In the popular movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” the title character, in an effort to explain his easygoing nature, utters the famous quote, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
The youth hockey circuit can feel that way sometimes. As kids get older, the competition gets more intense and tends to extend past the winter throughout the year. Tournaments and showcases can overrun the hockey player’s schedule.
What’s important to remember is that hockey is supposed to be fun, and summer camps provide the opportunity to enjoy the sport in a new way.
Toni Ann Miano, former Boston College standout and founder of Eagles Elite Sports, knows what that feeling looks like.
“A girl, Abigail, 7 years old, she came up to me and said, ‘Toni, this is the best day ever,’ ” Miano said. “She’s on the ice as a 7-year-old, competing, going to corners, battling with an older girl because she was determined. Seeing the self-esteem and confidence it creates over time, knowing they’re having fun playing, it’s awesome to get letters from players saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ Smiling, having fun and playing is what I take away from it.”
Camps provide an opportunity for players to learn and improve their games away from an organized competition as well as expose players to different styles of coaches and coaching.
Tim Turnbull, VP of operations at Erik Nates Euro Hockey, pointed out that while playing games have benefits, there should be a balance of games and practice.
“The kids play almost too many games with schedules in the fall and spring,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s too much. They’re doing game concepts or team concepts instead of working on their individual game. Kids need to work on their game instead of working on a team’s structure.”
At Erik Nates Euro Hockey, players are put through drills influenced by the European style of ice hockey, which emphasizes precision and technique. It might be different than the style players are used to, but Turnbull said players at camps need to be willing to try something new to get the most out of the experience.
“The biggest thing is to come ready to work, first and foremost, and ready to learn,” he said. “If you’re not open to learning and challenging yourself, you’re not going to get anything out of it. The kids that are trying to get out of their comfort zone or things they struggle with, they get better. If you’re willing to put the work in and get the reps, you’re going to improve in those areas.”
At Eagles Elite, a camp exclusively for female players, Miano — who now plays for the Boston Pride of the NWHL — shares her tips for success with her campers.
“My best advice I share, I have five tips, ‘Toni’s Tips for Young Dream Chasers,’ ” she said. “One would be to love what you do. Do more of what you love and what makes you happy. Number two would be enjoy every moment of your journey. My four years at BC were done in the blink of an eye. Cherish the memories and friendships. Set small goals day by day or practice by practice to achieve your bigger dreams. Four would be practice with a purpose. We’re here for an hour. Be here. Push yourself to a higher level. Five is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not the right mindset. Sports are fun. We meet friends. We win games or lose games together, but it’s fun.”
While camps might put players through a series of drills, it does not mean they can’t have fun.
Eric Chapman, a director at Can/Am Hockey who has worked with the organization for 25 years and attended the camp as a child, says fun and learning go hand-in-hand.
“It’s not just a grind. It’s not just come and work,” he said. “We spend a lot of time to make sure the camper has a fun and full experience on and off the ice. What summer hockey camp offers is an opportunity for direct skill improvement that may come more slowly by simply having more ice time. You can play year round. They can play a lot, but all of a sudden, to have a professional there reviewing what you’re doing and giving you feedback on the skills they’re seeing on the ice and spending a week of conscious effort focused on improvement, that offers these campers something that is tremendously valuable.”
Life can get very busy, especially in the summer when parents and players want to get the most out of time without school. For Chapman, camps provide players the opportunity to make everlasting memories.
“It’s particularly special to be a part of this organization,” he said. “With what we do, it’s about the experience we provide for people. It’s about the memories we provide. It’s rewarding to become part of the fabric of our campers’ and customers’ collective memory.
“The times when you go to camp are special moments. They say, ‘I remember when I did this as a young camper.’ A lot of what we do supersedes just the hockey. It’s very rewarding to be part of an organization and event that becomes more for our customers than just simply the hockey.”