Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is Junior Success a Curse?


There is a major hangover in Ottawa this week. It's not snow related, or transit strike related. (Those both suck in a major way however... I'm angry)

This past month, Ottawa has been host to the World Junior Hockey Championships. The tournament was a major success in many ways. The home team won in an exciting final. The tournament was memorable and there was plenty of stars discovered. Slovakia and Kazakhstan teams were adopted as local favorites. The economic impact of the tournament is estimated to be about $50 million.

I've personally been hooked on the tournament for years, and for many reasons. The timing during the holidays is great. It's a chance to see future stars. And if you put national jerseys on players, I'm instantly interested. (i.e. North American fans watching FIFA World Cup). One of my favorite parts of the tournaments is looking at the tournament history and seeing which stars of the pasts have made it in the professional leagues, and what happened to those who disappear after junior glory.

What the hell happened to Daniel Tkaczuk, Christian Dube, Mike Craig, and Brent Tully? It might simply be a case that these players lack the physical gifts to move to the next level, but were able to compete at an all star level in juniors because of efforts/intelligence/promotion.

Of course, my thoughts turn to ultimate and its juniors. I think its fantastic that we have world junior competitions, and that Canada is a team that challenges for the championship in both mens and womens. I also think it is a little disturbing that many of the players selected to represent Canada did not move on to the club level, and fail to show the progress and success that such a nod would promise.

I understand that life gets in the way for many junior stars in ultimate. That being said, I wonder our expectations should be with our Juniors:

  • What should be the acceptable graduation rate for these players?
  • What standards should we set for our coaches and team selection groups?
  • Should we be concerned with the recent performance of our juniors, and should we be willing to make changes to keep ourselves competitive as the world seems to catch up?
In hockey, a brief time of failure (1998-2001) lead Hockey Canada to critically analyze and redevelop how players were developed and how players were selected. I was particularily impressed by how thorough Hockey Canada looked for and found the selection camp and eventual team roster (They don't just pick 1st round entry draft picks or leading scorers in juniors anymore) . Is it time for Canada to be more proactive in juniors development?