Choosing A Hockey Program
While actually playing hockey is the ultimate goal, the best way to start is NOT to send kids out on the ice with equipment, hockey sticks, pucks and nets and have them flail around until they learn the game. Even Sidney Crosby started with the basics.
And the No. 1 basic is, of course, skating.
“It’s not natural to skate,” says Walter Muehlbronner, head coach at LaSalle College High School outside of Philadelphia. “And skating is 90 percent of the game of hockey.”
Talk to those running the program before signing up and find out what the coaches plan on teaching the kids. Make sure the program stresses skating skills – starting and stopping, changing direction, turning, skating backward, skating without the puck. Ideally, there should also be some stick-handling and some introduction to team skills.
Kids should indeed be playing games – just not hockey games, at least not right away. Skill-based games that teach them the above skating skills are the best way to learn. A good-old game of tag is a tremendous way to learn skating skills because the skater is changing direction constantly.
"More so now than ever, hockey has become a speed game and a strong skating foundation is paramount for any player to rise through the ranks," says Muehlbronner. "Players must be able to transition quickly on both sides of the puck to play at a high level."
Finally, remember that it is just as important for your child to do some skating away from the structure of a program-atmosphere. Let them have fun skating around with some friends at a public skate from time to time…the more they want to skate on their own, the better. The key is to keep it fun.