I wrote over the summer about the Penguin’s inaugural season of Little Pens Learn to Play Dek Hockey. The program was fantastic and was above and beyond any expectation I had for a “learn to play” program. After a disappointing experience at Mount Lebanon, Little Pens set a standard of excellence that would be hard to surpass, save for my kid practicing with the actual Penguins.
Today was the first day of Little Pens Learn to Play Ice Hockey. My son is participating at Ice Castle Arena in Castle Shannon, where he already attends weekly ice skating lessons.
For those of you whom are unfamiliar with the program, the Penguins and Sidney Crosby, partnered with Reekbok and Dicks Sporting Goods, outfit approximately 1000 children each year from head to toe with Reebok hockey equipment from Crosby’s line and receive 10 weeks of hockey lessons. You pay a fee that covers the cost of ice time. Cost varies by rink. I paid $170 for Ice Castle as it is one of the most in-demand rinks in the area. Other rinks had smaller fees though. Children are eligible to play in the program for one year.
The rink has a great reputation not only for ice conditions and the facility itself, but with the staff and coaches, especially since it is home to the Predators. It is not uncommon for us to see Penguins there from week to week, including Ray Shero and Mario Lemieux. It’s become pretty standard at this point to walk off the ice and run into Pascal Dupuis.
There were probably about 50-60 kids at the clinic today. The kids were divided up into groups and rotated through stations for an hour. Each station had one coach teaching a skill:
2. Puck Handling/Carrying the puck
3. Skating with your stick (and how to fall/get up properly with your stick)
4. Skating around the net and passing it off
5. Shooting skills
Most of the coaches I recognized because they teach my son’s Learn to Skate class. To have upwards of 60 children on the ice at one time takes a great amount of organization and patience. The thing that was frustrating at Mount Lebanon’s program was that if a child couldn’t complete a skill, they were moved on anyway. There was a lack of individual attention that is critical for children who are just playing a sport for the first time. I did not notice that today. I saw coaches taking children aside and working with them.
Something I have noticed about my son in particular is that he skates much better outside of his lessons. A child’s natural abilities will come out when they are putting what they know to practice in a real life situation. So if your child seems like he may struggle in a learning environment when it comes to sports, it isn’t cause for alarm. When you are doing a practical application you aren’t thinking. You are reacting, whereas in lessons, much of the time you are concentrating on replicating an action.
Also, some other advice that I utilized in the dek hockey clinic is that when kids are in such a large group all wearing the same thing, do something to make your child stand out. This is simply practical for a few reasons.
1. If your child gets injured, you’ll know quickly that it is him/her.
2. You can keep an eye on their progress better.
3. You can keep an eye on how they are interacting with the coach and their peers.
In hockey, all kids look the same. They have cages on their faces. When 50-60 kids are on the ice, picking out your kid is of utmost importance. The Little Pens provides a jersey for the kids, but they are not required to wear the jersey. My son isn’t wearing his because even the smallest size is too large on him. I even tried taking the advice of another mom and cuffing and tacking the sleeves up, but even then it is still too long for him to wear and be able to play safely.
All of these kids, even the ones wearing their own hockey jerseys were predictably wearing a Crosby jersey. I threw a Fleury jersey on him. Also, I put a piece of bright green stick tape on his helmet and wrote his name on it. He was the only kid with neon green on his helmet and one of two kids in a Winter Classic Fleury jersey.
Other things you can try are different colored socks, putting a bright color stick tape on the socks instead of clear tape, or taping their name on their backs when the jerseys don’t already have names and numbers. For Little Pens, every single kid is “Crosby 87″.
Some other advice I can offer to first time hockey parents:
1. Try on all of the equipment at home and practice putting it on your child and let them get used to moving around in it
2. Force your kid to use the bathroom prior to putting on all of their equipment
3. Arrive at the rink early. I give typically about 20-30 minutes of time. A young child is not easy to get fully dressed for hockey! Their attention spans just don’t allow it.
4. Get the standard green Gatorade water bottle. It is the only thing I have found that squirts perfectly into the kids mouths through the cage on their helmet.
5. Make sure you get your kids blades sharpened! A lot of hockey shops will even offer to bake your kids skates free of charge. This will help mold the skate to fit their foot better.
6. Cold gear! Invest in Nike, Reebok, or Under Armour cold gear to put under their equipment. It’s worth the price. Compression pants and shorts are great under the equipment. Check sales racks.
7. Talk to your kids about safety on the ice and stress safety. We have created a list that we recite before every dek hockey and ice hockey practice: listen to your coaches, pay attention to directions, blade on the ground, no hitting anyone from behind, no tripping anyone, head up.
8. Let the coaches coach! You can talk to your child after practice about anything of concern and address it with the coaches.
9. Talk to the other parents! This is how you’re going to learn a lot about what to expect having your child in hockey. They can give you amazing tips on where to buy equipment, facilities that have good learning and beginner programs, and may be able to sell you used equipment. Kids outgrew equipment VERY QUICKLY. Buying used is sometimes almost like buying new.
Overall, the experience this week was fantastic. My son had a great time and was excited about everything he learned. I think this is going to be a rewarding experience for Jordan and the other kids.