Q&A – How Young is Too Young for Serious Travel Hockey?
Theresa asks: For too many parents travel hockey seems not to be a game to teach life values, but a way to pay for college. What is your opinion on the trend towards parents putting too much emphasis on hockey at an early age and spending so much time and money on playing year round? It seems to me that often it is more about the parent’s hopes of creating a superstar. At what age should any parent start to really consider whether their child may have the talent to play at a serious level, and can a parent really make their child into a great player? My thought is that just because a kid is really great as a Squirt or Pee Wee that is not a predictor of future success. What is your take on this?
Answer: Many parents put too much emphasis on travel hockey at an early age and spend a lot of time and money to have their kids play hockey year round. I believe players between 5 and 12 years of age need a break from hockey just to rejuvenate. They should be playing soccer, Little League baseball, taking up golf, swimming or other activities during the summer months. Attending a summer hockey camp for one week is fine, but playing hockey nearly 12 months of the year is too much.
Many players between 5 and 12 years of age are very good players and some might even score 5 goals a game, but this is not a true predictor of future success. Some will become great Junior players but the majority will not. Parents must realize there is very little forechecking, backchecking or aggressive bodychecking in these younger age groups. Players are competing against players in their own age group, not older or more experienced players. The best skaters and puckhandlers usually dominate until the end of Pee Wee.
The real competition begins in Bantam and Midget hockey, when players are bigger, faster, stronger, meaner and smarter. If child can still dominate in the 13 to 15 year old age groups, parents might start considering their child may have the talent to play serious hockey at the Junior hockey level.
If a player has the size, speed, skill, courage, determination and smarts to play Junior hockey and can hold his own and even excel against bigger 18, 19, 20 and 21 year old players, he has taken a giant step toward playing Junior “A”, or even Major Junior “A” hockey. If the child plays very well in Junior “A” many will be offered a college scholarship.
Regarding whether a parent can really make their child into a great player, my answer might surprise you. Yes, I do believe parents can make their child a great player. They can help guide their children between 5 and 12 years of age. They spend more time with their children than coaches and can explain/teach the basic rules, skills, systems and strategies of hockey. However, the child must be self motivated and want to become the very best hockey player he is able.
Players must understand hockey before they can excel. They can learn from their parents at a young age how and why to forecheck and backcheck, where to be positioned for a clearing/breakout play, how to score and prevent goals and the strategy of the power play and penalty killing. They will be ahead of the competition and potentially on their way to becoming a very good to outstanding hockey player with this knowledge.
As players turn 13 they start to turn a deaf ear to their parents teaching. They need a new hockey voice to take them to the next level. An experienced coach and playing in a competitive “AA” or “AAA” travel league will be required for the future development of their hockey skills. The cream will rise to the top and several will become good junior player. The great ones will have college recruiters knocking on their door.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to John Shorey for this answer.
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