It’s no secret that hockey is an expensive sport. Our child has been playing for about 8 years now and every year the costs rise. Coupled with the growing price of equipment, the team fees and the extracurricular activities associated with the team - at the end of the year you just look at your bank account and feel like you’ve been beat up a bit. In previous years, we always knew that we were sinking a ton of cash into this sport. Last Spring we wondered, “What if we track our expenses for the next hockey season just to see how much." And that’s exactly what we did. We began tracking our expenses when the Spring and Summer training started. The work our child did during the pre-season was done in preparation for the fall so we consider that to be a ‘cost for the year.’ Our log runs from March/April of 2013 until the end of our recent season, March 2014.
Before you see the numbers, keep a few things in perspective:
Our kid is a goalie. Goaltending is always going to be the most expensive position on the team. The gear costs more and you’ll likely need to have your kid working with a paid goalie coach if you want them to develop properly. If you watch most hockey practices during the season where the team is not actively using a goaltending coach, you’ll find that the goaltenders receive little or no instruction at all. It’s typically a situation where the coach tells little Billy “go get in the net and stop pucks.” And that’s where the coaching ends. Billy has to do the best he can with what he believes is the right way to do it. Having a dedicated goalie coach will likely involve an additional expense as many teams simply don’t have the budget for it. In years past, we would pay for Bandits Goaltending to come out to a team practice about twice a month to work with the kid. Had we not, he too would have received a minimal amount of instruction as the coaches are busy trying to develop the other 18 kids. This last season was a bit different for us. Our coaching staff built the costs of goaltending into the program and were willing to pay Bandits to coach the goaltenders at a minimum of twice a month. I discussed the plan with the other goalie parents and we decided that we would go ahead and have Joe (Bandits) and his crew out every week and we would split the costs of the additional weekly lessons. That was a decision that seriously paid dividends as the season progressed. Both goaltenders received consistent and dedicated goaltending instruction throughout the year and our team goals against average reflected that.
Off Season (pfft…what off season?)
Another thing about goaltending that we have discovered through the years: you have to train during the off-season. If a goalie wants to play at a more competitive level, I honestly I don’t see how you could possibly work around that. As I mentioned above, goalies often receive a minimal amount of instruction during the season. If they want to grow and develop they need to find opportunities during the off season to expand their abilities. Goalie camps and cross-training are essential to having a successful season. During the Spring and Summer our son not only attended camps and clinics but was actively involved in private lessons with his goalie coach (Joe again. We love consistency of instruction). Keep this in mind: private lessons aren’t cheap. The goalie coach is likely doing this as a full time job and this is how they feed their kids. The cash you’re dropping for the lessons covers his time as well as the ice that he likely has to rent from the rink. Lessons add up quickly, but they are insanely beneficial for the athlete because your goalie has a chance to receive focused and dedicated training on their individual game without the distraction or fear of failure in front of their teammates. Weaknesses and bad habits can be hammered out in a ‘one on one’ session and they can try something new without having to worry about the pressure of making the save on every shot. I don’t believe that I’ve ever talked with another goalie parent (and I know A LOT of them) that would say that they didn’t see immediate and lasting results from individual lessons.
The Awesome Equipment
As I mentioned above, the gear is insanely expensive. This last year my son transitioned from youth/junior sizes to adult gear. The price of his equipment nearly doubled. Fortunately, the leg pads and helmet were still good for the year, so you won’t find those on the list of expenses for the current season. Had we needed to pick up pads and a shiny new lid, that would certainly have added a few more thousands to the list. Yes thousands. Helmets generally run $400 and up. Mostly up.
Mikes last helmet was $400 bucks. A Bauer NME that we picked up on sale as the new models were rolling. The paint job on it ran a few hundred more (600 more). Yes, you don’t need a custom paint job on little Billy’s mask. We had made a deal with our kid that if he made the travel team he was training for, that we would buy him the custom mask. He worked hard for it and the paint job turned out great. If we had a need for new leg pads, those run about $600 and up.
Here again, mostly up. Mikes next set of pillows are going to run me about $1500. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Get cheap on your kids helmet and you’re likely going to be sitting in an emergency clinic getting your kid tested for a concussion. And parents of small goalies: DO NOT tell yourself that you can get little Billy by with one of those vanity/superhero masks because “he’s only going to see shots from other 10 year old shooters." Many years ago, we too had one of those helmets on our kid. It was a really fierce looking piece of equipment and the kids just loved the goalies grizzly looking monster mask.
