Choosing A Youth Hockey Program

There are three main choices when considering how to get your child involved in the game of hockey. Most youth hockey organizations offer a tier format for every age group. From highest to lowest, the available formats are elite-select major/minor clubs, town teams and learn to play hockey or LTP programs. It is important to gather as much information about youth hockey as possible, when considering what level your child should play at.  Hockey is a fast-paced action sport that requires a great amount of skill, stamina and awareness of the rules to play.  The available programs for youth hockey are based on skill level and age.  All players have to try out in March, however they do not play on that team until September.  Most folks aren’t aware of the length of time between tryouts and the start of the regular season.  For this reason, it is important to know they must tryout around six months before the season starts. The overall decision whether they make a team is made by coaches and/or evaluators. Nevertheless, parents have the ultimate say in where they play. Therefore, choosing a program based on your child’s skill and personality is the best way to approach the decision making process.

Every skating rink has at least one learn-to-skate program. Children don’t just put skates on and turn into Sidney Crosby. These programs eventually turn into an LTP program.  Kids receive the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of skating and stick handling.  The best thing any child can do at a young age is wear full hockey gear, because it drastically reduces their fear of falling down.  Without pads, taking a spill on the ice can be very painful and instill a permanent sense of fear in your child.  In LTP the kids spend the first couple of weeks skating through drills and assessments.  After this trial period, they are grouped on even teams, based on skill and given a team color jersey.  The short season is highlighted by great plays and many in-game lessons from the coaches. LTP is relatively inexpensive and a brief introduction to the game of hockey.

Parents need to consider getting their kids onto a team eventually.  For this reason, it is important to get the fundamental skills needed to be successful in LTP.  Some people, who are ex-players, and have been around hockey their whole lives put their kids right onto an elite or town team.  When they do this, their child usually struggles for the first year or two.  I have seen some of them quit, but the parents keep working with them on their own time.  As a result, the child improves into a solid player over a long period of time.  This is a very unique decision making process and it is important to explore all of your options.  Going straight to an elite team is very rare, but it is a feet that has proven successful under the right circumstances.

Elite teams are created for kids that show above average talent and are able to mentally handle playing with other children of exceptional hockey makeup.  There are two things to consider if you feel that your child is ready to play at this level.  The first is their skating skill and experience.  Kids that can skate backwards easily, hockey-stop on a dime and are faster than most of the other kids they skate with, are usually a good fit for an elite team.  Second, is the experience they have had playing on other teams. If they have never played on a town team, it may be smart to have them play on one for their first year in hockey.  If your child is the one on the team that can skate circles around the others, then it is a good sign that they belong on the elite team. Consequently, the chances they will be selected by the elites for the next season is very high. Town teams are not just for lousy players.  More specifically, there are a few perks to having your child play for the town.

Town teams have traits that will benefit children of any skill set.  The first benefit your child receives goes right into your wallet.  The elite teams cost up to $1,000 more a year, require you to be at more practices, and potentially have a number of tournaments to play for an additional cost. The town teams get to play in just as many games, but they are not required to travel as much. Saving this money allows you to save a few dollars to pay for private lessons, or apply to your family vacation.  Private lessons allow your child to get one on one attention and improve their individual game.  If you have a child that excels in one aspect of the game, but severely lacks in another, this individual attention could pay drastic dividends.  In addition to these benefits, a child with exceptional skill, but weak in mental constitution, is better off sticking with the town team.  Kids need to have a strong sense of teamwork, and play unselfishly on an elite team.  Exceptional individual skills are important, however they will fail at the elite level, because most players at this level possess them.  With all of these options to weigh, awareness of your child’s skill and personality will ultimately guide you in the right direction.

You need to ask yourself one specific question about choosing best hockey club for your child.  Does your child have an overwhelming fear of failure?  Any level of hockey could potentially result a number of failures that could eventually yield success.  Kids with an acute fear of failure need to stay at the LTP level until they are comfortable moving to a town team. Town teams are a great place to gain hockey experience and allow kids to fail, because it is expected.  The level of expectation rises as they tier up to elites.  Children will only succeed at an elite level if they have a strong balance of skill and mentality.  We all want what is best for our kids, which is why you must educate yourself about these organizations, and make the most informed choice for your child.

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