As part of a USA Hockey initiative to introduce hockey to kids ages 4-9, hundreds of youth associations across the United States will host Try Hockey for Free Day this Saturday, Nov. 4. The program, in conjunction with Come Play Hockey Month, is a joint partnership between USA Hockey, the National Hockey League, and its member clubs.
One of the marquee events of the day will take place at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
As important as it is to learn skills and fundamentals at an early age, the real objective of this program is simply to introduce young kids to hockey and show them how much fun it can be, explains Seth Appert, head coach of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-18 Team.
“To me, it’s the ultimate team sport,” said Appert, who has been involved with USA Hockey for more than two decades. “It’s a team-first mentality, sacrificing for the good of the group, and a sport of real camaraderie. It would be great if some of these young kids end up becoming great players. But more important is that they try the sport, fall in love with it, and get unbelievable life experiences out of it.”
Tyler Barnes, arena front office administrator and Learn to Play Hockey coach, agrees. “For most of [the kids], it’s their first time on the ice,” he said. “You want their first experience to go well. You don’t want it to be something they’re scared of. This is for kids who wouldn’t [normally] play, or their parents didn’t play, and they aren’t sure where to start or how to get into it.”
Participants are given a bag of equipment to use during the hour-long session free of charge, along with a jersey that they can keep. Each child will be paired with a player from the NTDP, who will assist in showing them how to get dressed, learn how to use each piece of equipment, and tie their skates. Appert, in his first year as NTDP head coach, believes the experience is as beneficial to his players as it is to the younger prospective recruits.
“For our guys, it’s an opportunity to show gratitude in action,” Appert said. “You thank people for the opportunities you’re given with how you work, how you carry yourself, how you represent your country, and in this case, giving back to our community and to the sport that’s given us so much.”
Parents are a major part of the process, Barnes says. While their children are on the ice, parents receive information on what to expect, next steps, and other programs offered by USA Hockey.
One of those next steps in Plymouth is Learn-to-Skate, a class that meets once a week. Instruction covers first steps on the ice, basic techniques and athleticism, agility, balance, coordination and speed. Once a skater successfully completes that portion of the curriculum, he or she moves to a more advanced level of development. Classes are grouped into categories of skating level, and include 25 minutes of teaching followed by 25 minutes of supervised practice.
During these Learn-to-Skate classes, participants are advised to wear layered clothing that allows freedom of movement, along with gloves or mittens. Skates can be rented for a small fee, and skaters are given advice on how to tie skates securely. Evaluations occur the last two weeks of each session. Parents and other family members can watch from the stands off the arena’s main concourse.
Appert believes introductory programs like these pay huge dividends, even as a player advances through the ranks. “When you go into youth hockey, especially at the younger ages, the most important thing a coach can do is help their players fall in love with the sport,” he said. “Whether or not they teach them much about the game or the skills, that’s secondary in helping them have passion for the sport. They can learn the skills and the techniques along the way.”
For more information about Try Hockey for Free, Learn to Skate, and other programs, visit the USA Hockey Arena website.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc