Whether your child is a hockey fan and wants to learn how to play ice hockey, or you’re just looking for a way to get your child moving and having fun, hockey is a sport that can be played and enjoyed for life. No matter what age your child is, it’s always a good time to learn to play ice hockey, and there are numerous benefits of learning and playing the team sport. We’re a little biased here at Northwell Health Ice Center, the official practice facility of the New York Islanders, but we think hockey is one of the greatest sports. It’s certainly the greatest game on ice!
It’s important to understand the value of having a child participate in youth sports. The National Alliance for Youth Sports believes participation in sports develops important character traits and lifelong values in children, which can have a positive impact on their lives. Playing sports—especially a team sport like hockey—can boost self-esteem in children and help kids develop teamwork and leadership skills. The camaraderie shared on and off the ice encourages teamwork and the natural development of leadership skills, and promotes lifelong friendships, according to USA Hockey.
“Any age is a good age to try hockey,” says Dave Starman, a long-time member of USA Hockey’s Player Development and Coaching Education staff and Northwell Health Ice Center’s P.A.L. Junior Islanders Director of Coaching and Curriculum Development. And as Badger Bob Johnson would say, “It’s a great day for hockey.”
Learn-to-skate programs at ages 5-6 are a good place to start when it comes to giving the game of hockey a try, according to Coach Starman. A learn-to-skate program will help young skaters become more confident on their ice skates before introducing a hockey stick and puck to the lessons.
Learn-to-skate and pre-hockey classes that follow the Learn to Skate USA and USA Hockey curriculums are great ways to get your child started in the sport.
Learn to Skate USA’s Snowplow Sam levels (for ages 4-5) are introductory classes divided into four progressive levels, allowing children with no prior ice-skating experience to build confidence while learning the basics of ice-skating. First-time skaters will learn basic balance, proper techniques falling and getting up on the ice, beginning forward skating, and two-foot glides.
Pre-Hockey classes (for ages 4-7) that follow the USA Hockey curriculum are intended for children who are enthusiastic about hockey. Skaters will learn balance, basic forward and backward skating, glides, stops, turns, and beginning crossovers. Required equipment includes hockey skates, hockey helmet with face cage, shin guards, hockey gloves, and a hockey stick.
“Parents putting their kids in learn-to-skate or pre-hockey classes should expect their kids to have fun, be really sweaty, and come off the ice telling you they can’t wait to do this again,” Coach Starman says. “The goal of these programs is to make sure we teach kids the basics of skating and passing. These classes are taught age appropriately and focus on introducing kids to basic movements on skates. Falling down and getting up can be fun, and it’s part of the progression. Much like you wouldn’t expect kindergarten to look like Calculus, don’t expect these sessions to look like ‘real hockey’.”
If your child shows continued interest and/or proficiency after pre-hockey classes, the next step is to continue with hockey development classes. Youth house leagues are another great way for young skaters to continue building their hockey skills and techniques.
It’s never too late to start playing hockey. Players have joined hockey programs at 12-13 years of age and still made varsity hockey teams. In addition to hockey development classes and youth house leagues, hockey clinics are another great way for youth players to continue their development.
“Keep your kids in an environment where they are getting good instruction, touching the puck a lot, and staying in motion,” Coach Starman says. But the most important thing when it comes to playing ice hockey? Keep your kids learning, having fun, and developing their techniques.