Boy wearing hockey helmet and uniform looks onto the ice

I bowed to pressure and let my son play spring hockey

Editor’s note: This post was updated on March 20, 2022

When I first wrote this, my son was running around at a local park, taking part in a summer’s-end pickup soccer game. It was beautiful, unstructured fun that was a staple of a summer spent with a variety of friends in locations ranging from Vancouver to the Columbia River Gorge to Lespignan, France.

Soon after we were into the fall madness, a mix of school, soccer and hockey, perhaps with a little karate and music mixed in. And a few months down the road, we’ll be making the decision again: Should he play spring hockey?

In my last post, I discussed my decision to go against my instincts in enrolling my 8-year-old son in spring hockey. This extended season wasn’t even around when I was his age, and I saw it as a potential step too far in the path toward sports specialization. Why can’t a kid play winter hockey, switch to something like baseball in the spring and return – raring to go – when hockey returns in the fall?

The simple truth is that if you’re the parent of a kid who shows some promise in the game of hockey, there’s enormous pressure to extend his or her season beyond March and into June, perhaps with a summer hockey school tossed in for good measure. Some parents embrace it, forking out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for pro-calibre instruction, while others grudgingly accept it. Fewer still resist it.

How can you let your kid, who would play hockey every day if he could, fall behind his friends and rivals?

Lessons in humility

We had wanted just a couple things out of spring hockey: excellent skating instruction, plus a chance to play with and against kids who were at the same level or above.

Practices delivered on the power skating, perhaps not with the one-to-one help our son needs. But games were a bit of a disaster.

The program we picked said that it didn’t put a premium on winning, yet they selected A and B teams. My son was assigned to the B team.

So our son turned out to be one of the top scorers on a team that, arguably, wasn’t any better than his winter league team. And in the context of spring league hockey, that means you’re going to get thumped.

And boy, did we get thumped. We won once, had a few other close games, and regularly lost by 10 goals or more.

In tournaments, we watched in awe as the higher-powered teams met in serious, physical championship finals in which the no-bodycheck rule was only loosely adhered to. Some stars played on multiple teams, while others were flown in from the U.S. for tournaments.

The gap between the most accomplished players and the kids destined for house league hockey just gets wider.

So, will we do it again?

The good news is that my son still loves hockey, and still finds joy – scoring lots of goals will do that – in the midst of a shellacking. And he also played in a spring soccer league.

But he’s still not apt to work very hard in hockey practices, and because of that, continues to fall behind in skating.

So the jury’s out on whether we’ll be in spring hockey next year. The only certainty is that this time around, the decision is largely up to him. If he commits to working harder in practice and really wants to play in the spring, we’ll ensure he gets the right fit of a program.

But he’s recently picked up his baseball glove and tennis racquet again. Maybe next spring he’ll be shagging flies or working on his serve.

7 responses to “I bowed to pressure and let my son play spring hockey

  1. There are options…. Now that my kids are older (16 and 14) and no longer play a lot of other spring sports they enjoy playing spring hockey through YHL. They get to pick what team/who they play with and they play games once a week on the same day at the same place and have a blast doing it win or lose because most of the time they also know the other kids we’re playing. There are no play offs…. They also started working when they got old enough to score/time and officiate, so they’ make some money and get to interact with others.

    Obviously not the kind of spring hockey being referenced here. It sounds like what happened to us with baseball, they extended the season to summer ball, summer travel ball and fall ball; both with invite and/or tryouts.

    Seems that a lot of sports think this is what will help them recruit and retain kids as they compete with screens, video games and other sports. As a parent, it’s hard work trying to find good sport experiences where they understand LTAD and how to stop losing kids from sport. I don’t think most sport orgs appreciate how over specialization, excessive commitment, and being overly competitive likely loses more in the long run than it gains maybe because it brings in more money in the short term.

