The conversation usually starts with you excitedly sharing the news that your son will be playing hockey for (insert team name here, which is often far from home) next season. It generally takes a few minutes for your friends or family to realize that this team is located somewhere that would be too far to drive back and forth from daily, so that usually leads them to ask if you are moving or why they can’t just play hockey at home. Then it starts to get really hairy when you explain that your precious little boy will be moving into a strange family’s home and living with them for the duration of a hockey season. Their eyes are usually pretty wide at this point, though they’re usually trying to hide it, and then the rapid fire round begins: “How much is that costing you?” “How are you paying for that?” “How do they find these people?” “What if it doesn’t work out?” and “Do they have background checks?” If you’re sharing the news at a family gathering, one person usually tries to stealthily make a beeline to your son to grill them as well because they’re now thinking about having you committed. They want to make sure you haven’t completely lost your mind.
You have not. Yep, it’s scary to think about, and it might not be all rainbows and unicorns, but it will be family. When you sign that first junior hockey contract and your player fills out that first billet family questionnaire, you and your family have just been adopted into the junior hockey family, and it is so much more than an addition to the hockey resume.
Billeting seems like a small thing. Host families let athletes live in a spare bedroom in exchange for a couple hundred bucks a month and maybe a pair of season tickets. On the surface, it sounds like a business transaction, but it is much more than that. You know all those other hockey parents from youth hockey? You spent countless hours with them at practices, you travelled with them to away games and tournaments, and maybe you grabbed drinks after a game (or before, I don’t judge). You became friends, right? Billet families are like that on steroids.
You’ve probably heard a few jokes over the years about crazy hockey moms and dads, but the thing that people outside of hockey don’t understand is that it really isn’t just that one mom or dad you need to worry about-- It’s all of them because we all stick together and help each other out, and that includes billet families even if they don’t have a player of their own.
You can find a couple definitions out there for billet families,and that might even be what you came here for, but the definition I use is love. Billet families are love for the game, love for your player, love for their team, just love in every sense of the word. When you send your son off to live with strangers to pursue his dream, they aren’t strangers for long.
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