Imagine being 16 years old and having to leave your friends, family, home, and everything you know to reach your dream of playing in the NHL. Decades ago, the only reason young players would leave the house would be for a guaranteed shot at the NHL. Nowadays, players are moving away from home younger than ever to play for Major Junior and college teams in hopes of realizing their dreams of making it to the big leagues. It is not uncommon to find 16 or, with a late birthday, even 15-year-old kids, living with billet families far from home. Whether this is considered a sacrifice or opportunity varies from player to player and family to family. Either way, while there are undoubtedly many positive effects and outcomes of this decision, there can be just as many negatives as well.
We’ve all heard older people grumble and groan about millennials and their sense of entitlement from living at home and getting spoiled and pampered by their parents. This is indeed not inaccurate. While having a support system that you know can certainly be comforting and advantageous, a lot of young people these days benefit significantly from a swift kick in the butt into the real world. While billet families are a sort of extended family for these young players, they are still far from and all that they know. This can help force a rapid growth in a young player’s character and maturity caused by an adjustment from their comfort zone. As it goes with most players, positive growth off as a person of the ice brings positive growth on the ice as a player. Some players are forced to grow even faster, as some parents send their kids away to live on their own while assisting with most of the finances. While they may have indirect contact and guidance from their own families, they are essentially forced with the tall task to make their day to day life decisions.
While it is easy to put young potential superstars on a pedestal, it’s important to remember that a lot of these young players are just that, young. The concept of moving to a place where you have free reign of your daily life without your lifelong disciplinarians watching your every move can cause some young players to make big mistakes. While billet families generally try to set rules and guidelines, there is always the chance of these families being too lenient as they are not the “real parents.” This makes it extremely easy for young players to make decisions that could potentially destroy their hockey careers before it even starts.
Young prospects are moving away from home younger than ever and at an awkward age. While some players relish and thrive on the opportunity to grow as a person and a player, others misuse the chance by taking the much less mature route of bad decisions and irresponsibility. While players on both ends of the spectrum will make both good and poor choices at some point in this process, the ones that deal with the following repercussions of each decision properly will have a much better chance of making it to the show.