Everybody has heard the story of putting in the big rocks first – set priorities so that you take care of the most important things with urgency, and then fill in the small interstitial spaces with the lower priority or importance tasks or items. Stephen Covey has popularized the story so it must leap out of the pages of apocrypha.
The biggest rock for a youth hockey player is actually the smallest of melons: protect your kid’s head first. I’m regularly surprised by the number of young hockey players who have expensive carbon fiber sticks but helmets that don’t fit well or aren’t top of the line. Here are my big rocks, most to least important, for youth hockey equipment:
Helmet. You get exactly one head and one set of adult teeth. Protect them. Spend the most on a helmet that is well padded, comfortable, and most important, well within the timeline set on the safety sticker on the back. Yes, helmets “wear out”, the protective cushions lose their spongy benefits, and they need to be replaced. Don’t buy one used or take a hand me down unless it fits all of the above criteria. For kids with awesome flow, curly hair, or both, invest in a lightweight under-helmet cap. Keeps the hair from being pulled and out of the kids’ eyes.
Skates. They make everything else happen. If they’re too loose, too tight, or not sharpened, then your skater will struggle. Definitely buy them used, and as your kids’ feet grow, keep an eye on the skate fit and feel.
Wheeled hockey bag. I am going to incur the wrath of hockey purists everywhere for this, but I am a big believer in smaller players wheeling their own bags. If they can skate on the ice with all of the gear on, they can take it to the car in a wheeled bag. Weighs the same, and you get some leverage from the bag with wheels. It is the first step in hockey player responsibility – from there you go to making sure everything is in the bag, to the kids dressing themselves. For parents who don’t want to take the extra three minutes for their own kids to wheel their gear out (vs having it carried by an adult), you miss the best time of hockey practice: When you get to ask (not tell, not correct, not coach) what was the favorite part of practice, and what your little Jagr liked the best. Use that extra three minutes to form your kids’ best early hockey memories.
Protective gear. Individual fit and preferences vary, and like skates, they outgrow it quickly. If their gloves are too big they’ll be dropping their sticks (or gloves, but not in a five-for-fighting way).
Stick. Yes, it’s last. No beginning player is taking a slap shot (they don’t do that for a few years), and most are learning the basics of a wrist or snap shot. Wooden sticks work wonderfully well (even seemingly alliterative models like the Jagr Junior). If you have $400 to spend on hockey gear, $100 of that goes to the helmet, $120 to skates, $140 for protective gear and a bag, and $40 for two sticks. Don’t cut them both; leave one full length until you see how much your mite grows. Tape up the blade, and put a nice knob of tape on the butt end of the stick (little hands with gloves have trouble picking up anything laying flat on the ice; the tape knob lifts the stick up enough so little fingers can grab it when we ask them to put their sticks along the boards, or when they inevitably drop them mid-drill). Use pink tape or camo tape or skull tape or any other flavor of hockey tape that you like – this is supposed to be fun.