  2. This article has legs still many years later. We’re NOT playing spring hockey this year. The pressure is there, and my son could go with the flow but is not interested in playing more after an intense season. We’re going to try out another sport and give that a go. We’ve specialized early into hockey having played just hockey from 8U thru 10U. Time to mix it up!

  3. My son is going into spring hockey because he will get to play a game he loves for a little bit longer. He’s not really a fan of any of the spring sports and if it wasn’t for hockey he would spend way too much time in front of a screen. It is sometimes hard for me watch him try out for higher calibre Spring Leagues and not make the cut. However, I must remind myself that we are not doing this for an NHL contract. We are doing this for good old fashion fun, team camaraderie and a healthy lifestyle. I don’t really think it matters what sport kids are playing, as long as they are doing something healthy and loving what they do.

  4. I was flattered to get an invitation from a spring coach after he saw my boy play and lose to the team of hotshots in winter league. The assessments didn’t seem geared to review the new recruits but rather were a showcase for the top players used to retain and recruit other top players from competing programs. I pulled the pin when the coaches called for a call-back assessment to find the final 3 kids out of 8 candidates. I instantly lost confidence in the program that would subject eight year olds to that type of pressure. And that is just on the island. The real crazies, I’m told, are in Vancouver.

  5. Our league is quite about different this year ,more desperate for players than anything and when one goes missing it’s sure to be a disaster , 14 players including goalie .My son is center and amongst the top few players on a fairly weak team. He likes hockey but is afraid of the responsibility and voiced his displeasure with the quality of his team , Although he scored one goal and got the winning assist to a flukey overtime league championship trophy last year he is now in a position of being one of the leaders as the rest of the team moved on to Bantam with two exceptional players who carried the team to a 19W no loss one tie reg season . All of the good players are gone and he knows it , one player quit hockey and the 3 girls decided to stay with girls hockey , so now he belongs to a lousy team with great ice time and has missed half of the practices due to one knee injury , one ankle injury and a week long headache front to back during a practice session of crashing the net .Every time it looked more like a football game with a pile of bodies in front of the net until one of his teammates crosschecked him from the front directly onto his head . Should I let him quit this year or encourage him , push him, or be supportive whatever his decision is …he does love hockey .First game is this Saturday .

    1. Rob, we’re sorry to hear that your son’s recent experience with hockey has been negative.

      Especially when our kids love hockey so much, it’s difficult to watch them when they aren’t having much fun.

      It sounds like some of the training approaches may be affecting his enjoyment of the game, too, and that’s something else that neither of you have much control over.

      He seems old enough to be making his own decision as to whether he wants to play hockey, but you should support him in whatever he decides.

      Even if the challenge is great, you could have a conversation with him highlighting the potential positives from playing on a weaker team:
      – build resilience
      – focus on goals other than victory (for example: getting three shots on net, completing a certain number of passes, back checking and preventing scoring chances)

      Your son could also focus on developing his leadership skills and encouraging his teammates.

      What matters most is that he makes his decision knowing that even if he’s not having fun now, he could still have a lot of fun and learn plenty. Sometimes all it takes is shifting perspective a little bit.

      Worst case, rather than quitting hockey, perhaps there’s another program or club that he could move to?

      These short articles might also help:
      My child wants to quit
      Top 5 reasons kids play sports

      And Rob, if your son suffered a head injury and experienced headaches for a week after, you should also visit Think First which has information on concussions. If you think your child may have had a concussion, make sure you consult a trained medical professional.

      (This comment has been edited to remove broken links.)

  6. Good post Rob. We’re in the same boat. Our son played spring hockey for the first time this year (possibly against your son), and attended a number of camps through the summer. I’m afraid to even add up the cost.

    We always leave the decision up to him but he’s crazy about hockey and can’t seem to get enough. Luckily we love watching him as much as he loves playing. He made lots of new friends and had a great time so we’re all happy with the outcome. Already signed up for next year. Maybe we’ll see you there…

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