As I coast through the valley mountains on route to the Kootenay’s for the final weekend of the regular season, I’m reminded of all the stunning reasons for which we choose to live on the west coast of our great country.
Rolling past our bus are thick green trees, intimidating cliff faces and vast fields of crops signalling a healthy harvest in the months to come.
Even though I’m on a hockey trip and it's clearly spring-time out there, I am not reminded of spring hockey.
Except of course for the fact I scheduled myself to write about it today.
This is not the case for many people in Vancouver’s lower mainland, the city of Calgary or metro Edmonton either. Spring hockey is all anyone is talking about right now, even though we’re deep in playoff season.
Wait, let me correct that - spring hockey is what parents are talking about, not the players who will actually play spring hockey.
Alright, that’s cool then.
When it comes to spring hockey we all know the features: continued on-ice development, playing with new coaches and teammates and having greater control than experienced during the regular season.
The question then surrounds whether or not these features are actually beneficial.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of spring hockey.
I spend as much time on the ice as anyone and I’m just a coach. I’m hockey-obsessed, so I know the feeling of young players who feel that magic when they step out onto a fresh sheet of ice. Hockey is fun. Development is fun.
Pros: acquiring and practicing new skills, building those skills into habits, improving skills without the pressure or interference of games
Cons: placing quantity over quality - this means that when a player gets tired or bored with practicing skills, the quality drops and bad habits are formed instead of good habits.
More often than not spring hockey means playing for a coach other than the one played for during the regular season.
Pros: meeting new coaches, joining new organizations, meeting and playing with new players and making new friends (this is a pro both for players and parents alike).
Cons: that second opinion isn’t what you were looking for or the quality of instruction isn’t worth the money you’ve spent. Opinions are like bibles in spring hockey: everyone’s got one hidden in a drawer somewhere.
Slowly but surely politics are being weaned out of progressive minor hockey associations in Canada. Coaches are hired, mentored and supported during the regular season so the right decisions can be made more often than not.
Spring hockey? Not the case.
Pros: playing with friends, playing for friends, controlling details like tournaments and budgets.
Cons: kids get left out for different reasons in spring hockey. Sometimes there’s just not enough room. It’s like musical chairs, but there are reasons other than straight-up skill that leads to these unfortunate situations.
I’ve coached spring hockey longer than I’ve coached regular season hockey. It was how I got into coaching because I couldn’t coach during the regular season while I was still playing myself.
I’ve seen it all. One time I had a manager who demanded his son be named Captain because it would force him to try harder. I’ve had goalie parents rip up cheques and throw them at me because the other kid got to start a game. I’ve lost people who I considered friends because of ice time (I was rolling the lines, what more do you want, Mrs. R?)
This was all in Edmonton, by the way.
So why do people play spring hockey?
Because it’s fun! At least that’s why they should play. Learning new skills, meeting new people and playing with friends are all important aspects of spring hockey, but ultimately the choice is yours (and your child’s).
And if it’s not fun, or if you’re not super keen on the politics or money involved? Well, put on your cleats or grab a ball glove!