Commonly, hockey billeting situations involve players who are 18 and older. The players are out of high school, seeking to play hockey at a higher level, and though they still rely on Mom and Dad (can you say, expenses?), they’re ready to experience life on their own. Living with a billet family is a great transition into adulthood.
But… there are plenty of hockey players out there who start billeting way before they turn 18 or are of legal age. Yes, they’re also incredible players. Yes, they’ve got the same big goals. Yes, you’ll love having them around just as much as the older guys. But there are a couple of things to think about when billeting a younger hockey player.
You’re a Billet Parent—And a Legal Guardian
When most people think billeting, they think hockey first. Not so much school. Or doctor visits. Or travel releases. But all of that plays a part in junior hockey, and if your billet is under legal age, you’re in charge.
MAKE SURE you have a signed authorization by your player’s parent(s) to act as a legal guardian while he’s billeting with you. If you never need it, good on you. But when you do need it, you need it now! There’s no time for waiting around.
For example, if your billet is going to enroll in public school, you’ll be the adult who makes that happen. Schools require documentation for guardianship just to enroll, and may require forms for special permissions, like who can check him out of school? Who can excuse him for a sick day? Who can have access to his grades? Are you authorized to attend his parent/teacher meetings? You get the gist.
It’s even more serious when it comes to medical care. A minor cannot visit a doctor without an adult present — and they won’t do anything without legal consent by a parent or guardian. That’s one thing when the kid’s got a cold. It’s quite another when you rush him to the ER after an injury on the ice. Don’t risk the stress to you, your player, or his folks.
Which brings me to another point…
You’re Ultimately Responsible
Um, yeah. When you billet a minor player, you become responsible for his schooling, his well-being, his actions, his bills…. Gulp. In other words, don’t take this legal guardianship thing lightly.
Here’s a case in point.
My 17-yr-old billet son fractured his wrist during the season. I took him to the doctor, proudly prepared that I had the right documents in hand. But here’s the thing. Medical forms aren’t made for hockey billeting. They assume the person responsible for the kid is also responsible for his bills. Even if you fill in his own insurance information, the form likely requires you—the person bringing him in—to sign that you’ll be responsible for payment.
I signed on the line, knowing he was insured and his parents would take care of the co-pays and patient portion of the bills. But. When the bill was sent, it went to the parents’ address with my name on the bill. The Post Office marked it as “Undeliverable” and no one ever got it. 18 months after the incident, I started getting calls from a collection agency to pay up. It was unsettling, to say the least, and aggravating that the black mark went on my credit report.
The good news is his parents and I resolved the issue right away. But the credit hit was real. And the story could have ended quite differently — because legally, I was fully responsible.
Be Prepared for Billeting on Paper
Being a legal guardian doesn’t have to be scary or risky. When you support your billeting relationship with a guardianship release, limit your liabilities on paper, and put on paper who will pay for what, you’re covered when the questions arise. You don’t have to scramble for papers and you don’t have to deal with the hassles when people on all sides are stressed.
All of these documents are included in the Player Package or Billet Host Package from Billet Better. Additional releases for team travel (which could be a liability to teams with players under legal age) and medical info are a good idea for team staff to have on file.
Billeting Younger Players on a Personal Level
Okay, okay, scary stories aside, there’s a lot of fun to be had with younger players. Since their schedule and friend groups differ from older players, there are different opportunities to interact and even more relationships to build.
Get to Know His Parents — And Let Them Know You
Once he’s under your roof, your player is just as much “your boy” as any other kid in the family. You’ll love him. You’ll feed him. You’ll boss him around.
But remember, you’re not his parent. Draw the distinction that you’re the ruler of your home and what you say goes when it comes to house rules, etc. But respect his parent’s wishes and guidance about their own family values. Get to know their personalities. Learn about their family traditions and make an effort to do small things that make him feel at home.
A great way to do this is to invite weekly family phone or Skype calls between the player, your family and his family. It doesn’t need to be long, but it can mean the world to make these connections. As your player’s parents get to know you, they’ll feel more confident in their son’s care, and that rubs off on him, too.
Get Involved in School and Other Activities
Beyond just enrolling him in school, take time and interest in what he’s doing. Check in for homework updates. Offer to proofread a paper. Even if your player is participating in online classes, showing your interest can give his grades a boost.
If you can, get involved with the school itself. Volunteer for an event or activity. Work the refreshment booth at a school game he’s attending. No, the idea is not to be a helicopter billet parent or overtly embarrass the kid. Just show you’re invested in their life outside of hockey. It’s kind of a thrill for them to see you working behind the scenes. I spent one afternoon selling dance tickets at the school. My billet was surprised to see me at lunch hour, treated me to a big hug, and got his friends to all buy from “his mom’s line.”
It’s the little things.
Be an Emotional Support
Most importantly, be the mom or dad every kid this age needs. That is, don’t treat them like toddlers. But don’t expect them to be full-grown adults, either. They’re going to be stupid teenagers at some point. Help them figure out how to navigate the perils of friends, dating, clothes, peer pressure, and rotten days.
No kid will be the same, so no piece of advice applies to every billet. But be ready to have a listening ear. Shut up to give him room to talk. Let him know you’re around, which itself can be comforting. Be the shoulder to lean on and provide the secret place to cry in. Homesickness is real. Heartbreak is part of being a teen. Having a truly supportive billet family is the extra advantage a lucky hockey kid has.