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.