It’s no secret that hockey players are a different breed. Hockey is a fast-paced and intense sport that requires a certain level of toughness for a player to be able to compete at a high level. Players must learn a variety of skills and then use them simultaneously in order to be an effective teammates on the ice.
Though hockey is the main sport in Canada, it isn’t as popular as say football or even baseball in the United States. This can create a barrier for young children wanting to learn the sport — as they may struggle to find access to an ice rink nearby. Learning to skate is a challenge in and of itself and it’s one of the most difficult things new players need to master.
1. Lack of Resources
While ice rinks may be easy to find in some countries, finding one can be a difficult task in some locations. For children trying to get started in the sport, it can be difficult to learn to skate without consistent access to the ice.
Families must invest in gear before a player can take the ice for even a practice game. A player requires skates, pads, and a stick at the bare minimum and this can all add up in terms of cost. This can effectively stop a child from learning to play if the family doesn’t have the financial resources to invest in the sport.
2. Learning to Skate
Once an ice rink has been secured, learning to skate can be a difficult task in and of itself. Before the rules of hockey come into play, an individual must be confident in their skating ability before they add sticks and pucks to the equation.
Learning to skate can take years of practice, which is why many hockey players start so young. Balancing on a slippery surface while skating at a high speed and maneuvering a puck can be quite the challenge — and it raises the bar for entry into the game of hockey.
Remember, skating is a sport all on its own. You’re basically trying to learn two sports at once, how to skate and how to play ice hockey. This can create a unique challenge that people don’t face when they’re attempting to learn any other sport such as baseball or basketball.
3. Maneuvering a Hockey Stick
Unlike other major sports, such as soccer and football, hockey requires you to move at a fast pace while holding onto a handheld object — which can take more focus and hand-eye coordination. Using a stick to make contact with the puck requires the player to develop a feel for the stick and to act as if it’s part of their own body.
Adding this element into a sport as physical and tough as hockey can be difficult for some players to grasp. Aside from skating, this may be the second most difficult challenge when learning how to play hockey.
Stickhandling is a skill in and of itself and one that can take years to gain mastery of. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need to worry about the fancy moves that players use to finesse the puck into the net — just the basics. However, even the basic motions can create a mental strain for a new player who’s trying to figure everything out.
4. Skating Over 20 MPH
Hockey players are moving at speeds of 20+ miles per hour while they’re on the ice, which is significantly faster than sports where players are running. This intense speed can be too much for some players and it can take a while to get used to.
Along with moving at high speeds, players need to be able to multitask between their stick, the puck, and other players. This can be exhausting and it can take time to build up the stamina to do all of these tasks simultaneously.
Players are effectively sprinting down the ice throughout a game and this can wear on them physically. If a player hasn’t built up some level of cardiovascular endurance, this will take a toll on them in the long run.
5. Playing With Extra Weight
While some sports, such as football, require players to don a protective equipment setup — it’s not nearly as heavy as ice hockey gear is. Ice hockey equipment can weigh up to 40 pounds! This is a significant load of extra weight that a player must learn how to carry while still moving at top speed and staying nimble on the ice.
While the ice rink is cold and a lot of gear may help keep the player warm at first, as they begin skating sweat begins to become an issue. It can be uncomfortable to have so much heavy gear on and then be drenched in sweat by the end of a practice session or game.
It may take a while for a player to get used to the extra gear and the challenges that it poses to their playing ability. Even during practicing skating sessions, players should wear their equipment to begin getting a feel for it so that it’s less of a shock later on.
6. Getting Used to the Physicality
For some players, learning how to check opponents and how to receive checks themselves can be a challenge. Hockey is very physical and there is a lot of contact during the course of a game. Injuries aren’t uncommon and in general, there is a risk whenever a player takes the ice.
Players develop their strength, both physically and mentally, throughout the journey of learning how to play ice hockey. For those who can’t handle the rough nature of the sport, playing it competitively or long term can be difficult.
7. Handling the Unpredictability
Ice hockey can be an incredibly unpredictable sport. While learning the game, players must take the basic skills and follow the rules of play, while being able to turn on a dime and adjust their play to whatever the particular game requires. Having a good “hockey sense” is key here and that’s not something that can be taught, but players develop it over years of practice.
There are many situations that may come up in a game that isn’t explicitly laid out in the guidebook. It’s up to players to work with their teammates and coaches to handle these scenarios.
8. Understanding the Risk of Injury
As mentioned above, there is an inherent risk of injury whenever a player steps out onto the ice. Even during a practice, a puck could make contact with a player and hurt them or a wayward skate blade could cause an injury as well.
Understanding and accepting this risk is key when first learning how to play hockey. Ice hockey isn’t necessarily a safe sport, but players are able to lower their risk of injury by getting a proper fit on their gear and protecting themselves as best as they can.
It can be a challenge to let go of some of that fear and immerse yourself in the game. If a player is consistently scared every time they get on the ice, it may be difficult for them to reach their full potential as a hockey player.
9. Finding the Right Position
There are quite a few positions that you can have as a hockey player — whether you’re a forward, a defenseman, or a goalie. Depending on how you play, you may have a clear path as to which position you’ll play in but for some people, it may take some trial and error before they find their right fit.
Forwards are broken down into three categories:
Defensemen are broken down into three categories as well:
With the help of a good coach, new players should be able to find their proper fit and where they can best help the team.
How Long Does Hockey Take to Learn?
This depends on how old the player is — as younger players are often more malleable and may have an easier time picking up ice skating and the basics of the game. However, there are many recreational players who began in adulthood and who enjoy playing the game just as much as the professional players.
Young players may be able to learn how to skate and get down the basics of the sport within a couple of months, while it may take adults a bit longer to gain their footing and confidence on the ice. Adults may have developed a stronger fear of injury when compared to young children, who oftentimes haven’t had enough life experience to have these deep fears.
If hockey has been something you’ve been interested in trying out, you should certainly go for it. There are many recreational leagues around the world that are a great fit for many amateur players.
Why You Should Learn How to Play Hockey
All in all, hockey is a great sport and is gaining popularity every year. The most difficult aspect of learning how to play is learning how to skate. Once this skill has been achieved, the rest gets much easier and other skills can be introduced and mastered.
If finding an ice rink and learning how to skate become too much of a barrier, field hockey is always an option. There are many similarities between field and ice hockey — except field hockey doesn’t require skates or a cold rink, just your feet, and a field.
Hockey offers a great sense of camaraderie between teammates, whether it’s at a professional level or in a local beer league. It’s a great way to get some cardio exercise and to build a sense of community around you.