By Melissa Walsh
Ask your kid, or any hockey kid, why he/she likes, or loves, playing hockey.
Now first keep in mind that there are kids who just "like" playing hockey; and there are kids who totally "love" playing hockey. There are kids who play hockey as a pastime; then there are kids who are hockey players in the core of their being, who view themselves as hockey players. For these kids, hockey is an organically grown passion, not amusing recreation planted by mom and dad.
I would wager that the responses to this question would be similar among all hockey kids, whether they like or love playing hockey. Chances are -- and this is just my educated guess as a hockey mom, youth coach, and rec (beer-league) player -- that every kid would say something to this effect: "I like/love playing hockey because it's fun."
When asked to elaborate about the "fun" aspect, every kid would add something like, "It's fun because I play with my friends." No kid is going to say, "I love hockey because I might get a college scholarship." Or "I love hockey because I want to be an elite player and I want to undertake the grueling path of becoming a top draft pick, giving up most of my social life as a teenager."
There were 160,618 USA Hockey-registered adult players for the 2012-13 season, an increase of about 5,000 from the previous season (stats for 2013-14 not yet released). Hockey Canada cites over 40,000 registered adult recreational hockey players. Just like the kids, adult hockey players play hockey to have fun with friends. It's also an awesome workout. And there's beer-drinking and chatting in the dressing room after, the hallowed place of hockey teams.
Whether an adult plays elite pro hockey or in a beer league, the motivation to continue to play is the same. All play for the love of the game and camaraderie of the club. If an NHLer loses the love for playing the game he loved as a kid, it will be tough for him to do what's required to stay on that elite roster. Even as a fanatical lover of the game, it's strenuous to stay on the roster. If he continues to love playing even after retirement from pro hockey, he'll end up playing where so many of his childhood hockey-playing buddies ended up - in the beer leagues. Or he'll join a regular drop-in with other A players or alumni club.
Parents who think paying for youth hockey is an "investment" toward their kid's college tuition or career stardom would be better off putting the money in the bank to accrue interest.
What a hockey parent buys her kid when submitting that ice payment is a fun, meaningful experience. There are also those priceless lessons in humility, work ethic, playing for team, and honing will-to-win instincts. Each hockey player, whether a kid or adult, must always own his/her hockey experience, not the person signing a check.
Hockey parents support beer-league prospects, which is pretty darn special. It's the gift of hockey memories and the investment in fun and friendships that will last a lifetime.
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