Wednesday, December 17, 2014

To Billet or Not To Billet, Vol. 1


One of the challenges we face as parents of young athletes is wrestling with how we can best support our child.  How much is too much?  When should we push them and when should we, the parent, be the ones to step back and recognize that they need to pull back?

Many of you may have a young goalie playing at an elite level.  You might be starting to think about what your goalie's future holds, and no doubt you have considered that a move to the "next level" may require your player to move away from home at some point during his/her teen years.  Cue the panic button!  We are torn between wanting to give our kids every chance at success, but wrestling with the parental instinct that drives us to keep them close to us.

My family has billeted three players, and although aspects of it can be difficult at times, it was absolutely one of the most rewarding things we have done as a family.  My philosophy on being a billet parent was that I was providing a stable and safe family environment for a young man in an effort to help him get a better opportunity to advance his hockey career.  My hope was that I could provide the boys' parents the peace of mind that if THEY couldn't be there to watch over him, that I could provide the same level of caring and support that they would have had in their own home.  From the experience, our family learned how to accept another person into our home, which isn't always easy.  My boys gained mentors in both life and hockey.  And most importantly, we have lifelong family friends as a result. 

Not all billet experiences are quite as positive.   There can be drawbacks, as well.  It's not always sunshine and roses.  This is the first of two pieces I'll share with you on this topic.  I have asked two players and their parents to share some insight on their billet experiences.  What have they gained?  How did they cope?  These are the insights from one family...

E's Story:  A Player's Insight

I have billeted in 4 different states for an extended period of time over the course of the last 4 years of my life while playing hockey. This is not including my hometown of Castle Rock, CO. I was very fortunate throughout the 4 homes I lived in, as they all cared for me when it came to groceries, supplies, and overall support day to day. Each family held a different experience for me, experiences that I will hold onto for the rest of my life. 

My first year leaving home I was a senior in High School. I left for Omaha, NE to play Midget AAA hockey to start the journey to play Division 1 hockey and eventually Pro. The first time leaving home was the hardest, even though I knew I would be leaving since I was about 13 years old. I was greeted by a welcoming family with two young sons. I realized quickly that the experience wasn't just about me, but about building a relationship with these people that I would be living with. It was going to take an effort from both parties to have an enjoyable experience. Doing things simple as doing the dishes, or taking out the trash went a long way with a busy family with young kids. It's a great experience billeting when there is a mutual respect between the player and the family. I would look forward to coming home and not running straight to my room, but rather sit down to talk with them about how their day was. Family dinners were great, and I hold those conversations we had in my memory. I found that having trust between the player and family was everything. If I let the family know things like if I was going to be home for dinner or what my schedule was for the week, things ran smoothly. When this is not done, billet families start to worry and question what kind of kid they have in their home. When kids are involved, this is especially important because they need to trust you if you are home alone with the kids, or they need assistance with anything. I've grown up more in 4 years of billeting than I think I would have in 4 years of college. You learn how to deal with people in every age group, and how to build relationships that truly can last a lifetime. I still talk to and catch up with 3 out of my 4 billets. There is something exciting about seeing and living in different parts of the country. I've been able to get an idea of where I would like to live someday. I've lived on the east coast, west coast, midwest and even all the way up to Alaska!

There are situations where the billet family is not as caring for their player as one would want, or the situation is not ideal for an overall great experience. Unfortunately this does happen, and it's a matter of adapting. Sometimes certain areas are lacking, like having food in the house. As young athletes, we eat a crazy amount of food so it is understandable how it would be difficult to keep up cooking and grocery shopping consistently...especially when there is more than one player in the house to feed. Players find themselves eating out more and spending more than they would like for meals and snacks. This will happen throughout the season, with schedules conflicting between the player and family, but it really helped me to even have one meal prepared for dinner and have the food around the house that I could make things up throughout the day. Unfortunately some billets don't do this, and players can be stuck with limited food at their home. If a player has roommates this can cause issues if they don't get along. Some homes won't have separate rooms, so privacy is limited. Each player must compromise their personal habits to make it an enjoyable experience. If they don't, this is where conflict comes up such as turning the lights off at night, noise, and curfews. Roommates have to spend a ton of time together, so finding ways to get along is key. Missing family is an obvious struggle, especially a player's first time leaving home. It was important for me to have things like Skype, to make the experience easier to deal with. Consistently checking in helped me a lot to not feel too big of a void from my family and friends. As long as there is respect of each others time, space, and personal habits, the family and player can get along great and have an awesome experience!

T & H's Story:  The Parent Perspective

Many parents of young goalies look at the Billet Experience as the dreaded moment when their young son or daughter will leave their home and live with another family in an effort to advance their hockey career.   There is no question it is a difficult moment for most to see their son or daughter leave the comforts of their home with little guarantee of happiness or success.  We looked at the experience in a much different way.

Yes, the advancement of our sons hockey career was important, but the conversations we had with our son were more about the actual life lessons he would experience and the people he would meet and potentially build life long relationships with. We also emphasized the importance of impact he could make on the lives of others.  Again, hockey is important, but we have always emphasized with our son that
hockey was/is just a vehicle.

The Billet Experience allows the opportunity for the player and billet family to
build a relationship that impacts and benefits everyone involved.  Our son has been blessed to have amazing experiences with wonderful billet families in Nebraska, Washington, Alaska and Boston.  The hockey teams he played for helped advance his hockey career, but the wonderful families he lived with more importantly changed his life.  Whether it be the billet Mom or Dad or their sons or daughters, our son grasped the understanding that impact and relationships are the most important thing he can do to help others and
enrich his life. Hockey is just the bonus.

We wouldn’t trade the billet experience for anything.  We are eternally grateful to our sons billet families who have become our dear friends for life.  As our son heads off to start his collegiate career in the Fall after signing a National Letter of Intent with one of the top five D1 programs in the Country, he will take with him the wonderful friendships and relationships he built with his billet families while recognizing and appreciating that he would not be where he is today without their support and friendship.

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