Like choosing healthy foods over the dessert table at a buffet, making good choices when it comes to player development isn’t always easy. The reality is even when players, parents and coaches know certain choices are good for long term development, sticking to them requires commitment and discipline.
Just ask St. Cloud native and current St. Michael, MN resident Cory Laylin.
Laylin played four years at the University of Minnesota before going onto a 16-year professional career. Since retiring as a player, Laylin has spent the past eight seasons coaching at the high school, junior and college levels. His success in the coaching ranks led to being named the head coach of the U.S. Under-17 which begins competition in the 2016 Five Nations Tournament.
He’s a student of the game and a believer in the American Development Model.
Yet, when it comes to his kids, Laylin admits there are a lot of hard decisions. We caught up with him at the 2016 Model Camp to find out more about his perspective as a parent.
Minnesota Hockey: Your son Luc had a lot of success in the Boys’ High Performance 15 program this spring and summer. What’s that been like for you as a parent and for your son in terms of really experiencing the best of the best?
Cory Laylin: Playing against the best in the state helps gauge where you are as a player and as a person because you can model yourself after some of the better players, such as Casey Mittelstadt. They see that they can with skate him. They can see why he’s successful and what makes him so great. These young players can really use that as a measuring stick for themselves.
MH: How big of a difference is it for these 15-year olds to go from playing against kids all at their age level, even if they are the best, to Model Camp or high school hockey where players can be two or three years older?
CL: It’s neat because they can tell they can skate with them, but now, they have to see all the other intangibles – the stick handling, the hockey sense, the awareness, the where you’re supposed to go, how you handle sitting on the bench, how you are in the locker room. I think all of those things contribute to who you are as a player so the next time they go through the process it’s that much easier. They believe they belong and believing they belong is a really important piece at any level. If it’s making this transition or if it’s high school to junior or junior to college or college to pro, you have to believe you belong.
MH: What are your thoughts on managing ice time over the summer with all of the opportunities that are available?
CL: I’m still of the belief of being a multi-sport athlete. My kid plays baseball, and that’s a priority. When you get high level hockey like this (Model Camp), they turn a switch, and they actually thirst for it so they’re excited for it. It challenges them athletically, but it’s great for them to still be a kid, still do their other things. It is difficult to manage because there are so many opportunities right now. You have to pick the right ones. I know the HP program is the best program in Minnesota, possibly in the country.
MH: What has it been like this summer with Luc’s involvement with the High Performance programs and trying to play baseball at the same time?
CL: He’s been real lucky. He’s on a really excellent baseball team who’s got a great baseball coach. They won the state tournament two years in a row so he’s got a group that really is close. It’s hard for him to choose. Like tomorrow, he’s not going to play the game here [at Model Camp] because he’s got a league championship game. If they win it, they go to Target Field. It’s a big deal for him. It’s kind of emotional. He had to miss the state tournament last week to go to New York [for USA Hockey’s Select 15 Player Development Camp]. He loves hockey, but he’s at that age right now where he has to choose a little bit. It’s difficult for him. We want to give him every opportunity to play two sports if he can.
MH: When those situations arise, do you let him make the decision?
CL: Absolutely, absolutely. He knows when it’s game time. He knows when the real opportunities are. We talk about it in our house what’s important, what’s just fun. When these HP opportunities come up, when Model Camp comes up and when the New York opportunity came up, those are big time opportunities. Otherwise, baseball comes first during this time of the year. He’s got to enjoy this time of his life right now.
MH: Do you try to plan times during the summer where your kids put their equipment away completely?
CL: I do with my other children. I’ve got three boys of my own, and I have them take off June and July. We do some skill work, but we focus more on other sports, family time and this and that. It’s always fun to put the equipment away and focus on something else, and then you get so excited to jump into your sport.
MH: We noticed Luc is also registered to play in the Boys’ HP 15 Tier 1 League this fall. What about that program has you excited?
CL: I think it’s a neat opportunity to play with kids within your district and with other good players in the state. We’ve got plenty of skill practices matched in with games, and I know that’s the correct way to do skill work. It’s so important to do those two together at this age. It’s not just games, games. It’s doing skills and doing things the right way because they’re still in that window of skill development.
MH: What advice do you have for parents going through a similar process with their kids?
CL: I would say enjoy the process and don’t think you know more than what USA Hockey is saying. USA Hockey says we want multi-sport athletes. We want kids to be excited to put on their equipment, and we want kids to be kids. If you’re an athlete and you have athletic ability, you’re going to make it at the end of the day. I think rushing the process will exhaust their jam inside, and we want kids to enjoy the process and enjoy the game of hockey and being excited to put their gear on. Everybody wants to do more, more, more and that’s not the right way to go.
Editor’s Note: Following the interview above, Laylin mentioned his sons have spent the majority of their time as hockey players in Italy and South Dakota. In both instances, there wasn’t a strong hockey culture and ice wasn’t available year round. Yet, Luc still developed into a top player in his age group because he focused on developing as an athlete.