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By Nick Olynyk
Imagine that you’re being dropped into a stranger’s house for a winter. You don’t know who the people are. You don’t know what it looks like inside. Yet that’s where you must eat, sleep and live. You’re going to call it “home.”
That’s billeting, and it’s a major part of playing junior hockey.
During my career, I lived in 12 billet homes (for varying lengths of time). Most of these billets were awesome, awesome people, opening up their homes to me, cooking food for me, listening to my gripes and helping in whatever way they could. However, I always saw one guy on each team who just didn’t jive with his billets.
I really think that billet problems can be prevented before they start. If you ever listen to former junior players rave about playing in a certain town, a big part of that is the billet family with whom they lived. In fact, the best billets often become lifelong friends with players. They will be your biggest fans.
To ensure a quality season at your billets, here are five big tips to follow:
1) Establish Open Communication Early
Chances are that your billets are going to be 10 times more experienced at billeting than you are. They know that players have routines, rituals and habits. This means the first thing they’re going to do is look for what you prefer. The clues you leave—your actions, patterns, thank you’s—reflect what you like at home.
However, billets aren’t mind readers. If you want a certain pre-game meal, tell them. I had one billet that made me the same thing all of the time because that is what their last player liked. I didn’t want spaghetti casserole every game day. That’s not what I ate, and they didn’t mind making me something else once I told them. Seeing me succeed and making me comfortable made them most happy. Sometimes you just have to let them know how to do that.
2) Establish Boundaries with your Hockey Billet
If there is something your billets do (or don’t do) that makes you hold a grudge, you’re going to have a long season. Whenever you have a problem in a billet house, bring it up and be respectful. For instance, if the billets kids are being too loud when you’re trying to sleep the night before a game, don’t be afraid to tell the kids. If the kids keep it up, go to the parents the next day.
As long as you are respectful about it, your billets often bend over backwards to help you or at least strike a compromise with you. They know sacrifices will have to be made, and they know that works both ways. Be able to handle awkward conversations and you’ll end up getting less awkward situations.
3) Know Your Rituals
Although the house will revolve around you on game day, that game day won’t run smoothly unless everybody involved knows how it should go. Routines are key for smooth billet houses because everybody knows what to expect and how carry on.
On the other hand, if you have to be at the rink early one morning, know that your billet dad has the shower at a certain time. Expect it and bend your schedule around it. Also, don’t make yourself late for dinner by hanging out too late after practice. The family is likely waiting on you.
After a while, these rituals become the status quo. It’ll be like playing with good line mate or a solid D partner. You’ll have a feel where each other are going before you get there.
4) Be Respectful
No, I’m not going to give you some kind of coach’s lecture here. What I am saying is that your billets are bound to want you in their house more if you treat their house like it’s your own. Simple things are to keep your mess inside your room, leave the bathroom the way you found it and don’t park in the driveway. These are the thankless things that go a long way. They will get noticed.
If your billet sees that you take care of their house, they are more likely to take care of you. They may even bend the rules that one time you need them to bend them. This often comes into play when girls come over. (The number one cause of billet issues, in my opinion.)
The coach will always give a rule on girls. Some coaches don’t want them at your billets, some want them out by curfew. Others just want you home and don’t care what happens once you’re there. If you don’t put your billets in an awkward situation where they have to break team rules for you, they’re more likely to give you a break when you need it most.
5) Be Part Of The Family
Every player is different. Some thrive in billet atmosphere, some want out. I was both of these players. When I was young, I was right in with the family, at birthday parties with the kids and all. By the time I was a 20 year-old I had been living by myself every summer. I felt like I was babysat.
However, part of getting more freedom around the house was actually being a part of it. I knew if I hung out with the kids for a half-hour each night they often left me alone for the rest of it. I didn’t want to hide in my room all evening trying to keep away from them, even if they could be pests at times. If you just give a little you’ll often get more back. Billets want you as part of their family. That’s why they invite you, a stranger, into their house.