It might seem strange to be talking about hockey but believe it or not this is the time of year to put some thought into it. Most leagues have their registration in the spring and they fill very quickly.
So how do you know if your little one is ready for Learn to Play? If you ask me, all kids are ready to learn to play hockey. Being the quintessential Canadian sport, every child will encounter hockey at some point in their lives so it’s great to get some skills under their belt early. That way, if they choose to pursue another sport later on, they have at least mastered some hockey skills. Most leagues start kids as early as 3 but it’s usually at 4 years old when they are going into Junior Kindergarten. That way, they will feel more comfortable leaving Mom or Dad and they have better listening skills.
The big question I’m always asked is if kids should have some skating ability before starting hockey. The answer is no. Most leagues are expecting kids who are called walkers. They have never been on ice before or just walk (some are not even walking). Because they will be wearing full hockey equipment, whether they have been on ice or not doesn’t really matter. The coaches are ready for every level. It seems intimidating to see the full range of equipment let alone the new skates but it is amazing how quickly they catch on. In September, there is a mess of black gear moving around on the ice like a pile of snakes and by December, they are all doing drills with some level of accomplishment. Most of them are ready for a mini tournament by the end of the year.
Now, if the full hockey gear and tournaments hasn’t completely turned you off, seeing your kid crying for the full hour begging you to get him/her off the ice certainly will! We see it every year and it is one of the toughest things to endure but it’s like a lot of things – the more exposure the better. Nearly every kid will have a bad day on ice for whatever reason but as soon as they master some skills, they (and you) will think that you have the next Sydney Crosby on your hands.
So which league do you register in? There are many different leagues but the best way to pick one is to talk to your friends/neighbours and see where they play. Some schools have a high number of their kids in a certain league. It helps to have friends on the ice. You should also consider the different schedules of each league. Some skate on Saturdays only and some both Saturday and Sundays. There are also “skier’s leagues” that skate during the week. You’ll need to make a commitment from September to March so you’ll want it to work into your weekend plans. Check out the schedules from 2007/2008 and see what it looked like last year. Next year should be very similar.
As for equipment, we really only recommend that you purchase one of the start up kits from stores like Canadian Tire for the first year. The bag comes with everything you need from knee to shoulder pads. All you need to pick up extra is a neck guard, stick and skates. These kits are less than $100 and should take a child through to about 7 years old depending on how they grow. Then you can decide how serious you are and start buying different items separately. Try and keep the initial outlay of cash down until you know that you are committed.
Down the road you will have to then consider House League, Select or GTHL. Parents of girls will need to decide if they want to play co-ed or girls only. Most kids will stay in a Learn to Play program for about 2 to 3 years and then move to House League. Once they have mastered the ability to skate, they can start learning the skills to play in a game. Some kids will want to be a dedicated goalie and some will want the flexibility of playing both goal and out. You’ll learn all this as you go along.
Playing hockey is great for kids of all ages and really helps boost their confidence and self esteem. It is a great community of families and whether you leave after LTP or play right through the GTHL, it’s a skill that kids will use their whole lives.
So check with your school, your local community paper or just start asking parents on your street that leave the house every weekend morning with a big CCM bag slung over their shoulder where they play. It’s a great season and provides a fun activity throughout the winter.
See you at the rink!
Marianne is a Toronto based mom of 10 year old Matthew and 7 year old Emily. She is also the Convener of her local hockey league.