Starting Ice Hockey
The speed, the ice, the action: it’s no wonder why over 1 million people around the world play organized hockey and millions more cheer them on. This fast-paced sport is known for the dedication and enthusiasm it produces in both players and fans, and most devotees start their journey on the ice as children. But, can children who get a later start expect to be successful in the competitive world of organized hockey?
Thirteen-year-olds are not too young to start hockey, although most parents choose to get their kids on the ice before their 13th birthday. Most players and coaches share the view that it’s never too late to start playing hockey, although late-comers will have to work hard to catch up.
In this article, we will take a look at expert recommendations on the optimal age to start playing hockey in order to be competitive and what separates hockey from other sports. We will also give some examples of professional players that didn’t let their late start hold them back. If you are interested in getting your child into the rink, read on.
Unlike many other sports, competitive hockey players almost always start their journey on the ice as children, most as young as 5. Hockey leagues and coaches don’t recommend starting children younger than five due to the physicality and the fact that they may be turned off by the sport if they are not physically and mentally prepared for the action.
That being said, in many places where hockey is popular—Scandinavia, Canada, and parts of the United States—ice skating is a winter pastime that many families enjoy. This means that even if a child isn’t actually playing hockey at four years old, they very well may be skating almost as soon as they can walk.
This is not to say that older children can’t enjoy the sport and compete in organized leagues, only that the majority of hockey players that make it to the highest levels of the game generally start much younger.
It is also worth noting that while children as young as five begin playing this notoriously physical game, most leagues for these age groups often eliminate the more violent elements. For example, body checking is usually restricted for children under 14, and there is a greater emphasis placed on safety and concussion education than in the past.
Hockey is a much different sport than almost every other athletic endeavour for a number of reasons.
The most significant difference between hockey and other sports like basketball or football is the level of practice and form that is required to become a skilled ice skater. Most other sports involve running as the core movement, which is an inherently natural form of movement that any person with a functional body is capable of with little effort. The truth is, humans are born to run.
Of course, it takes time and dedication to become fast enough and strong enough to compete with skilled athletes on a basketball court or a football field. Still, it is nothing compared to the practice required to learn how to skate before doing the same in a hockey game.
Ice skating is not an intuitive series of motions, and it takes years of practice to become proficient. The reality is, expert ice skating is simply a prerequisite to playing competitive hockey. Before you even begin to learn the more complicated elements of the game like stick control, shooting and passing the puck and strategy, you have to spend years becoming a skilled skater.
There is another crucial way that ice hockey differs from other sports.
Basketball and soccer can be practiced just about anywhere: a backyard, a school playground, or in the streets. The virtually limitless availability of practice spaces for these sports makes it easy for kids anywhere in the world to hone their skills and become adept athletes.
Hockey, on the other hand, requires ice to play. Ice is a resource that is hard to come by for many people, especially anyone living outside a handful of countries lying in the northern latitudes. While many kids in Canada, Scandinavia, and the north parts of the United States enjoy winters spent on frozen ponds chasing a puck around, this reality is out of reach for the majority of children around the world.
A 10-year-old in Arizona simply doesn’t have the same opportunity to play hockey as his contemporaries in Minnesota or Winnipeg.
There is no doubt that this lack of availability is an obstacle that some potential hockey players face, but that doesn’t mean an older child cannot excel at the sport given the opportunity.
If your child wants to pursue hockey as a competitive hobby, and they are entering the rink for the first time at the age of 13, they will have to work hard. The majority of the other players they are competing with will almost undoubtedly have a head start on them.
Spending as much time on the ice as possible is essential, especially if your child isn’t a strong skater or is new to the practice entirely. Making time outside of school and scheduled practices can be problematic, but the importance of becoming comfortable on the ice cannot be stressed enough. Skilled skating is the foundation of every hockey player’s skill set. Without it, further advancement in the sport is unrealistic.
The other elements of the game can be practiced off the ice, but just as much dedication is required to make up for the lost time. Stickhandling drills, cardio, and strength training, as well as studying game strategy, are all needed to improve your child’s skillset and must be practiced at home.
The NHL, the pinnacle of competitive hockey, is populated by elite athletes that have dedicated their entire lives to the sport. In this world, starting hockey at seven is often considered late, although there are a few exceptions that have made it to the NHL that didn’t spend their youngest years on the ice.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ed Jovanovski played in the NHL for the Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes, and Vancouver Canucks. He earned a name for himself as a scoring defenseman. Along with his skills on the ice, Jovanovski also stands out for the fact that he didn’t begin playing hockey until he was 11 years old.
Nolan was born in Northern Ireland and relocated to Ontario with his family when he was seven months old. Growing up playing baseball and soccer, Nolan didn’t start skating until he was nine years old. Despite his late start, Nolan went on to a career in the NHL that spanned two decades.
To a lesser degree, Jeff Skinner, this Buffalo Saber left-wing, is an example of a late starter. He didn’t dedicate himself to hockey until he was around 12 years old. However, his background as a figure skater made the transition much less dramatic than if he came to the sport as a beginner.
At the end of the day, hockey is a game that should bring joy to the people who play it, regardless of the age they discovered the sport. If your 13-year-old shows enthusiasm for the game, then there is no reason why they shouldn’t pursue it. However, the fact remains that the majority of high-level competitive players begin their careers on the ice much earlier, and 13 is considered late by many coaches.
- Statista: Countries By Registered Number of Ice Hockey Players in 2018/19.
- Minnesota Hockey Organization: Frequently Asked Questions.
- Minnesota Hockey Organization: 2020-21 Age Charts & Participation Levels.
- Reddit: Players Who Started Hockey Late and Still Made the NHL?
- Windsor/Essex Sports Hall of Fame: Ed Jovanovski.
- Wikipedia: Owen Nolan.
- Wikipedia: Jeff Skinner.