Why Kids Quit Hockey

Glen Mulcahy

March 11, 2017

empty hockey net

After a CBC Radio interview, I was asked why kids are dropping sports in record numbers and in particular, hockey.  So I decided to break it down into the 5 core reasons why kids quit hockey:

#5 – To Avoid Coach or Parent criticism

I also have seen my share of coaches criticizing players in both games and practices for making a mistake .. some even screaming at their top of their lungs that it cost the team the game.  This is simply unacceptable and our youth do not need to experience this at such a young age.

In January, 2015, Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association (VIAHA) wrote a letter proposing to ban parents from the stands because they continued to criticise every play and it was causing minor hockey officials to quit.  Saskatoon had similar challenges a couple of years back when one of their associations with over 1000 kids registered were in jeopardy of having their season cancelled due to a lack of referees.

One of the ideas may be to follow the lead of BC Soccer or European hockey and push the competitive games to later age group.  In Europe many countries do not have competitive hockey until 13-14 and even then, they only play one game a week to ensure the optimal development of their youth.

Criticising young minds causes stress and suppresses creativity. Let’s give kids the opportunity to be kids and PLAY without fear so they participate well into their adulthood.

#4 –  It Costs Too Much

In terms of the most expensive sports to participate in Canada, hockey was ranked #2.  First and third are water skiing and equestrian riding.

1/3 of youth in Canada do not participate in ANY youth sport due, in part, to high costs.  The average AAA hockey player costs families $8,000 - 12,000 per year and this number skyrockets for players in academies and specialized programs.  Then there are the out-of-town tournaments where after paying for tournament fee, hotels, transport, and restaurant meals families are out of pocket another $1500.

It is no wonder why more and more kids are dropping out of hockey and pursuing other sports.

#3 – The Time and Travel Commitment

Rep Hockey in particular is a 5 day a week commitment for 2 practices, 2 games and 1 dryland session running from Sept to March.  These players are pressured to feel they need to participate in competitive spring hockey to stay in the rep-calibre levels.

Some teams have consecutive weekend spring travel tournaments and have to commit for 6 consecutive weekends - so much for spring break.  Not only does the time/travel become strenuous, it does not help financially either.

#2 – Too Competitive

Coaches who focus on the outcome (winning) as early as the Atom Age group (9-10 years old) to achieve that goal.  This concerns me as hockey is a long-term development sport where players do not reach their peak performance until their mid 20’s.

Some coaches even practice tactics like line matching, dedicated power play, penalty kill units, and pull players off the ice all in an effort to win. It is disappointing to see Canada’s second most expensive sport deprive kids the opportunity to PLAY in all situations and improve as a result.  Parents pay an equal share, so kids should play an equal amount.

This is why BC Soccer recently eliminated scorekeeping from games U12 and under.  This gives kids an environment that is safe to fail.  When kids are less pressured, they work on skills and creativity in game play in a positive environment and worry less about making mistakes and being criticized.

Amada Visek did a study in Washington DC asking kids what was fun about sports and the top 5 reasons were the following:

  1. Trying your best
  2. When coaches treated player with respect
  3. Getting playing time – 90% of kids would rather PLAY on a losing team than sit on the bench and not contribute to a winning team
  4. Playing well together as a team
  5. Getting along with your teammates

Ironically, although educators, coaches and parents believe that winning is important it does not align with where kids felt it was in terms of the characteristics of fun.  Of the 81 characteristics that Amanda found in her study, winning did not even fall in the top 40 answers.

Although kids enjoy winning, there are many other driving factors.  Other studies show winning is not in the top 10 of reasons why kids play, so we need to educate parents, coaches and executive members what the top reasons why kids play vs. quit so are all on the same page to ensure the youth sports experience is a positive one for everyone.

#1 – It is no longer fun

Regardless what study I have come across over the years, the #1 reason why kids play sports is because it is FUN.  The reason they quit is because it no longer is.  Although reasons for quitting any sport or hockey differ slightly, the reason they quit starting as early as peewee (11-12 Years old) is that the hockey experience isn't fun.

Don`t be a kids last coach