Hanno Möttölä says that he read in the press about the case of Brad Lambert, 16. The teenage hockey super promise switched clubs to a repeat in a short amount of time, judging by everything, to maximize their progress and get to play the SM League on a regular basis.
- I think the 16-year-old is pretty young to bounce from club to club several times. But I don’t know the backgrounds, and that’s why I can’t or don’t want to comment on this case in more detail, Möttölä says.
Möttölä is not a hockey coach, but as a former top basketball player and a coach who works daily with young athletes, he has a solid understanding of the development process of junior players.
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- Even if an athlete is the best in his or her age group in Finland at the age of 15–16, he or she may not be at the age of 18 after adolescence. Not to mention then at the age of 21.
Hanno Möttölä guiding young basketball players in the summer of 2015.
Photo: Petri Krook
- This way, in the dark, a 15-year-old can become a star in his little bubble. Then a huge amount of character is required of the player.
According to Möttölä, the ages of 15–20 are really crucial in an athlete's career.
Möttölä is not meant to question Lambert’s talent. He talks about the phenomenon on a general level.
Möttölä cites two insightful examples. The football promise for Lauri Dalla Valle was already considered when he was 15 years old, whether the super promise will represent the Finnish or Italian national team in the future. Dalla Valle never rose to the top and quit at the age of 26.
- Another good example of assessing the potential of young players can be found in the NFL. Clubs spend millions to monitor talented, usually 22-24 year old quarterbackers, but only really few of the first bookings end up breaking into the top. So how could we tell a 15-year-old exactly what he will become?
So is it still too early for a 15-16 year old to talk about a future superstar?
- It's pretty dangerous to claim that that player becomes a star and that doesn't. It’s a little different to be a resilient basketball player at the age of 14, for example, than to be a tough athlete at the age of 18, when the body has had to gain muscle and strength with a huge amount of work.
- Some of the boys who start at Mäkelänrinne High School take huge physical leaps in three years. Some develop relatively less. That's how it goes.
Brad Lambert is a curator of hockey.
Photo: Ivan Bessedin
The endurance of the spiritual Kant is entirely his own business. At the age of 15-16, players are only really starting to see how much work it takes to get to the top.
Some things that brighten the future for teenage players can also be identified. Especially in basketball, such are e.g. anthropometric factors, ie length in Finnish.
- In addition, the vision of the game is one that at least does not disappear anywhere over the years. Excellent balance of movement and rhythm can also be recognized from the age of 14-15. And yes, some players are already more competitive than juniors than others. It's a great talent, Möttölä says and mentions Lauri Markkanen's name.
Finnish basketball does not have the same star cult of young players with side effects as hockey. For example, teen players do not have agents negotiating contracts as early as the junior years.
- Of course, hockey is in a completely different position due to its professional status. The pressure on parents will also increase when the next step after the SM League may already be in the NHL. In basketball, it might be the second series in Spain or some other similar series.
Of course, the phenomenon is rampant in the major basketball countries of Europe and especially in the USA, where, according to Möttölä, more than a thousand university-age players change clubs every year, not to mention high school-age children. However, Möttölä says that in Finland, too, junior players switch more easily from one junior club to another than in his youth.
Lauri Markkanen has withstood the tough pressures placed on him.
Photo: Ville Vuorinen / Lehtikuva
In the youth star cult phenomenon, the devil’s cloak is clumsily placed on the shoulders of parents and agents. Möttölä points out that in many cases, coaches should also look in the mirror.
- But yes, the role and responsibility of parents is huge. Parents have a great opportunity to have a positive voice and support for a child’s development.