Mikko Leppilampi is one of Finland’s top movie and television stars. Now in his late 30’s, he has starred in over 25 feature films, numerous television series, hosts awards shows and is a star on Finland’s version of Dancing with the Stars. He is also a musician and has been described as the “Michael Bublé of Finland”.
Mikko was also an outstanding hockey player who could dangle with the best of them. He still has great hands and a keen scoring touch playing for a very good over-35 team in Helsinki. Playing in the IFK club system, he grew up playing with many of the top Finish players of his era. I got to enjoy a pro game with him in Helsinki and he seemed to know everyone at the rink – not because he was a “movie star” but because he was “home” at his club arena.
One of the great thrills of my coaching career was to have Mikko on my team in the late ‘90’s here at Trinity College School where I still work. Mikko came to Canada to boarding school to play hockey, learn English, and generally get a different global experience than he would have had growing up in Helsinki. After the game we attended, we went out to dinner with Toni Soderholm, another player I coached at TCS who had played in the game that night for IFK. We had a terrific meal, caught up on our lives and enjoyed each other’s company immensely.
Mikko told me a story I hadn’t heard before. Evidently, during his last year at the school, the drama teacher needed some dancers for the school musical and asked Mikko, since he was a good athlete, if he would like to join the chorus. Mikko thought it would be good fun, learned some dance moves and, as he says, “fell in love with being on stage”.
There are many student-athletes who have left their homes in the past few weeks to go to prep school and hockey academies across Canada and the US. The hockey academy business has been a booming one over the past few years and the draw for families to find some balance of academics and athletics has become a difficult one with respect to time and cost. I will state my bias right up front, the school I work at is a non-profit, traditional boarding school that was founded in 1865 (that’s not a typo, we have been around for over 150 years). I am a big supporter of the power of boarding for young people and the quantity and diversity of co-curricular programming that is part of a typical prep school.
I have been involved in hockey for the past 45 years as a player and coach. In 35 of those seasons, I have been part of a school hockey program – either at a prep school or university. As such, I have four pieces of advice for any family who is looking at an alternative to a local public school and playing club hockey:
1) Make sure the “school” you are choosing has breadth of programming. Mikko Leppilampi doesn’t find his true passion in life if his high school doesn’t have a drama program. For most student athletes, hockey is not going to be their career and spreading wings, doing new things and having a smorgasbord of top notch programming is key to students learning and finding what they really love.
2) Academics always come first. Families need to make sure that the schools they are looking at can provide the required academics to support post-secondary goals, and that student-athletes are immersed in an academic program with like-minded students who all buy into the “academics always comes first” mind-set.
3) Families need to be comfortable with the teachers, coaches and fellow students who are all going to have a great influence in their student-athlete’s life. This truly is a sacred trust that families are putting into these folks and they need to make sure that their gut tells them it is a good fit.
4) For parents, it is a great gift to be able to give your student-athlete that opportunity to find their own way, become more independent and, to steal an expression from the Headmaster here at TCS, be the “CEO of self”. I have watched so many students come through our doors a little shaky, not so independent and trying to find their way, only to emerge on the other side a high school graduate, with amazing experiences, a terrific peer group, and the ability to “take on the world” as a mature and confident young person off to university and beyond.
For many families, the decision process for the 2017-18 school year will begin soon. “Kick the tires” and find the best fit for your student-athlete.