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Youth hockey without giving up your life

When I tell people my son is a hockey player, I often get a look of pity.

Photo by Kristen Neurer

When I tell people my son is a hockey player, I often get a look. It’s usually a look of pity; pity that we would have to spend all our weekends traveling or spending oodles of money on equipment or standing around in cold rinks. (Okay, the cold rinks part is true.)

But I think I get those looks because people think we are involved in “that kind” of hockey; the kind of hockey I just read an article about in the Star Tribune. In Sara Woll: Goal-Oriented the writer follows the parents of a dedicated seven-year-old skater as they take her from multiple team practices to training clinics. Sara’s parents are trying to decide if she should start lifting weights. In my house, I’d suggest hauling that laundry basket up and down the stairs a few more times, but then again, we don’t play that kind of hockey. It’s too bad so many people associate playing this great sport with the kind of all-consuming time and excessive expense often depicted; especially if it prevents families from giving it a try.

The league we belong to makes it possible to keep hockey fun and a part of an entire family’s well-rounded time together. Most of the kids he plays with are also involved in other extra activities like band or scouting and have parents who may want them to go to church occasionally or to birthday parties. Sure they practice several times a week, but usually at rinks close to home. They even have outdoor scrimmage practices that harken back to the old days when kids just grabbed their sticks off the porch and met their buddies for a little after school action. Our kids don’t have matching warm ups and we like it when their leggings or helmets are a different color – it makes it all the easier to tell them apart. I have met the most wonderful, funny, keep-it-real folks in those freezing rinks as we talked about where to store that stinky gear, what to make for dinner, or compared notes on our backyard rinks.

Now, this isn’t to say this program doesn’t value winning – it does – practicing and winning just come with a large dose of perspective. My son loves playing hockey. He also loves lots of other things. He’d be thrilled to play in high school, but who knows, maybe he’ll be in the pep band.

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Be assured though, there are other kids in this league who are full throttle about the sport, including a girl my son went to preschool with. She’s the kind of intense kid who would play year round if allowed, who dented her mother’s front door whacking that puck against it time and time again, and who will most certainly play in college. And yet, she’s playing for this league too. I asked her mother why and she told me that it was because of the cost and the time commitment.

“As a single mom with two daughters it is hard to be in two places at the same time, not to mention the expectation to volunteer time and of course the cost. I like lower key because it lets her be a kid and not feel so much pressure. There is plenty of time for that high level pressure when you get to high school. She learns, has fun and has come by great coaches who are awesome mentors. And of course we still get to have a life…as much of a life as you can have when your kids play hockey!”

My son is a goalie. (Yeah, that gets me a different kind of pity look.) He’s learned so much about himself and what he is capable of and so have we. I would never have guessed he’d have the composure to have pucks blasted at him or to take 40 shots in a single game. He had his first shoot out last year (to the non hockey watcher, this is when a  game is tied and each team gets to pick five kids to take a shot at the goalie – one on one –  you know, no pressure). This was a consolation game in a small tournament. But let me tell you, when we won, it felt like the state tournament and I realized you can squeeze all the joy (and learning moments) from a smaller program. You can also learn to score-keep and run an ice sweeper. Don’t pity us that.

Note: Find out more about the Edgcumbe Hockey Association.

This post was written by Kristen Neurer and originally published on Snapshot.

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