Ice Hockey is great exercise and when played with the proper instruction and equipment, safe for youngsters of all ages. Like all team sports, it has important lessons to teach: the importance of teamwork and being someone your team can count on to show up and make a good effort.
One of the best things about youth hockey is that most organizations offer teams for the kids who just want to have fun as well as teams for the more serious and talented players. The rise in popularity of youth ice hockey in recent years almost guarantees you can find a team for your child. USA Hockey, the leading amateur ice hockey association, reports that membership has more than tripled since 1990–91 from 205k to 622k members. In addition, what was once a cold-weather sport is now all over the US warm weather cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Miami. As other sports, like basketball and baseball, have gained popularity in Canada, the interest in ice hockey diminished. To counter that, in 2012 Bauer Hockey and Hockey Canada joined forces to create, “Grow the Game,” an initiative to gain one million new international players by 2022. They are very eager for new players to join them, so opportunities are wide open.
If your child wants to play hockey, there are a few things to determine first. One, can he or she ice skate well enough to join a team right now, and two, is he or she someone who will stay with it because even beginning hockey equipment can be pricey? If the answer to number one is no, that’s okay. Skating instruction is easy to find and they can probably get up to speed in time for the next season. If the answer to number two is no, maybe they should join a basketball or soccer team first to see how well they handle the responsibility of being on a team.
If your child is good to go, you must now determine if you are. Depending on where you live, hockey practices can be at odd hours, especially for older kids. Sometimes very early, sometimes very late. Games can be geographically undesirable, too, and require a fairly lengthy drive. Then there are the tournaments. Those might even be in another city. Are you prepared to invest the time it will take to help your child be the best team member he or she can be?
This article will give you a solid introduction to what you need to get your child started in ice hockey.
Important note: We do not use he/she to be politically correct. Girls’ hockey has become very popular, as evidenced by the success of the Canadian and USA Women’s Olympic teams. Therefore, in order to not be annoying with the he/she thing, we will use the singular “they” when referring to the children for therest of the article.More scholarships for both men and women have become available and while even now more boys play high school hockey, the girls are rapidly gaining ground. In high school the ratio of male to female is 3.5- 1, in college it is only 2-1, and that keeps going down. Nearly 170 colleges sponsored varsity ice hockey teams, and except for the Ivy League teams, which do not offer any athletic scholarship, all offer scholarships to both men and women. The total amount available for women’s ice hockey is higher than that for men’s simply because men have so many more sports in which scholarships are awarded.
There are several national associations that can help you; in the USA you can contact USA Hockey. In Canada, you can get in touch with the Canadian Tire “First Shift” program designed especially for families who are new to hockey. Check with your local community center or school to see what they have to offer. Stop and watch a local hockey game and ask the coaches for guidance. Community programs tend to be welcoming and accepting of new players. They usually have teams for kids as young as five or six.
These are what are called “house teams”, which means anybody can play. As the kids mature some will move to more sophisticated teams that enter tournaments and travel, but there will always be a place for the child who just wants to have fun. Make sure the team you choose has qualified coaches, and that means don’t be afraid to ask them about their credentials.
A lot of the very beginning teams are coached by dads, but those dads are usually experienced hockey players, too. Ask other parents how they feel about the teaching and coaching staff. If the team is part of a larger association, it is a safe bet that they are well qualified. Make sure the coach is educated to the players’ health, safety, and proper development.
Coaches should always set realistic goals and expectations for the age of the players, and they should stay cool and be patient. It is also important that they are good role models of fairness and good sportsmanship, and finally, they should demand respectful sideline behavior from the players and their parents.
Finding a team and proper instruction often go hand in hand. Some associations offer complete instruction for every age, starting with five and six-year-olds. Local communities have basic learn to skate programs which are great for beginners, but once they learn the basics it is important to begin learning hockey skills. It is also necessary to learn the rules of the road or ice.
A great YouTube video offers solid direction for learning the rules. While it is not necessary to have full equipment to learn things like stick and puck handling, your child should have good beginner skates. As they age and move into more advanced play they will change skates many times, but it is important, to begin with, a good pair. A good pair does not necessarily have to be expensive. Again, ask other parents and the coaches for suggestions.
There is a lot to know about hockey skates, and it is all important. For example, hockey laces; You can get waxed and unwaxed laces. They cost and look the same, but there are definite differences. Unwaxed laces are very durable. They are a good choice for kids’ skates because they are easier to lace up and softer on the hands. Waxed laces have advantages, too, especially for the older player. They allow the player to control which parts of the skate boot will be tight and which will be loose, and the laces stay tight throughout the game. The blade of a hockey skate is very different from the blade on a figure skate. That’s why it is so important, even with the very young beginners to start with a hockey skate. Another difference is that figure skates are usually mounted onto the boot separately, but hockey blades are riveted directly on the base of the boot. mounted onto a figure skate boot, but hockey skate blades are generally riveted directly onto the hockey boot’s base.The hockey boot and figure skating boot are also very different. In hockey, it’s important that the boot allows more flexibility so it tends to be more comfortable. Figure skates have to hold and support the ankle tightly to accommodate spins and jumps.As hockey players grow and age, their skates have to change along with them. Skates have to keep up with age and size, or it can cause damage to the feet as well as the hockey game. They don’t have to be the most expensive skates, but they have to be good.
This is where it can get expensive. Ice hockey requires a lot of protective equipment. It includes helmets, neck guards, shoulder pads, gloves, pants…and the list goes on. You can find reasonable prices, and as with skates, there are cooperatives and used items available. Once again, ask other parents and coaches for good resources. Shop wisely and you might be pleasantly surprised.YouTube offers a video that shows all the equipment and how to put it on. As with skates, you don’t always have to buy the most expensive equipment. In youth hockey, you can often find co-ops that resell gently used equipment that is in excellent shape but has been outgrown. That is true of skates, too, but be very careful buying used skates and pay careful attention to the condition of the boot. Many hockey stars also carry recycled equipment. Again it is usually good and safe to use but inspect it thoroughly.
For the parent, there are the obvious costs of skates and equipment and the joining fees. Estimates for protective equipment range from an average of $700 for younger players to $1250 for teen players. There are also not so obvious costs, for example, travel expenses. For older kids, it might include hiring a team trainer or purchasing liability insurance.
All these costs are passed on to the parents. Before you make the final decision to have your child join a team, consider whether or not you will be able to maintain their membership and have followed the ice hockey guide. If your child is very talented and scouts have told you they have a chance to get a scholarship or play professionally, it might be worth any financial sacrifice you have to make. Otherwise just go with good used equipment and keep it simple.
In addition to advising you to save your money in case your kid gets good, there are other words of wisdom to pass along. Never forget that this is a game; It is supposed to be fun.
Encourage your child, but don’t put on a lot of pressure. Be prepared to go along graciously if they decide they want to give up the game. Quite often the thrill wears off for a while, but later the player wants to rejoin.
Be gracious about that, too. Remember, this is for your child, not for you. Go to the games and try and make great memories to last a lifetime for both of you.
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