Travel hockey is an option for those looking for more competition than they get from a local recreational league team. Teams hold tryouts for players so they can assess their skill level. However, there’s much more to consider with travel hockey than a players’ skill level.
Travel hockey is worth it, for those up to the physical demands, those who can commit to the rigorous schedule. Travel hockey also requires a lifestyle change for the entire family, and it’s a big financial commitment. Travel hockey demands discipline and dedication at an early age. For anyone that’s not serious about any of these things, travel hockey is not worth it.
If you’re weighing the options of travel hockey for your child, keep reading. We have the pros and cons of travel hockey to help you make the best decision.
Not every kid is cut-out for high-level competition, but those who are will get expert coaching and rise to the challenge. Success at the elite level depends on more than innate talent. Making a travel hockey decision can be difficult. Be sure you know what you’re getting into before signing up.
While the game of hockey remains the same, travel and house hockey are two different worlds. One is a recreational activity, and the other is a competitive sport.
A house league is where every player starts playing and learning the basics of the game. The atmosphere is fun, and everybody gets to play. Usually, a house team consists of kids from the neighbourhood or school.
They play all games at a local ice rink with friends and family members cheering from the bleachers.
House leagues are not only for beginners and kids. Teams of adults compete against each other in the house, club, or recreational leagues too. The level of competition can be fierce, but in a more relaxed atmosphere. To join a house league, you only need to sign-up and have the necessary equipment.
A house hockey team may practice once a week and play 15 or 20 games per season, depending on the age group.
In the United States, travel hockey is more commonly known as Tier 2, A, or AA. It ranges from the Mite level (7-8 years old) to the Midget/High School level (15-18 years old). This level of hockey is the proving ground for prospective college and pro athletes. Travel team coaches are always on the lookout for talented youngsters to develop into the next Wayne Gretzky.
A coach will invite players for a tryout and then decide whether they have the skill to compete at the next level. Tryouts are where young players get their first taste of real competition, but it doesn’t end there. Playing time on a travel team is based on a coach’s decision. Just because you make the team doesn’t guarantee you get to play in games.
An elite team will practice two or three times per week and with ice time at a premium, often early in the morning or late at night. More than likely, your child will miss some school for games or a lack of rest from practice. Some travel teams play upwards of 40 games in a season.
As the name implies, a travel team will play games regionally, nationally, and possibly internationally, requiring long car/bus rides or flights and hotel stays. The time and financial commitments are real.
The pros of travel hockey are many, and when first presented with the opportunity, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of your kid’s selection. Consider speaking to parents with kids a level or two above yours and get their feedback on the experience.
The game is easy when you’re the best stick handler and fastest skater on the ice, but what happens when everybody is as good, if not better than you?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “iron sharpens iron.” It means a player improves when they play against better competition. Playing and practicing alongside the best accelerates the developmental curve.
Not only do their skills improve, but kids notice and will try to emulate the habits and discipline of their elite peers. They begin to understand that they cannot survive on talent alone.
Most house hockey teams have parents with kids on the team as the coaches. These coaches probably played hockey growing up and in high school. They know enough about the game to teach the rules and fundamentals but mostly lack real coaching experience.
Travel hockey coaches, like their players, are next level. They have most likely played the game at one of the highest levels and teach from a wealth of knowledge and experience. Coaching on the elite level goes beyond fundamentals, emphasizing fitness, discipline, and accountability.
Besides regular coaching, alumni from the travel team often return from the college or professional ranks to serve as mentors and assistant coaches.
Aside from becoming better hockey players, travel team members gain exposure to different communities and cultures. They make friends with kids from other races and ethnicities while learning to appreciate how other people live.
On the road for games is an opportunity for the family to spend time together. Long car rides allow time to ask questions and talk with your kids, not just about hockey. Time alone with kids is a rarity today. Use it wisely.
Travel is also great for creating team unity. Kids share meals with their teammates, swim at hotel pools together, and feel safe in groups when entering a strange environment. A team works best when the members are friends on and off the ice.
The demanding schedule of travel hockey leaves little time for boredom. The constant activity of early morning practices, travelling for games, and keeping up with school doesn’t provide much downtime during the season. To be successful, a child will need to stay focused.
Elite-level sports develop a fitness mindset in kids. Young athletes are encouraged to eat right and stay in shape, even in the offseason. Hockey fitness requires year-round dedication and discipline - two valuable traits for success in hockey and life.
Many coaches set up conditioning programs and diet plans for their athletes expecting that players will remain accountable to the team.
When pushing kids to find a primary sport early, their overall physical development may suffer. Every sport has particular movements that strengthen muscles through repetition. A child who competes in multiple sports builds a strong core of physical abilities and is less prone to injury.
We see examples like Tiger Woods in golf or the Williams sisters in tennis. They intensely focused on a single sport and went on to become superstars. Most professional athletes played multiple sports growing up and attribute their success to being well-rounded.
Travel hockey is not without its sacrifices. When speaking to other parents about the experience, be sure to ask about time and money commitments. Most importantly, inquire about the happiness of their kids and if they genuinely enjoy travel hockey.
The financial fact of the sport of hockey is that it is expensive. The necessary gear alone can cost hundreds of dollars every year as your player grows. If your kid is playing next-level hockey, your expenses will be next-level too.
Hockey has essential equipment, including skates, a helmet, gloves, shin pads, shoulder pads, elbow pads, and a hockey stick. You’d think the cost of these items would remain the same for house or travel hockey. The truth is that your elite athlete will need an upgrade to elite gear.
