Junior Hockey and College
Playing a sport like ice hockey while in school can be a rewarding yet difficult challenge. With all the practices, games, and travel involved, it can really take a toll on a student’s mental and physical health. With that said, can—and should—a student still participate in junior hockey and go to college?
It is possible to play junior hockey and go to college as long as students have the right extracurricular-education balance in their lives. It is also vital that they stay organized with their studies and practice schedules, so their performance in either activity will not drop in quality.
While participating in ice hockey while in college can be rough, plenty of students can balance playing and schoolwork as long as they keep the right mindset. In the remainder of this article, we’ll explore the different hockey leagues available to college students and how you can successfully participate in hockey while going to school.
Ice hockey is an everyday extracurricular activity in most northern-based universities and community colleges. Students are often encouraged to participate in it and other sports because they not only keep you active, but they also:
- Allow you to meet new people and build relationships
- Keep you physically fit
- Discover new interests or talents
- Serve as a stress reducer
- Help develop skillsets that can be applied to the workforce
(Source: Huff Post)
With these critical benefits in mind, it’s easy to assume that yes, students certainly should play hockey while in college. However, juggling athletics and schoolwork is not necessarily for everyone. It can result in quite the amount of stress if not balanced correctly.
So, while all students are welcome to try out to join a hockey team or league while in school, the question becomes not if they can but rather if they should.
Whether you should play hockey in college will depend on a few factors:
- Your short and long-term goals
- Your personality
- The league you intend to join
- Your class workload
Consider the reasons why you want to participate in junior hockey in the first place. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you dream of pursuing a career in hockey?
- Are you trying to develop an interest in hockey or sports in general?
- Are you looking for a new hobby?
- Do you want to stay active while in school?
These are excellent places to start in determining whether you want to get involved with the sport. If you simply want to play hockey because you want to socialize, hockey may not be the right activity to achieve that. Additionally, if you plan to work while in school, it may be best to limit other activities to avoid giving yourself too full of a plate.
Next, think about whether you can handle balancing hockey with schoolwork. Are you generally organized? Do you have a history of maintaining a high GPA while participating in extracurricular activities?
If you answered yes to both questions, you would most likely find success in playing hockey while in college.
Another factor to consider is the ice hockey league you intend to join (if that’s one of your goals). The league you choose will determine how often you have scheduled practices and games, with some requiring more than others: The more competitive the league, the more practices and games you should expect throughout the school year.
Three different hockey leagues may be played at the collegiate level:
- Junior Hockey
Junior Hockey contains hockey leagues for players ages 16 to 21, with a few having more restrictions for how many players are allowed on each team at specific age groups. There are a number of these leagues spread across North America, with Canada and the United States border sharing a good portion of them.
Junior Hockey is considered the lowest level of hockey you can play while in college. For the most part, these leagues are ways for players to find better competition to figure out how to continue their hockey careers past high school, but not quite well into college or professional hockey.
The reason students often join these leagues is to possibly gain a scholarship from a college or university in the US or Canada to further the player’s career in hockey. Also, if they are good enough, some players can get professional contracts after playing in the Junior Hockey leagues.
The league is also recommended for students who still want to continue playing hockey without the added pressure to perform. The schedule for Junior Hockey is generally very lax and can be busy or not depending on the person’s preference.
The NCAA is the collegiate sports world’s governing body and is the largest for amateur athletes in the United States.
In the NCAA, ice hockey is both a male and female-sponsored sport. Like the various junior hockey leagues, the NCAA recognizes three levels of teams: Division I, Division II, and Division III.
- Division I ice hockey has 61 men’s and 41 women’s teams currently, with a few other teams transitioning from lower levels to the D1 level. Division I allows teams to grant athletic scholarships to individual players, with a maximum of 18 given out. With the maximum number of players on each squad limited to 28, there is a good chance that some players will receive a scholarship to help cover the costs of tuition.
- For the Division II level, there is quite a drop off in the number of teams. Only seven schools have a men’s ice hockey program at the D2 level, with zero women’s ice hockey teams. For teams at this level, there are 13.5 scholarships available to be distributed to the players. However, the number of players per team increases to 31 at the maximum, so partial scholarships are more prevalent at this level.
- For Division III, there are 84 men’s ice hockey programs and 55 women’s programs. The main difference between this division and the other two is that schools cannot award athletic scholarships to players wanting to participate. For this reason, a lot of the players who play at this level do not generally go any further in their athletic careers. However, schools can award merit-based aid packages to the players who deserve them.
Considered the highest level of hockey just before going to the professional leagues, the NCAA requires a lot of hard work and dedication to succeed. You can expect this to be like a full-time job with the workload of practices, games, and travel time. If you plan on being a full-time student, it’s advised that you try to work with your advisor to develop a course schedule that works around significant games.
