Ice Hockey Youth Sports Profile

kids with coach at ice hockey rink
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Kids' ice hockey has a slam-bang reputation, but this finesse sport isn't all body-checking and knocked-out teeth. It can also be an excellent way for kids to learn balance and sportsmanship. Is it right for your child?

What Is Ice Hockey?

Ice hockey is a fast-paced game in which two teams of six players compete to push a hard rubber puck into the opposing team's goal. Players use sticks or their feet, but not their hands, to move the puck across the ice. A goalie protects his team's goal.

Ice hockey teams can be men's, women's, or co-ed.

Youth hockey games have three periods of 12 minutes each (professionals play for three 20-minute periods).

When Can Kids Start Playing?

Toddlers of two and three years old can begin to learn to skate. At about age 4, kids can start to learn the fundamentals of hockey.

What You Need to Know to Play

Skills Needed/Used: Flexibility, muscle strength, endurance, balance, and coordination.

Best for Kids Who Are: Energetic, team players.

Season/When Played: Winter; many (but not all) indoor ice rinks are open year-round. USA Hockey leagues operate year-round.

Team or Individual? Team.

Levels: USA Hockey youth hockey classifications for boys and co-ed teams are: Mite — 8 years old and under; Squirt — 10 and under; Pee Wee — 12 and under; Bantam — 14 and under; Midget Minor — 16 and under; Midget Major — 18 and under.

For girls-only teams, the levels are 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under, 16 and under, and 19 and under.

Programs may be recreational, competitive, or select. There are also junior, minor, college, and professional leagues in the U.S. and abroad.

Appropriate for Kids With Special Needs: Yes. Players who can't stand erect can play sled hockey, using a specially designed sled to move across the ice. "Special hockey" is for players with developmental disabilities or other special needs. There are also teams for amputees, the blind, and the hard of hearing. Find out more about all of these at USA Hockey.

Fitness factor: High. As in soccer, players are almost always in motion. Plus, they wear heavy safety gear.

Equipment: Skates, sticks, helmets, uniforms, gloves, protective pads and mouthpiece, and a large bag to transport it all. All this gear can be costly, but parents often swap or sell used items. Skates should be sharpened after about 15-20 hours of ice time.

Costs: Aside from the (often significant) cost of equipment, team or league fees for kids eight and up can range from $600 to over $3,000 a year.

The Time Commitment Required: Games and practices two to three times a week or more. Families with kids on travel teams will, of course, spend additional time traveling to and from games and tournaments.

Potential Injuries: This is a fast-paced, contact sport, so it can be risky. The most common injuries include concussion, separated shoulder, medial collateral ligament (knee) injury, groin/hamstring pull, and ankle sprains. Safety equipment and rules help keep kids in youth leagues safer.

Since May 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that body checking is limited to elite, older players only (those age 15 and up).

How to Find a Program: Check with your local parks and recreation department or ice rink to see if it offers a youth hockey program.

Associations and Governing Bodies:

If your child likes ice hockey, also try roller skating or in-line skating, speed skating, field hockey, or lacrosse.

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Article Sources
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  1. NHL.com. Historical rule changes.

  2. USA Hockey. USA Hockey's American developmental model.

  3. American Athletic. How often should rental skates be sharpened? Updated July 26, 2019.

  4. Hockey Family HQ. How much does youth hockey really cost?

  5. HSS. Top 5 most common hockey injuries. Updated October 12, 2016.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Hockey safety and checking.