Combined sessions

by barbaragarn

While you may feel that combining sessions will get more skaters, this also brings a greater variety. How then is JMS different from any other pick-up in the area? The whole point of JMS is managing parity so everyone on the ice is at roughly the same level. People tell me again and again how much they appreciate finally being able to touch the puck and make some moves. Getting rid of the parity by opening it so wide that it doesn’t matter… that just gets rid of the whole reason for JMS.

I’ve worked very hard to separate into distinct tiers and combining levels just throws all that work out the window. In a combined L3&4 session, how do people know what it will be like? You know from attending JMS on different nights that sometimes it’s a “fast L3” and sometimes a slow one. Now think about all the variety there would be between the bottom end of level 3 and the top end of level 4. That is too much, people would have no idea what a session would be like. That won’t help encourage folks to sign up–what people like about JMS is knowing what they’re going to get and that it will fit.

And so combining sessions dilutes the quality of JMS, and participation suffers. I have done combined level 1&2 before, and combined Level 4&5. NEITHER were successful; the higher skaters got frustrated at the lower players, taking the puck from them and essentially ignoring them and playing around them, and they got tired of it and stopped signing up. And the weaker skaters got frustrated too–they were used to having a bigger part of the game, they can’t catch the speedier folks, so they get hacky and the entire game becomes way chippier and people just don’t have fun. And THEY stopped coming. And the session failed. Again, this isn’t guessing, this is hard data from previous experiences.

A regular level 3 session can have a wide range of abilities– people who just moved up to 3 from 2 but still have L2 perms but then also people who play L4 but are recovering after an injury and playing down a while. That’s a lot of abilities to have on the ice, and by opening it to more than two levels, I would then have skaters with perms for level 2 through 5 on the same ice. This isn’t just a “sometimes” thing, it’s a “usually” thing. It is a management headache on the ice.

You probably aren’t aware of this, but there are a LOT of folks who feel they should be playing higher than they are. We love our fellow skaters, but I’m sure you can realize that for some, their PERCEPTION of ability does not match their ACTUAL ability. We feel ourselves to be gods upon the ice, and even video will not shatter this illusion. You know the kind of skater I’m taking about–one who thinks he’s great but absolutely is not. Say one of those guys is a level 2 and just moved into level 3. He goes to a level 3&4 and decides he “did okay.” (What does it mean to “do okay”? In their minds, frankly, anything short of spending every shift lying flat on the ice.)

And so these folks play in a combined session and feel they “did okay” and should therefore be allowed to play the next level up. Trust me, this happens ALL THE TIME when I run a combined session at the X. The faster skaters have to slow down the game to include the weaker ones, and when they do, and make a pity pass to the slower folks, the slower folks don’t realize it was intentional generosity and feel it means they have been able to “run with the big dogs.” They don’t realize it was a charity pass while everyone else held off and let the slow guy have the puck. It’s a terrible headache and I do not like to have to keep explaining it to people–which is what I would have to do if I had more combined sessions.

This disillusioned skater will see his participation, his mere presence and “showing up,” at a combined L3&4 as absolute justification that he SHOULD be moved to Level 4 RIGHT AWAY. I’m not saying this MIGHT happen, I’m saying it WILL happen, because it has before. And these guys are relentless, e-mailing me constantly, using the combined sessions to “prove” that they are actually as good as they dream they are inside their heads. I’m not going down that road.

I hope this makes sense. I know folks speculate about what I do–truly, there is always a thought-out reason behind my actions, even if it’s not immediately apparent. I think the levels–loose guidelines as they are–are important and even though they’re not hard and fast, we do our best to keep them as homogeneous and reliable as we can.

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Wakota is strong and I’m glad to see it. Some of the mixed L3/4 group may have thought it was fun to play together, but I had MANY e-mails from TRUE level 3 skaters who were sad that their session was being overrun by faster players. The true L3s asked me why I wasn’t delivering the parity I advertised. I’m sure the big group of friends didn’t care about what these other people were feeling, but I did, and I’m the administrator–it’s my responsibility and my mission to provide parity hockey.

It concerns me that the group skating at Wakota now is so incredibly set against me actually delivering what I advertise: parity hockey. Everyone wants me to organize JMS to fit their personal situation (ie, be the best one at a session, or close to home, or with friends who started playing hockey ten years earlier, etc.) and I just can’t do that.

I wish the people at Wakota would stop the fearmongering–I know what they’re saying, I get e-mails about it. If they want to leave because I’m doing what I advertised, if they want to leave because I’m making a session fair for the lower level people who actually belong there, then that’s their choice. I’m sad their vision is so narrow, but I can’t change it and I won’t waste time trying.