Travel hockey requires a financial commitment far exceeding the costs for house hockey. Some of the additional fees can add up to an extra $6,000 to $10,000 per year.
Some of the expenses you should expect are:
- Team and league registration fees
- Clinics and lessons
- Ice time
- Coordinating warmups, gloves, helmets, and hockey bags
- Extra sticks
- Travel expenses
Travel expenses will vary greatly depending on the number of trips, flying versus driving, and the hotel type.
One of the more frustrating realities of the transition from house to travel hockey is a lack of playing time. It’s entirely possible, especially when you’re new to a team that a kid will practice hard and get very little time on the ice during games.
Playing time in travel hockey is earned and not guaranteed. If your athlete always plays every available shift and special teams for a house team, the elite level may be a hard reality. Some kids and parents feel they deserve ice time, but the coach decides who plays, and fairness is not part of the equation.
The amount of effort and dedication necessary to succeed in travel hockey leads to burnout in many young players. It takes a special kid that can show this type of determination at a young age and not get worn down by the grind of it.
Another reason for the burnout is the concentration on one sport. Focusing on hockey takes time away from participating in other extracurricular activities with non-teammates.
High-level competition at an early age can also be detrimental to a child’s social skills. Competition breeds pressure, and as the pressure builds on a young athlete, anxiety also increases. Hockey can go from a sport your kid loves to play to a stress-inducing daily grind.
We’re all familiar with the parent who sits behind the bench, shouting instructions and berating the coaches and officials. This parent is extreme, but every parent competes alongside their young athlete. A fine line exists between supporting your child and pressuring them.
It’s understandable for a parent to want their child to succeed, and they have invested a lot of time and money in the cause. Kids can sense your desire and are aware of the sacrifice of the entire family. That’s a lot of pressure on a child.
For every Sidney Crosby, there are thousands of kids who had the potential to be good but couldn’t handle the pressure of elite competition.
The possibility of injury exists at every level of sport, and the more you play, the higher the risk. Travel hockey teams play twice as many games and practice up to three times more often, so the risk of injury multiplies versus house hockey.
Elite level hockey involves bigger, faster, and stronger players, adding to the probability of getting hurt. Fitness and proper equipment are vital to reducing the risk of injury in hockey.
This commitment is more than the players finding time for friends and school. Parents should also expect to be busy volunteering, carpooling, and fundraising. Travel hockey is a team sport for families too.
As mentioned earlier, travel hockey does affect your child’s schoolwork. Early morning or late night practices could jeopardize sleep and cause attention difficulties in class. Having a schedule is essential, but maintaining a routine might get troublesome.
You can also expect to miss days of school to travel for weekend tournaments. Completing homework assignments from the backseat of the car will become a common practice.
In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell argues the advantage of kids in competition at an early age. He cites an example of the Canadian Hockey League, where most of the players selected had birthdays in the first four months of the year.
In summarizing the example, the cut-off age for hockey participation in Canada is usually January 1st. At a young age, the developmental differences of children change drastically over a short period. At 7 or 8 years old, a child with a January birthday has a physical and mental advantage over one born in the fall playing at the same level.
The advantaged child now has a more significant opportunity to be selected for a higher level team by a coach. This selection leads to better coaching and competition throughout the developmental years. As a kid grows, the physical and mental disadvantages may diminish, but it isn’t easy to overcome the coaching and competitive advantages.
Using the Outliers example, it’s not hard to conclude that travel hockey is a significant advantage if you dream of your kid playing in the Olympics or National Hockey League someday. But, is it worth it if that’s not in the cards for your son’s or daughter’s future? That is certainly a decision that you and your family need to make.
It’s every kid’s dream to play professionally at the sport they love. While some parents imagine seeing their child skate across the ice as a pro, most would be ecstatic if hockey would pay for their kid to go to college.
According to the book, Selling the Dream; How Hockey Parents and Their Kids Are Paying the Price for Our National Obsession, a study of 30,000 kids playing youth hockey found only 48 were drafted by a National Hockey League (NHL) team. Of the 48 players drafted, only 32 played in a single game, and 15 played more than one full season. We go into more detail around this in our article “What Percentage of Youth Ice Hockey Players Make it to the NHL“.
The news is slightly better for parents hoping for their kids to get a college scholarship. The NCAA lists ice hockey as the highest probability sport for high school girls to play in college at a whopping 26.2% in 2020. The odds are less generous for boys at 12.3%, but ice hockey ranks second only to lacrosse at 12.8%.
Competitive sports are where kids learn life lessons that they will use for the rest of their life. Sports teach kids how to overcome adversity and handle disappointment. Sportsmanship, humility, teamwork, and goal setting are vital parts of the framework for life success.
A study conducted by espnW and the EY Women Athletes Business Network analyzed the role sports play in making great female leaders. The study reports a 7% higher annual wage for athletes versus non-athletes, and 94% of female C-suite executives played sports.
Travel hockey might not be the best fit for every family, but it can be a worthwhile experience for those who can commit. When making this decision, think about your child’s intentions- are they playing hockey for fun, or are they there for the competition? Try to recognize whether they wish to compete or only play because their friends do.
If you believe your son or daughter will thrive in a competitive atmosphere, travel hockey is the way to go. The elite level is a path to playing college or pro hockey, but the odds are slim.
For most kids, hockey is a social game. But some really crave the competitive aspects of hockey. Decide which of these is true of your child, which will help you determine whether or not you should consider travel hockey.