Spring hockey can be the best of times and the worst of times!

It can be amazing or disappointing. It can enhance your player’s skill development or exacerbate your player’s bad habits. It can energize your player emotionally or hinder his or her desire and ability to compete next season.

My wife, Jenni, and I have five children ― three of those five chose to play hockey. During our 15-year journey parenting and coaching through minor hockey, at times our boys chose to play spring hockey and, at other times, not. There is no right or wrong answer. However, let’s lay out some of the pros and cons of the spring hockey experience so that you and your players can make an informed decision next season. (You have already made your decision for this year).

I’d like to start by debunking the biggest spring league myth and release some of the pressure placed on parents because of this untruth: If you do not enrol your player in spring hockey, he or she will fall behind the other players and possibly fail to make the rep/travel team next season.

Baloney! I never played spring hockey or played on extra hockey teams and I played 15 seasons in the NHL. Some spring league organizers (especially those who stand to make money from training your players) like to use this argument and correspondingly place huge emotional and financial burdens on parents.

The summer before my draft year (from Junior Hockey to the NHL), I cut a ¾ inch plywood board into the size and shape of a hockey net, placed an outline of a goalie on the board, and then cut out small holes in areas of the board that would give me the best chance to score. All summer long, my folks put up with the bang-bang-bang of me perfecting my wrist shot. That summer, other than playing lacrosse, going to pick-up hockey and lots of off-ice physical training, shooting against this board was all that I did. The following season I scored 52 goals and went on to be drafted #2 in the world.

My point is that there is more than one road leading to Rome! Spring team play can be an awesome experience with the right people but remember: do not give in to external pressure. Do what you believe is right for your player, at the right time. Know that your player’s hungry spirit (desire to play) should be a strong factor in determining the “should I play or should I not play?” decision.

So let’s get back to some of the pros and cons:

Compared to minor hockey, at least in Canada, spring hockey can be a little like the Wild West. It generally has less structure and way more freedom in the way teams are formed. Typically (but not in all cases), there are fewer guidelines, rules and boundaries. Often your spring team’s particular set of values is molded solely by the individuals operating the team.

When I went back to school at age 45 to complete my Master’s in Leadership/Business, my first professor opened my first class with a phrase that has proven true again and again: “Everything rises and falls on Leadership!” Your son’s or daughter’s experience in spring hockey is totally dependent on the head coach. If the potential head coach has the ability to improve your player’s skill and game sense and to increase his or her enjoyment of our great game, then your player is already half way to a positive spring team experience.

However, be sure to ask yourself whether your family’s values align with the values of the potential head coach. The great NCAA basketball coach John Wooden said he doesn’t focus on winning or losing; he focuses on practising the details that lead to the win. Does that sound like your head coach’s values and philosophy or is the spring hockey experience about winning at all costs? Before signing your son or daughter up, take the coach for coffee and ask questions about his or her approach to coaching and what values personally drive this focus.

If your son or daughter is already enrolled in spring hockey, I encourage you to observe the way your current coach builds your player’s spring team experience. Use your current exploration as an aid to making next spring’s critical decision. To further help you with your spring hockey decision, here are a few more spring team questions to reflect on: 

1. Does your player know a number of the players who may play on this team?
2. Is your player supremely excited about participating with this group?
3. Is the financial commitment in line with your family budget?
4. Does the timing of practices and games work for your family?
5. Does your player (or do you) feel pressured into playing? If so, don’t do it!

In closing, it’s important to remember the facts. Less than one per cent of players participating in spring hockey will ever play a single game in the NHL. So, ask yourself the most important question of all: Will this spring league experience not only help my son/daughter become a better hockey player, but also a better person?

About The Author

Ryan Walter played more than 1000 games over 15 NHL seasons. Drafted second overall by the Washington Capitals (where he became the NHL’s youngest captain), Ryan won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens before finishing his playing career as a Vancouver Canuck...CONTINUE.