Play Hockey: A Guide for Beginners

Playing hockey is the greatest experience in sport. Welcome to the game!

Coach training ice hockey player on rink
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Whether you're strapping on the skates yourself or you're the parent of a new hockey player, here's a beginner's guide to getting started playing hockey.

Playing Hockey Means Knowing the Game

Coach training hockey players on ice rink
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Before stepping on the ice, a new hockey player should be familiar with the basics rules and structure of the game.

Are Skating Lessons Required?

Male ice hockey coach blowing whistle at players on ice hockey rink
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Children and adults who are new to ice skating should register with a certified Learn to Skate program before taking up ice hockey.

If you’re determined to learn by yourself or teach your kids without help, try a step-by-step guide to ice skating for beginners.

Know the Costs of Playing Hockey

Mother and sons with ice hockey sticks and ice skates on sunny, snowy road
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The cost of playing hockey is one of the big issues in the sport, making it difficult for lower-income players to participate.

It takes several hundred dollars to get started, once you account for the purchase of equipment, registration with an ice hockey program in your community, and incidental costs.

Many leagues and associations offer programs to help curtail costs, such as equipment rental, second-hand equipment, and starter kits at a reduced price. Contact your local association or inquire with other players/parents.

Registration fees vary widely depending on where you live. Expect to pay at least $300-$500 per player per season.

Playing Hockey Is a Commitment

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Playing hockey means busy weekends, early mornings, long drives, and cold rinks, particularly if you are registering a child to play the game.

Remember also that being a member of a team is a commitment. Reliability and punctuality are essential. A typical minor hockey program will offer three to five hours per week, divided between games and practices. Before you register your child, ask what the schedule will be like and make sure it's realistic for your lifestyle.

A useful rule of thumb: for every hour of ice time, allow at least another hour for preparation, travel, etc. Adjust that number according to how far you live from the rink.

Know the Alternatives to Organized Ice Hockey

sledge hockey
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  • Inline hockey (also called roller hockey) is played using inline skates on pavement or an arena floor.
  • Sledge hockey is one of the most popular sports at the Paralympic Games. Players sit in the sledge – a metal frame that rides on skate blades – and use sticks to pass and shoot the puck.
  • Ball hockey (also known as street hockey, road hockey) has a long and rich history, played in parking lots, streets, gyms, and anywhere else players gather with hockey sticks and a ball.
  • If organized ice hockey doesn’t appeal, many rinks offer shinny hockey (also known as pick-up hockey) for a few dollars per visit. Shinny is a casual and usually non-competitive version of the game, with no set teams, no rough play, and often no scorekeeping.
  • If you live in a climate of freezing winters, you might find a pond hockey game nearby.

Find Hockey in Your Community

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If you can’t find a game via word-of-mouth, the Yellow Pages, or the internet, the following organizations can help you track down the nearest hockey organization. Most minor hockey associations have programs for novices:

Hockey Canada
Hockey USA

Find Hockey Equipment

buying hockey equipment
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The hockey stick and hockey skates are the essentials of the game.

Make sure the hockey stick is the correct height. With the stick held vertical and the tip of the blade touching the floor, the butt-end should come up to about eye level of a player standing in bare feet, and up to the chin of a player in skates.

Ice hockey requires a safety-certified helmet. The helmet is one item that should probably be purchased new. A properly fitting helmet, certified by safety testing and fitted prior to purchase, could save your life.

Minor hockey programs also require a face mask attached to the helmet. If you're an adult beginner, the mask might not be required. But it's a very smart idea to wear one.

Other equipment needed for ice hockey: mouth guard, shoulder pads, elbow pads, jock strap (for boys) or jill strap (for girls), shin pads, hockey pants, hockey socks, jersey, and a hockey bag to carry it all.

Fit is important. If you’re purchasing hockey equipment online, try to find the same make and model at a local store so you can be certain of which size to order.

Hockey players also need a variety of incidental items, such as stick tape, shin pad tape, t-shirts, socks, and underwear, shower supplies, etc.

Make Safety the First Priority

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Proper fitting equipment is absolutely essential and will greatly reduce the chance of injury. Don't cut corners to save a few bucks.

Many minor hockey programs forbid body checking until kids reach a certain age. If you're checking out a program for a young boy or girl, ask what the policy is on body checking, and make sure you're comfortable with it.

Good hockey coaches also teach safe hockey, discouraging dangerous offenses like checking from behind and hits to the head.

Respect the Game and Everyone at the Rink

adult rec hockey
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A good hockey player shows respect for officials, coaches, and opponents, learns to accept frustration and defeat, and is gracious in victory.

Teamwork, communication, support, and respect are just as important to playing hockey as skates and pucks.

If you’re the parent of a hockey player, encourage all of the above, and practice what you preach.

Stick With It: Be Patient and Ready to Learn

coaching hockey
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Nothing good comes easy. Hockey players need coaching, practice, patience, and determination. Enjoy the process and accept that there will be setbacks along the way.