If you’re a young hockey player with dreams of making it to the professional level, Junior Hockey may seem like your ticket to success. However, choosing whether or not to pursue this route requires careful consideration, as there are both positives and negatives that come with playing in a junior league.
On one hand, junior hockey offers players the chance to hone their skills and gain valuable experience while they work towards their goals. They also get the opportunity to connect with coaches and scouts who can help them advance their careers. On the other hand, playing at such a high level comes with intense pressure and sacrifice, often requiring players to move away from home at a young age and give up things like school and social lives.
In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of junior hockey to give you a better understanding of what this path entails. We’ll discuss everything from the physical and emotional toll it takes on athletes, to the potential benefits and drawbacks of pursuing this career choice. So, if you’re considering taking a shot at junior hockey, read on to learn more!
Pros of Playing Junior Hockey
Improved Skills Development
One of the major benefits of playing junior hockey is the opportunity to develop one’s skills. As a young player, this is an essential element in laying down a strong foundation for a successful career. The intense nature of junior hockey and the high caliber of competition push players out of their comfort zones, which helps them grow as athletes.
The coaching staffs at the junior level are usually very knowledgeable and experienced individuals who have seen it all. They’ll know precisely what each player needs to work on and how to improve specific areas of their game, be it skating, shooting or passing. Peer support also plays a crucial role in skill development, with teammates pushing each other towards excellence through healthy rivalry and teamwork.
Increased Exposure to Scouts and Coaches
In many ways, junior hockey acts as a pipeline to the professional levels of the sport. With the abundance of talent that exists at the junior level, there are countless opportunities for scouts and coaches to see promising prospects in action.
Juniors often play against some of the top-ranked teams across the country, exposing them to different styles of play and offering more chances to showcase their abilities. Additionally, most junior leagues host annual showcases where colleges and pro teams send representatives to seek out new talent. As such, playing junior hockey increases exposure to potential recruiters and paves the way for more excellent opportunities at higher levels of hockey.
“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe
Furthermore, junior hockey programs frequently offer access to experienced mentors and advisors who help guide players on their paths towards success. These experts can provide invaluable insight into the sport and its industry, pointing youngsters in the right direction and opening doors that might not otherwise have been available.
Is Junior Hockey Worth It?
Junior hockey can be a very wise investment for young players looking to take their amateur careers to the next level. The improved skills development and increased exposure make it an excellent choice for anyone with aspirations of advancing in the sport. Playing at the junior level requires dedication and hard work, but the payoff of success is undoubtedly worth it for those who put in the effort.
Cons of Playing Junior Hockey
Physical and Mental Fatigue
Playing junior hockey can be incredibly physically demanding. It involves rigorous training sessions, frequent games, and constant travel, which can all take a serious toll on the health of young athletes. They are required to maintain peak performance levels while also trying to stay injury-free.
Moreover, playing at this level can cause mental fatigue as well. Athletes may have to deal with high-pressure situations and expectations, causing stress and anxiety that can negatively impact their performance and overall well-being. According to Dr. Sylvain Guimond, who is an expert in sports psychology, “The pressure that comes with being part of a highly competitive team, creating consistent performance with unpredictable schedules, and struggling to balance personal life and sport demands can create significant challenges for many junior hockey players.”
Less Time for Academics
One of the biggest downsides of playing junior hockey is that it leaves less time for academics. The intense training schedules and frequent travel mean that young people must miss out on vital classroom instruction, leading to reduced academic performance or even falling behind on coursework entirely. Students may have difficulty juggling both athletic and academic responsibilities, which could impact their future prospects if they rely on scholarships or other forms of financial support to continue their studies.
According to a study from Cornell University, titled “The Educational Experience of a College Athlete: A Qualitative Study”, some college athletes report feeling incapable of balancing both schoolwork and athletics, leading them to prioritize one over the other. In addition, student-athletes often spend long hours traveling for games, leaving little time to attend lectures, complete assignments, or study for exams.
Expensive Travel Costs
Another major con of playing junior hockey is the cost of travel. Teams can be required to travel long distances for games, sometimes requiring flights or overnight stays in hotels. These expenses can quickly add up and put a strain on both athletes’ families and team budgets. In many cases, players must pay out of pocket for their own transportation and accommodations.
According to the Junior Hockey News, “The average yearly budget for a Tier III team ranges from $200K – $500K per season, with ‘training camp costs running between $5-$15K.” Travel expenses are usually included in this overall amount, meaning that students may have less money available for other important expenses such as tuition, food, and housing.”
“Playing at a high level means you’re going to be traveling a lot,” says Mark Letestu, NHL veteran and former captain of the Western League’s Bonnyville Pontiacs. “And if your family doesn’t have dollars to invest into that, then there’s a real understanding that maybe it’s not worth investing everybody’s time into this pursuit.”
While playing junior hockey can offer some benefits, such as honing athletic skills and providing opportunities for personal growth, it also comes with its share of cons. Players face physical and mental fatigue, reduced academic performance, and expensive travel costs among other issues. It is essential that young athletes consider these downsides carefully before making a decision about whether or not to pursue junior hockey.
Financial Costs of Junior Hockey
Is Junior Hockey Worth It? The decision to enroll your child in junior hockey is not an easy one, especially when considering the financial costs. Junior hockey programs often require substantial investments of time and money. Here we will explore some of the primary expenses associated with junior hockey.
Equipment and Training Costs
One of the most significant expenses for parents of a junior hockey player is the cost of equipment. New equipment can easily add up to several hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.
On top of that, regular training sessions are necessary to develop skills and stay physically competitive on the ice. These training sessions come at a cost, adding another significant expense to the overall budget. Elite-level teams may also hire specific coaches, which only adds to the already high training costs.
“The average family of elite-level athletes spends around $35,000 each year on sports-related expenses.” -Forbes
League and Tournament Fees
In addition to equipment and training costs, league and tournament fees are also essential parts of the overall budget for junior hockey players. League fees can be costly and require a large upfront payment, but there is usually more flexibility with paying tournament fees. Still, these events happen regularly, representing a consistent drain on family finances.
Traveling to games and tournaments adds transportation and accommodation costs into the fray, which further drains the bank account. Between flights, hotels, meals, and other travel expenses, it’s not uncommon for families to spend several thousand dollars a season on traveling and accommodations alone.
“Parents of an elite athlete who compete provincially or nationally typically spend between $8,000 and $15,000 a year.” -The Globe and Mail
Travel and Accommodation Costs
If the team you’re involved with has ambitions to be competitive, then traveling expenses are unavoidable. Many tournaments occur a significant distance from home, which adds travel costs into the mix. These can eventually become an especially large expense when games or training camp locations take place overseas.
In addition to transportation, accommodation is another important factor in the overall junior hockey budget. Teams frequently stay at hotels during away games, adding up considerable lodging expenses over time. Parents must also account for meals and other incidentals during these out-of-town trips.
“Between equipment, league fees, tournament fees, and travel, today’s busy family can shell out well beyond $20,000 per year per child.” -The CBC
Is Junior Hockey Worth It? Ultimately there doesn’t always have to be a “right” answer here; there will always be parents who feel that the cost of participation is worth it regardless of financial considerations.
When parents are dealing with day-to-day pressure on their finances, anything that wrings additional dollars out of pockets becomes a cause for concern. The decision whether or not to enroll your child in junior hockey programs should never be taken lightly so parents need to weigh all of these factors carefully before making any firm commitments.
Junior Hockey and Educational Opportunities
If you’re a young hockey player with aspirations to play at the next level, junior hockey may just be the path for you. As most know, pursuing a career in professional sports is not an easy task. But playing junior hockey can provide unique benefits that only select athletes have access to.
Scholarships and Financial Aid
In Canada, players who make it to the Junior A level are automatically eligible for scholarships or educational grants from both Canadian College Athletic Association (CCAA) and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). This means that if a player decides to pursue higher education after their junior hockey days, they will have assistance covering some of those high tuition costs.
Additionally, many teams also offer financial aid to their players, helping cover expenses like housing, equipment, travel, and meals during the season.
“Scholarship programs help shape our game by creating opportunities to attend college while continuing to compete at a high level.” -Tom Renney, President & CEO of Hockey Canada
Flexible Learning Options
One downfall of traditional school systems for elite athletes is often the lack of flexibility to accommodate demanding training and competition schedules. However, junior hockey players typically have access to alternative educational options.
For example, some teams partner with specific high schools or online learning platforms allowing players to complete courses remotely or on an accelerated schedule. This ensures that players don’t fall behind academically while dedicating significant time to hockey.
This approach helps to ensure that every athlete has the chance to succeed both inside and outside of sport.
Networking Opportunities for Future Careers
Another benefit of playing junior hockey is the potential connection created between players and coaches/mentors. By playing in a junior league, athletes will have the chance to network with various individuals they may not otherwise be able to interact with.
Coaches can act as valuable references or sources of advice when it comes time for players to seek future opportunities, whether that be in hockey or another career path.
Furthermore, many alumni from Junior leagues often go on to play at the professional level and become very successful post-playing careers such as agents, managers or team executives. Having access to these professionals can lead to numerous beneficial relationships leading into possible future opportunities outside of hockey.
“Junior hockey is the best way to bridge young talent into future NHL stars.” -Larry Brooks, New York Post
While pursuing a long-term career in professional sports is never guaranteed, the potential educational and networking benefits make playing junior hockey an appealing opportunity for aspiring young athletes.
The Physical and Mental Demands of Junior Hockey
Junior hockey is a highly competitive sport that demands intense physical and mental training. Players have to prepare themselves for the rigors of a tough schedule, demanding coaching and straining gameplay that can sometimes run over months or even years. Despite its challenges, many young players find it worth pursuing as they aspire to become elite professional athletes.
Injuries and Recovery Time
One of the biggest concerns in junior hockey is the risk of injury. Due to the game’s aggressive nature, players are susceptible to different forms of injuries during matches and training sessions. Common injuries include concussions, fractures, ligament sprains, muscle strains and cuts, which require varying degrees of recovery time depending on their severity.
In addition to the physical aspect of the healing process, injuries also take a toll on a player’s mental health. Time off from playing can lead to frustration and anxiety about being out of form, missing important games and losing relevance among coaches and teammates.
“It’s brutal when you’re injured because you feel like you’re not part of the team anymore” – Chris Pronger
Juniors often play in high-pressure environments where knowing how to handle stress effectively is essential. The weight of expectations from fans, coaches, scouts or family members can overwhelm many young athletes and hinder them from performing optimally.
A successful junior hockey career involves developing resilience and strong mental toughness while being able to balance the pressure that comes with playing at an elite level.
“The truth is, pressure doesn’t come from your manager, boss, peers, clients or spouse; it comes from your thoughts.” – Brian Tracy
Emotional and Mental Stress
The demands of junior hockey extend beyond physical and mental training. Players often have to move away from their families, friends and support systems to pursue their dreams. This separation can lead to feelings of loneliness, homesickness, depression, or anxiety.
Furthermore, players who face setbacks such as injuries or poor performances are subject to ridicule from fans or even teammates which can add emotional stress on top of the pressure they already feel.
“Mental toughness is doing what’s right for the team when it’s not always best for you.” – Bill Belichick
Strict Training and Nutrition Routines
In addition to the physical demands of playing hockey, a successful career in juniors requires strict adherence to specific workout and nutrition routines. At this level, athletes must build strength, speed and agility while also maintaining a lean physique through proper dieting and hydration.
Players must also make sacrifices in terms of social events and other extracurricular activities that could negatively impact their performance on the ice. This sacrifice may limit their ability to enjoy typical teenage experiences temporarily in exchange for long-term benefits of an athletic career.
“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.” – Michael Phelps
Junior hockey is a demanding pursuit with its fair share of challenges. Despite the obstacles though, many young athletes continue to see it as a worth opportunity to develop into elite-level professionals at higher levels. Whether you decide to play junior hockey or not, understanding the realities of both sides of the coin can provide insight into the broader lessons life teaches us about persistence, hard work and resilience.
Alternative Paths to a Professional Hockey Career
Playing in College Hockey Programs
A viable alternative for young aspiring hockey players is participating in college hockey programs. NCAA Division I and III schools offer high-level competition with elite coaching, preparing student-athletes for the professional level. Due to the prevalent exposure of college sport, these athletes have more opportunities to showcase their talents compared to those in junior leagues.
The NCAA limits team practice hours, ensuring that students focus on academics while maintaining physical performance. The balance encourages an all-around athlete that leads to success post-college, with 32 percent of NHL players coming from college teams covering over 326 colleges and universities around North America, according to the USA Today Network.
“College-hockey molds guys into better people. You’re living on your own, playing against older guys, studying hard.” – Former NHL player Bryan Rust
Starting in Lower-Level Leagues
An excellent route to becoming a professional ice hockey player includes starting at lower levels such as Tier II juniors, where players prepare their game before reaching higher levels like the United States Hockey League or Canadian Junior Hockey League. Tier-II leagues allow graduating high school seniors and players under 20 years old to continue honing crucial skills vital for the upper echelon of junior hockey.
Starting low provides a stepping stone for future career moves, serving as leverage when showcasing one’s capabilities to scouts and recruiters. While it may take longer to reach higher tiers, solid fundamentals instilled early-on prove significant concerning lasting power.
“Lower levels can be fun because there are some guys who play without the pressures and stresses, so they’re out there to have a good time and enjoy being out there.” -Former NHL player Jordin Tootoo
Joining Professional Development Programs
A more challenging, but equally beneficial alternative is joining professional development programs such as the American Hockey League or East Coast Hockey League. Actively participating in these leagues boosts player experience and increases their chances of being seen by NHL recruiters.
Professional leagues do not have age restrictions, so experienced players can join without the requirement to go through junior leagues. These programs offer a higher caliber of coaching, often featuring both former pro athletes and current coaches with proven track records, giving participants exposure to skilled individuals who know what it takes to make it to the top.
“The ECHL helps young players realize they still have the dream of playing at higher levels.” -Current Fort Wayne Komets head coach Ben Boudreau.
The ability to train and practice in a professional setting while forging connections is a winning combination that provides meaningful opportunities worthy of consideration by up-and-coming hockey stars.
With all factors considered, there are various paths towards achieving success in professional hockey careers. While many believe that junior leagues provide the best exposure for talented individuals aspiring to become NHL players, there are desirable alternatives such as college teams and lower level leagues that may be better suited to individual situations. The choice should depend on personal circumstances and dedication to gaining relevant skills before attempting entry into higher echelons of competitive play.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Junior Hockey Worth the Financial Investment?
Investing in junior hockey can open up opportunities for players to gain exposure, training, and potential scholarships. However, families need to consider the financial commitment required for travel, equipment, and team fees. It’s important to weigh the costs against the potential benefits and determine if the investment aligns with the player’s goals and aspirations.
What Are the Benefits of Playing Junior Hockey?
Playing junior hockey can provide players with numerous benefits including improved skills, physical conditioning, and team building. It also offers opportunities for exposure to scouts and coaches. Additionally, players learn valuable life skills such as time management, leadership, and perseverance. Overall, junior hockey can provide a unique and rewarding experience for players both on and off the ice.
Does Junior Hockey Increase the Chances of Playing Professionally?
Playing junior hockey can increase the chances of playing professionally by providing exposure to scouts and coaches. However, it’s important to note that the majority of junior hockey players will not play professionally. It’s important for players to focus on developing their skills and enjoying the experience, rather than solely focusing on playing professionally. Junior hockey can open up many opportunities beyond professional hockey.
What Are the Physical and Mental Demands of Playing Junior Hockey?
Playing junior hockey requires a significant physical and mental commitment. Players must maintain a rigorous training schedule and adhere to a strict diet and fitness regimen. Additionally, players must be mentally prepared to handle the demands of competition and the pressure to perform. It’s important for players to prioritize self-care and seek support from coaches, teammates, and family members to manage the demands of the sport.
Is Junior Hockey Worth the Sacrifices Made by Players and Their Families?
The decision to participate in junior hockey requires significant sacrifices from both players and their families. These sacrifices can include financial investment, time away from home, and missed opportunities in other areas of life. Ultimately, the decision to participate in junior hockey should be based on a player’s goals, aspirations, and personal values. It’s important for families to weigh the potential benefits against the sacrifices required and make an informed decision together.