Starting A Youth Hockey Program
Suppose the hockey craze has reached your town or city. In that case, the chances are that young players are travelling to different cities to get the benefits of a thriving youth hockey program that includes ice time, visibility, and above all, the thrill of a hockey game. Why should they travel to a different city when you can establish a Youth Hockey Program in your region?
To start your youth hockey program, you must recruit players and officials, produce agreements, purchase ice-time from a local rink, and organize a ticketing structure. Finally, you can keep your league independent or register it as an affiliate of a larger organization.
In this article, we will cover every step of the process in-depth so you can learn:
- How to recruit players
- Where to find officials like referees and team managers
- The steps to take to establish legitimacy
While sports are fueled by a passion for both the management and the playing side, organized sports remain a business. In fact, establishing your program as a business pushes you to provide the best quality of service and entertainment.
Not only does this improve your program, but it also tests your program for weaknesses and possible flaws. When people pay money, they are more vocal about how your business can improve.
Start with a plan and consider the following key areas:
- The number of teams: Start with a minimum of two teams and consider the cost of setting up your league. You will have at least two coaches (volunteer or paid) and two team managers, branded equipment, and so on.
- Sources of revenue: No business plan would be complete without considering income. Aside from tickets, how would you make money to cover the costs of running the program?
- Training fees: Many tier 3 leagues require players to pay a fee that covers costs like ice time and the coach’s salary. You have to set your fee at a price point where the program remains lucrative and breaks even without any ticket sales.
Once you have a business plan, you can move to the next step and start implementing it.
Here, you have two options: you can go the volunteer route and have parents volunteer to coach, or you can hire USA Hockey certified coaches and charge a larger fee to cover the costs. If you are starting and do not have a complete idea of how enthusiastic the youths in your region are, simply opt for volunteer coaches. You can eventually move to professional ones.
You also have the option to have regional volunteer coaches train in a USA Hockey coaching program by registering as affiliates. They will have to pay a fee, but you will not be burdened by a coach’s room and board costs that you may otherwise have to shoulder as most coaches would need to travel to your locale.
Regardless of whether your coaches are volunteers or paid professionals, never overlook the paperwork. Get legal agreements or contracts drawn to minimize liability and clarify each party’s duties.
It may also be worth taking a read through our How To Be A Good Youth Hockey Coach guide as well.
Below are some of the places you can find USA Hockey (or an equivalent body) certified hockey coaches.
- American Hockey Coaches Association: You can have a job opening listed on the association’s website and even have it pushed through to their database of certified coaches. Make sure to include location and salary.
- Hockey coaches group on Facebook: While not all coaches here will be certified according to your standards, this is a more open way of finding a coach provided that you’re willing to filter applicants.
This is the crucial step where you get the first class of your customers on board. If you do not charge a fee and rely on ticket sales to cover ice time, it will be easier to recruit students as you will only pitch them free playing time, provided they bring enough viewers to cover the rink costs.
This is the equivalent of bars that give stand up comedians free stage-time if they bring along friends who drink. However, this might tarnish your legitimacy early on, so it is better to have trained coaches and pitch the program as a learning opportunity. Since your players will more likely be spending pocket money, it is better if they invest in their future as potential hockey professionals than on arbitrary consumer items.
So, make your program excellent and charge a premium. This will filter out the uninterested and semi-serious teenagers, and you will be left with dedicated players. This dedication will translate to thrilling games and may even market your league outside the region via word of mouth. Also, make sure to read our article describing How Many Players Should Be On A Youth Hockey Team.
One of the best places to recruit is at your local high school. As you can recruit players as young as sixteen, the local high school is an excellent place to canvas for interest. Talk to the PE teacher at each school. Then, get an idea of what kind of interest in the sport exists.
This is the final make-or-break step in your youth hockey program’s success. You need ice time, or the program might as well pivot to field hockey. It would be best if you negotiated with your local ice rink owner to get a good value for a significant number of bookings.
On average, you will book at least 48 sessions a year. You will need to book it not just for games but even for practices. Without practice, your players will only embarrass themselves in games.
One way to get ice time for a lower investment is by getting regional sponsors on board. Yes, it seems like sponsorship is something only Coca Cola and Budweiser can afford, but your local mom-and-pop shop would get significant goodwill by sponsoring a team.
If they pitch in for the ice-time, the team can have their logo on their uniform or gear. You may even strike a verbal agreement that your players will prefer the sponsor’s products over alternatives in their day-to-day buying.
As long as you have a local rink, it is relatively straightforward to get ice time. However, when there is no rink in the region, you have to book weekly transport to the nearest rink in addition to doing the steps above.
Before game one, you will need to register the organization. You can position it as an independent league by getting it registered as a business. You also have the option to get registered as an affiliate program by registering it with a sports association. There are benefits in legitimacy that come from registering with an association.
You can keep your costs low while staying relatively independent by having your coaches and referees go through USA hockey’s training and signup as affiliates or exclusively hiring affiliates of USA hockey in every salaried position.
Your youth hockey program might seem like an entertainment business, but it is also a training business. The legitimacy comes from the quality of training, and hiring the best coaches will cement your program’s legitimacy. That is why certified coaches should be the foundation of your program. You can also associate your league with a broader sporting body.
Reviewing our post on The Best Youth Hockey Program’s in the USA may be a good place to get some inspiration as well.
The youths in your area may have immense potential waiting to be unlocked, and all they need is someone to step in and give them the right opportunities and training. You can do so by establishing your own hockey program.
Here is a recap of the steps you must take to get your program off the ground:
- Plan your business model.
- Recruit players and coaches.
- Negotiate ice time with a rink owner.
- Register as a business or an affiliate program.
- AAU Sports: How to Start an AAU Hockey Program
- NHL: Where It All Starts: The Youth Hockey Scene
- USA Hockey: Download the Annual Guide
- USA Hockey: Coaching Certification
- USA Hockey Magazine: How To Start Your Own League