Outside of the NCAA, there is another hockey league at the collegiate level called the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). This league is generally considered an alternative to the NCAA.
Because the NCAA has so many rules and regulations before and during an athlete’s time in college, some choose to go the ACHA route to truly get a sense of playing hockey and develop a passion for the sport.
Like the NCAA, there are three different divisions on the men’s side with two divisions on the women’s side:
- The men’s side has 70 teams at the Division I level, about 200 at the Division II level, and about 140 teams at the Division III level.
- On the women’s side, there are approximately 25 teams at the Division I level and about 50 teams at the Division II level.
Many of the ACHA teams are members of the NCAA in most other sports but cannot have a functioning hockey team due to NCAA rules and regulations. The schools’ hockey teams are sometimes considered “non-varsity,” meaning they are a club-level team, but they can still produce quality players.
While there are no scholarships given out to players at the ACHA level, the coaches and teams still produce good players who might have gone overlooked by other schools at the NCAA Division II and III levels; these athletes may have a chance to make it to a professional hockey league somewhere in the world.
Like the NCAA, the time expected to be put into this level of playing will be around what some might consider a part-time job (20-25 hours per week); this makes the ACHA an excellent middle-ground option as far as time-commitment goes for students who enjoy participating in the sport but can’t dedicate the time to make it a full-time career.
Finally, consider your school workload. If you are only going to school part-time—meaning you’re only signing up for six to eleven credit hours each semester (two to three classes)—you’ll more likely have the extra time to dedicate to playing hockey.
On the other hand, if you are a full-time student—or signed up for at least twelve credit hours (at least four classes)—you may not have the time to also participate in hockey.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t play hockey if you’re a full-time student; some people can manage to pull it off with the right planning.
To succeed, athletes must maintain an excellent work-life balance—or in this case, a student-athlete balance. They are expected to perform with the best of their peers in the classroom while also performing with the best on the playing field. For some students, this can come naturally, while others may struggle to find the perfect balance.
There are several reasons why playing hockey while going to school can pose a challenge, even for the most academic and talented players:
- Professors Don’t Offer Special Treatment: While most college professors will work with student-athletes in terms of scheduling makeup days for tests because of conflicting game days or excusing absences for them, they still expect you to produce quality work at the same rate as other students in your class. The pressure to succeed academically and in hockey can put a lot of stress on students and make it challenging to balance both.
- Social Adjustments: For some athletes, their time at college may be the first time they are away from their friends and families; this can be a difficult transition period for not just the athletes but any college student. On top of that, student-athletes who live on campus may not be able to travel back home for the summer due to practices or attending summer courses to get ahead or catch up.
However, perhaps the most challenging part of balancing hockey with schoolwork for students is managing time.
Hockey players usually have games on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays during the season. Most of the time, the league will schedule games so that if a team does have to travel, they can play multiple matches at one site during a single weekend.
With that said, during the season, virtually every weekend is dedicated to hockey practice or games, and the season lasts from October through the beginning of April.
As a result, student-athletes may struggle to find the extra time to catch up on homework or study for tests throughout the year. While other students can take a Sunday to pick back up on their courses, athletes spend that time practicing, travelling to and from events, or playing in games.
On top of that, athletes must recover after a big game weekend during the weekdays, and that’s not to mention any additional practices or training they have on top of that. In total, especially for players in the NCAA, the amount of time they dedicate to hockey can be nearly 40 to 50 hours a week—a full-time job!
Note: The NCAA has rules that dictate how many hours each day and week student-athletes can practice. While most colleges follow this due to the NCAA’s strict nature, some rules can be worked around, meaning some students may be obligated to participate in weightlifting or other strength-building activities, which do not count as practice time.
If you assessed the above factors and find that junior hockey is the way to go, your next step is to plan how you can balance hockey with school.
Maintaining a balance between student and athlete life can be a difficult task to try and accomplish. For some students, a simple calendar is all they need, while others need much more to keep them accountable in the classroom and on the field.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to ensure you continue to play and study at your best throughout the school year.
Having a calendar or agenda is vital for a student-athlete to maintain their schedule. This way, you can keep up with important dates, both for hockey and school.
Ideally, you want to have a physical calendar (like on a whiteboard, hanging on a wall, or placed on your desk) and a digital one, like on your phone or laptop. For college student-athletes always on the go, it is highly recommended that you at least keep a digital calendar. It can be customized in every way you can think of doing with a physical version, but you have the advantage of setting alerts and timers as well, so you never miss a thing.
When adding to your calendar, make sure you plan out all major events in advance. For ice hockey players in college, that means all your games, travel days, and practice days are written down to ensure that you do not make other plans during those times. Along with those dates, list any major school assignments or tests in the calendar to ensure that those dates are not missed, either.
- For students who need all the details they can get, going hour-by-hour in a physical calendar may help them feel more organized. Color-coding certain events or assignments to ensure no mistakes are made is a great way to make the calendar fit your schedule; this can also be accomplished on a digital calendar.
- For others who may not need to know their schedule hour-by-hour each day, merely writing down different schedules can help them maintain a level-headedness that can achieve success.
Planning your schedule weeks ahead of time can be a huge help when participating in extracurricular activities while in college. It keeps you organized and ensures you stay on track.
When you are doing homework or studying, make sure you are doing so in a quiet and productive place.
The library on most college campuses have quiet floors where talking is limited. Also, study groups are great ways for athletes to catch up on work or lectures they might have missed due to travel or games. Having students who are not athletes help you catch up on what you may have missed can help in the long run to ensure you don’t fail classes.
If you’re involved in junior hockey, let your advisor know. They can offer advice on scheduling your classes and provide suggestions for courses to take that best work around the season’s schedule.
Professors understand that their students have lives and extracurriculars outside of class, so if you know that you’ll be out due to games, let them know ahead of time. In some cases, professors may email you notes from class, so you don’t end up missing a lot while you’re away. In addition, if you have a major test coming up on the same day as a game, a professor can work with you to schedule makeup days.
When players can’t attend classes because of games, they miss what a professor teaches during lectures and can’t ask questions or take notes to understand the material.
If possible, have a friend or another student who is not an athlete take notes for you in the classes you miss so you can catch up on any missed lessons later and complete homework without issues.
If you thrive on the field but find that you struggle academically, ask for support from your coach. Often, coaches will check on players and their classes to ensure they can still fulfill their academic responsibilities. Just like your professor, your coach will understand you have other commitments to your education as well, so they can help you find ways to keep up with your assignments and maintain a good GPA.
For any athlete, taking care of your body is essential to maintain your best abilities. But for college athletes, taking care of your mind is just as important.
Maintaining a proper sleep schedule is essential for everyone to do, but especially for college athletes. Sleep allows the brain to reset and recharge for the next day’s events. While it can be a difficult task with a full schedule, even getting in quick 15-30 minute catnaps can help students maintain focus and understanding in the classroom.
Also, a healthy and balanced diet is vital to your overall health. Mix in vegetables and fruits to ensure your digestion and internal health are covered when you are going about your day.
Checking in with counselors is also a great way to ensure that you have someone else who will listen to your wants and needs and advise on dealing with critical situations. Having this resource in stressful situations is essential to maintain your mental health.
Outside of hockey and academics, student-athletes need to have some semblance of a social life. Interacting with people outside of the classroom and the team can help maintain a level of peace for some and help create a greater balance in their lives.
To have a thriving social life, student-athletes must first take care of their academic and athletic obligations. Once those are completed, only then can they participate in social activities.
Some social activities can be as simple as getting a meal with a friend or classmate to catch up on events. Going out to a party or bar to blow off some steam and be around other students is another way to maintain a social life. Having the brain not focus on specific tasks you’re used to thinking about nearly 24/7 can ease any stress or pressure.
To ensure that a social life is to be had, you can schedule a certain amount of time out of your week to get some social interaction in; this can be as simple as creating an hour block to get a meal with a friend or setting aside time one evening during the week to read a book not associated with classes.
Naturally, maintaining a balance between hockey and college gets more manageable when you’re off-season. There is usually less travel time, meaning you can finally catch up or get ahead in schoolwork.
However, players still have to do a few tasks between seasons around schoolwork. In other words, being an athlete doesn’t stop when the hockey season ends; students still have to attend practices, meetings, and other commitments to maintain not only their form but also remain eligible for scholarships.
With that said, the following are a few tips to keep in mind to help you balance your athlete-student life during the off-season:
- The off-season is the ideal time to load up your course schedule, so you have the flexibility to enroll in fewer classes during the hockey season. This way, you can maintain a steady schedule and still graduate in a reasonable amount of time.
- Take advantage of summer classes if you can. Some colleges will offer athletes the chance to take courses during the summertime to either catch up or potentially get ahead; this will also significantly reduce your workload during the hockey season.
- During the summertime and other breaks while not in season, use the time to breathe and relax a little. Take half a day to read a fiction book or sit by the pool; this will allow your brain to reset itself and be energized and focused.
Whether junior hockey is worth pursuing while in college ultimately depends on your goals, personality, the league you want to join, and your school workload. If you find that participating in hockey is what you want to do, you can undoubtedly manage being a student-athlete as long as you’re prepared.
Keeping that perfect balance between being a college student and being a college athlete is difficult for anyone. For ice hockey players, seasons last from October through April, so maintaining their student obligations during that period can be stressful.
However, there are plenty of ways to stay on top of things, from staying organized to making sure you keep up with healthy habits. Having a support system, be it friends or family, can also help you through stressful times and get you to the end of the school year in one piece.