Ice Hockey is one of the most popular winter sports in America. The feeling players get while gliding down the ice and scoring a goal is electrifying, and it offers a great source of exercise, character development, and mental toughness in a team environment with their friends.
Each year, tens of thousands of young hockey hopefuls’ step onto the ice for the first time. But many don’t realize there’s more that goes into their debut season than initially recognized. In fact, a recent study conducted by Aspen Institute shows youth hockey is the most expensive youth sport in America. This stems from the high annual costs associated with a hockey season, including equipment, training, membership fees, and travel.
For many parents, the thought of investing that much money into their child to play a sport can be financially straining. But they understand the value of watching their child shine on the ice and develop their hockey skills while building long-lasting memories with their teammates.
Charice Paoli is a Director at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills, Illinois, and has been working with youth hockey coaches, managers, and parents for over a decade. With all the relationships and insight, there is one constant: every hockey parent wants to save money while putting their children through their favorite sport.
“Parents should be aware that the price to participate in youth hockey is much higher than other youth sports… investing in good equipment is essential for setting up the steps to success… ice time is expensive everywhere you go,” says Paoli. A governing body sanctions the sport: USA Hockey, which expects members to pay annual membership fees.
One simple way to save money is by buying second-hand gear. Since kids grow year after year, it’s better to buy used gear, often found at discounted prices while in good condition, compared to brand-new gear on a yearly basis.
“The best place to find discounted equipment is your local ‘Play It Again Sports’, Ebay is another place where parents like to shop for used or new gear at discounted prices.” She adds that parents often donate gear to the organization they’re a part of once their child has outgrown a specific piece of equipment.
Seasoned hockey parents understand the abundance of travel involved in a hockey season, including many weekends spent driving to different tournaments. This can strain your wallet with fuel, food, and hotel charges.
“Parents can save money traveling to hockey tournaments by carpooling with teammates and packing their own food for in-between games. Many hotels offer discounted rates when teams stay together as a whole,” says Paoli. Group lessons can also be a big money saver, most facilities offer lessons that cost significantly less than private one-on-one lessons.
Parents also need to see the value of the financial and time commitment of putting their children through a travel hockey season. They should consider their athlete’s ability and potential to further their athletic or academic careers through college scholarships.
There are multiple ways ice arenas can help lower the annual cost. Glacier Ice Arena applies for numerous grants, and associations such as NHLPA assist by donating equipment $675,000 since 2020, according to the NHLPA.
“I apply for a variety of hockey grants every summer… we were awarded a grant from the NHLPA in which they donated 10 sets of full gear for me to distribute to my ‘Learn to Play’ classes. I have been able to stretch out these sets of gear for over 18 months,” says Paoli.
In the internet age, social media has been a useful tool for coaches to share training content to help their young athletes develop skills. Online coaches will share workouts, drills, and other skill-based activities to teach valuable techniques to develop their hockey ability. And public groups are a good source where community members share their perspectives to improve technique while training.
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Hockey continues to grow in popularity, as shown by the steady increase in youth participation over recent years. To keep the sport going strong, the financial strain should have less of an impact on the parent’s decision to enter in a child to hockey program or to keep them in the sport they love.