During the winter break, our kid attended a goalie camp (not Bandits) in Traverse City and some jackass high school shooter was showing off and ripped a shot at my kids head that was so hard, it popped the snaps on the side of the mask and the kid dropped to the ice immediately. Fortunately he was not injured but he was hurt and subsequently done for the rest of the weekend and we never returned to their future camps. So don’t assume anything with your kids gear aside from the fact that, at any moment on the ice, the kid could face insanely fast and hard shots. If you’re not sure what equipment makes sense for your kid, find a goalie coach (obviously I recommend any of the guys from banditsgoaltending.com) and ask them for recommendations. Don’t risk your kids safety because you’re looking to shave a few bucks off of your kids seasonal expenses.
One more thing before I discuss the actual numbers: our kid plays travel hockey. I’m not bragging, I only bring it up because it’s a factor when considering the costs. There are generally two levels of play in ice hockey. House and Travel. House hockey is more of a ‘rec league’ where kids of any level can get out on the ice and develop. Travel hockey is a higher level of play and is typically more competitive and demanding. Do you need to play travel hockey to be a successful hockey player? Absolutely not. It’s similar to the question “do I need a college degree to get a good job?” No, but a college degree may open more doors and help you get there faster. The same applies to travel hockey. With travel, they generally have more practice time, tougher training requirements and harder opponents. Honestly it comes down to what your child puts into it. I’ve seen travel hockey players make minimal progress through the years because they just didn’t do the work and I’ve seen house hockey players excel above and beyond their peers because they put the hammer down and did the work necessary. My personal opinion is that travel hockey is a good path if your child would like to play varsity hockey and beyond. The opportunities and environment seem to be one of a higher competitive spirit where the focus is on achieving advanced skills and there’s an added expectation of success. With travel hockey, ice time during a game is earned. If little Billy isn’t doing the work at practice, he likely won’t see much game time during the weekend because he would be a detriment to his teams success where the expectation is to win. In house hockey, the coaches generally roll the lines so that every body gets equal ice times. And that’s the way it should be. For players that are new to the sport or still in early stages of development, having the equal ice time is a great way to introduce them to the sport and help build their love of the game. Travel hockey players are expected to compete and train at a higher level and therefore the bar is set higher for development. There really is no “travel is better than house” discussion between intelligent hockey players/parents. Both levels of play serve a purpose.
Lastly, our son has been spending quite a bit with Dave and the guys at Elite performance (formerly Barwis Methods here in Grand Rapids). Its a cross training program that has really helped our child develop into a well rounded athlete as well as providing a place where he is surrounded by other elite level athletes that keep him motivated and focused. Working out with guys at the NHL/Juniors/College level is an amazing opportunity for him, mentally and physically.
So having all of this in mind, lets get to the costs that we incurred during the last 12 months for our sons year of Bantam AA hockey:
I’ve grouped these by category, but know that I recorded everything in a detailed spreadsheet. If the kid had his skates sharpened, it’s in there. If he bought tape for his stick - added it. I was really diligent about tracking this and you’ll see the exact amount spent per category here.
Spring and Summer Goalie/Team Camps: $1075
Spring and Summer cross training: $660
Private goalie instruction during the off-season: $675
Travel hockey tryout fees: $70
Post-Tryout team dinner: $45
Goalie gear purchased during the off-season: $561
Skate sharpening through off-season: $40
Hockey Season 2013-2014
Travel Hockey Fees and Registration: $3052
Gear purchased during the season: $848
Team goalie coaching: $665
Out of town games - hotels/expenses: $785
Cross training: $300
Goalie camps: $233
Tournament expenses (hotel/food/expenses): $1070
Travel playoff expenses (Detroit): $766
GRAND TOTAL: $10815.00
yup…we cleared 10 grand.
Would I do it all over again, knowing it was going to be so expensive? Absolutely. Without reservation. My wife and I are not wealthy, that’s for sure. We bump around the state in a 15 year old Buick and it’s a huge sacrifice for us to have our son involved with this sport. However, hockey is an amazing sport and a great tool for teaching your child the value of handwork and teamwork. He’s made lasting friendships and memories that he’ll have with him for the rest of his life. Maybe I’m not driving a brand new car every year and maybe I give up every weekend from September to March, but I can’t imagine a life without hockey and what it has done for my son.