If you are a youth hockey player and are thinking about your hockey future, then you have likely given at least some consideration to joining a Junior Hockey team. After all, it is the goal of any young athlete to one day be a star in his or her sport, and many of the all-time greats of the National Hockey League got noticed by emerging through the Junior Hockey ranks.
You should play Junior Hockey if you enjoy the sport, and you understand that less than 1% of all hockey players go on to be professional stars. If you recognize this and are still willing to accept the hard work required for the trials of a hockey lifestyle, then playing Junior Hockey is a great choice.
The mistake most young people make when getting serious about their favourite sport is that they do not keep expectations at realistic levels. While stifling or discouraging young hockey players’ dreams is not the intent, it is essential to participate in Junior Hockey while simultaneously keeping an eye on what life post-hockey might look like.
The decision as to whether to play Junior Hockey over another sport during your teenage years really comes down to a matter of personal preference. If you have a passion for hockey and enjoy playing it more than other sports, then that is definitely a definite check in the “yes” box.
If you understand that Junior Hockey is not an investment that is likely to land you a million-dollar payday as a professional in a few years, then you are even further along the right path.
However, you will never be able to decide whether Junior Hockey is right for you without carefully weighing some of the following pros and cons of ice hockey against those of other sports.
One of the founding principles of the United States was that power arises through education. While part of education is rooted in the classroom and school system, another—and possibly more important—aspect of education is rooted in experience, with travel at the heart of many of life’s most valuable memories.
By choosing to become a Junior Hockey player, you will get a unique opportunity to travel and interact with a wide array of cultures. Not only are you likely to see most of the northern United States and Canada, but given hockey’s popularity in Scandinavia, Russia, and other parts of Europe, it is probable that you will get to take a trip across the pond at some point, as well.
Compare this to the most popular American sport—football—which is dominated by the United States, the education you get while travelling the globe to play Junior Hockey can make the experience one of the most culturally beneficial decisions you ever make.
As Junior Hockey is considered an amateur enterprise, you will not be getting paid for your time on the Junior Hockey circuit. In fact, there is a possibility that you may have to foot the bill for many of your hockey expenses.
While you can still be considered an amateur when your team pays for “real and necessary expenses” for things such as uniforms and travel, not all Junior Hockey teams will be in a position financially to pay for all of their players.
Therefore, playing Junior Hockey may become an expensive proposition for you. The price tag on hockey practice gear alone can be quite hefty, with helmets, pads, skates, and sticks running into the hundreds of dollars, if not more.
Compare this to a sport like basketball, where you can practice in regular t-shirts, shorts, and sneakers, and the investment to be a hockey player can be significant.
Hockey players have long been considered some of the “toughest” athletes on the planet, and not just because they frequently collide with other players, get smashed into the walls of the rink, and take the occasional puck to the face.
You must be in exceptional shape to be a hockey player, as you will frequently find yourself skating at top speeds, sometimes for well over a minute. Many people pay big money to be a part of fitness clubs that offer this type of “high-intensity interval training”, but it is just part of what you do as a hockey player, ensuring that you will be one of the fittest people walking the planet.
Furthermore, the constant bending and changing directions—while on ice skates—will give you elite proprioceptive capabilities to ensure your joints’ stability. Important core muscles that are little-used by other athletes and laypeople are sure to be well-developed in hockey players.
If you still hold onto hopes of going to school with friends and eventually heading off to a university for the idealized “college experience”, then Junior Hockey may not be the best route for you.
Many serious hockey players have traditionally had to decide whether to join the Junior Hockey ranks or go to college and play hockey for a college team.
With the advent of online education, it is likely that you can still play Junior Hockey while getting the type of education you desire. Just know that the decision to play Junior Hockey is likely to limit your choice in the matter, as the practice, travel, and game schedule associated with most Junior Hockey leagues will make it difficult for you to have an in-person presence on campus.
It goes without saying that the coaches and teammates with whom you associate as a member of your Junior Hockey league will likely become strong, lifelong friends and/or mentors. However, this is likely to be the case with any sport you choose to play.
What sets hockey apart is the passion of its fans and supporters. As the favourite sport in Canada, people treat hockey players like royalty—and not just the professionals. It is likely that every Canadian has had at least some experience or dream of becoming a hockey player, so they treat anyone donning the skates with the utmost respect and reverence.
In the United States, where hockey is not at the top of the most popular sports list, it is this very niche status that can make your experience as a hockey player so enriching. While hockey fans in the United States may not be as numerous as in Canada, fans of the sport are not any less passionate, so your common bond over hockey is likely to be a very strong point for relationship building.
While being a Junior Hockey player is not going to qualify you to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, many employers LOVE to hire hockey players. They realize the grit, work ethic, and determination that comes from playing in the Junior Hockey ranks and view these as essential qualities that will translate to your profession.
To play or not to play Junior Hockey is a decision that many teenage hockey players will likely have to lament at some point. While the choice is mostly personal and has a lot to do with your passion and skill for the sport, as long as you realize that Junior Hockey is not a quick ticket to a professional contract and see the value in playing hockey as opposed to other sports, then joining a Junior Hockey league can be an excellent idea.