Q&A: What is The Right Age For Travel Hockey?

travel_hockey_postMany parents wonder if there is a magic age when a child is ready to compete in a travel team program. President and Director of the New England Hockey Institute, Dennis Chighisola (also known as Coach Chic), offers the following advice to help concerned hockey parent, Stacy, determine if her child is prepared for this type of competition.

Stacy asks: My biggest concern with hockey as a parent is — do I have my son in the right place for his skill development and competitiveness?  When do you put a player on a travel team versus a house team?  Is it really such a great benefit to an 8 year old to put him on a travel team at 8 rather than waiting until he’s more competitive at, say 12 years old?

Answer: To begin, let me provide my personal take on the differences between house leagues and travel teams…

I would agree there ought to be a place where youngsters can play hockey without having to be overly committed.  The house programs I’ve seen through the years tend to offer just that — with one game per week, maybe an occasional practice, everything taking place at the neighborhood rink, and all this coming at a relatively low cost.

Each of the above categories is adjusted a little (or a lot) when one makes a so-called travel team.  Regular practice is an important part of these programs.  Some teams can play more than a game per week, that are likely to take place at a number of “away” rinks and some distant tournaments might even spice-up the playing schedule.  Of course, all these extra offerings do come at a steeper price.

I must say that I’ve noticed most hockey parents choosing the house league option for their own reasons.  I can’t blame them for having to weigh the costs, but I also sense a lot of parents opt for the lesser commitment to fit their own personal lifestyles.  So I admire your question, in that the needs of an 8-year old boy seem to be the main concern.

A first aside — I know it’s hard to predict what a youngster is going to want 5-years from now.  However, if you have even the slightest feeling that your 8-year old is going to want to make a high school hockey team someday, a course of action should be evident in awhile.

By its very nature, a house league can probably only promise some fun and a chance for a youngster to tell friends he or she plays hockey.  If you are looking for true development, it isn’t likely to take place here.

A second aside — I’ve always felt the quality of coaching at a given youth level has a lot to do with the available “parent pool”.  In other words, if the coach of a team is going to come from among that team’s parents, there are likely to be more knowledgeable guys and gals available at the AAA level than in a house league. Make no mistake about it Stacy; your son can’t truly develop unless he gets great coaching.

As far as advice goes, I think there’s an in-between option for your son (and others facing similar decisions).  Within most travel programs each level is usually divided into at least three teams, with each team stocked with similarly skilled players.  These “A”, “B” and “C” teams also usually adjust their competitiveness to fit the ages and abilities of their players.  So, what I am suggesting is that an on-the-fence 8-year old might get quite a bit more by moving to at least a “C” level team.  Actually, there’s probably little difference in the competitiveness at the house and “C” levels.  Yet, the latter represents a small step towards a youngster eventually making stronger teams.  And it also gives the parent and player a season to make a more educated decision the next time around.

Thanks for the great question, Stacy, and good luck!

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Dennis Chighisola (Coach Chic) for his input on this question.

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