a workable plan to take the required courses and still graduate by the end of his normal grade 12 year.

Imagine, the work and dedication that this player had to undertake to achieve this prerequisite. I was so impressed by his willingness to do what was required to get back on track, in this regard.

The next important thing that we realized was that, as a September-born player, he had some unique challenges that he would need to carefully manage, if he was ever to play NCAA hockey.

As professionals, who had worked with hundreds of hockey players, we were well aware of the various obstacles that players faced, and we were able to provide guidance and support to help him during (what we knew would be) difficult times, and decisions, ahead.

We also knew that in some ways, if well-managed, his late birthday scenario would offer some advantages, as he moved forward.

The following season, he continued to play midget hockey (as a 17 year old), and he had to also invest substantial time into school (to enable him to achieve the required courses, the required grade point average, as well as prepare to write the SAT) to enable him to gain entrance to one of the colleges/university that he wished to attend.

As a player, he realized that his dedication would also need to include proper nutrition, and fitness training (on and off the ice), which for a 5’7” 135 lb. defenceman (the way the game was played 10 years ago) this was seen as a real undertaking.

During the second season, of working with this player, I was introduced to a younger player on his midget team, and was asked to consider working with him as well.

We did our assessment of that player. We determined that if he would make proper decisions along the way, that he would have an even more promising future.

The younger player had a December birthday, and so careful decisions would be imperative.

He was 5 inches taller, and 30 lbs heavier. He was a better skater, had much better skills (puck handling, shooting, etc.). Academically, he was better situated. He was a right shot defenceman (in higher demand). In talked to a couple of college recruiters, they already knew of him.

There were a few things that the second player had said during our interview that made me believe that he felt he could rely on his raw talent to achieve his goals, alone. He knew that he was better regarded as a hockey player, and he felt that there would be nothing to stand in his way to achieve his dreams.

At a year younger, his stats (goals and assists) exceeded the older player (our client).

We knew that (as a late-born player), that he would have to carefully manage his path forward, and that he would face many challenges and situations in which he would not thrive. We felt that he would make short-term decisions using his ego, rather than his head, and that those decisions would not serve him well. We spoke candidly about those challenges, and I decided not to proceed to work with that player, based on our assessment of his attitude.

With the first player (our client), he continued to play midget hockey, and work diligently on his schoolwork.

He later played junior hockey from 2012 to 2015, for two different teams. The decisions that he made were based on “reality”, and not “pipe dreams”. We were able to negotiate favourable terms in his junior contracts, that enabled him to take logical steps and have lateral mobility, for better development and exposure. This enabled him to build a well-defined resume over a number of years. We were able to carefully identify summer showcase events, which targeted some of the schools that he was truly interested in attending.

The decisions that he made, as he moved along, were based on trends, and data and on real facts, and not “hoping for the best”.

He did not rely on his raw talent, but did the things that he could do to maximize his skills. He continued to take care of his nutritional needs, and his fitness requirements.

Everything he did…., everything he ate….., they all moved him closer to his dream. For example, he would not take a summer job, unless there was a fitness component to it.

At the age of 20 years, he was 5’9” and 165 lbs. He was one of the best conditioned athletes I knew. He was well regarded as a player, and as a student. Over the previous years, he had received the proper development and exposure, and had always made good decisions.

Exactly 4 years ago (March 2015), he was made an offer to join a university team, and he has played hockey for 4 years, while earning an undergraduate degree. His post-secondary schooling has cost him nothing.

The life skills that he has accumulated are priceless.

On the other hand, the second (and better regarded) player, had made a few critical hockey mistakes along the way. As he was finishing his midget year of hockey, and entering junior hockey, he was swayed to make decisions which would place him in a location which would stifle his development, and his exposure. He made those decisions with his ego.

He would later make a decision that would violate NCAA rules, and make him ineligible to play college hockey. He never did finish his junior hockey career, nor did he attend university. He does not go to school and he does not have a job today.

A couple of proper decisions would have changed the world for that young man, and he would be graduating from college, a year from now.

I will attending our client’s graduation in May. He is going to be playing professional hockey in Europe next season, while working on his MBA, which the team is paying for, following which he hopes to work on Wall Street, working alongside some of the great contacts, which he has made, through hockey.

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