Fellow Hockey Parents, Please Help Me Understand…

“I’m definitely posting a new blog tomorrow,” I said to myself everyday for the last three months…apparently I made up for my absence with the length of this post, though.

I’ve started this post several times over the past few days, but I’ve always deleted it because what I’d typed seemed too inflammatory.  I’m having troubles balancing my roles as an advocate for competitive, educational-based athletics and as a frustrated dad.  I’m hoping that I’ve found a voice for this post that doesn’t point fingers or come across as accusatory because, in complete honesty, I’m really just curious to know why this culture is the way it is.  I take pride in seeing both sides of most arguments, but I’ve been unable to understand the other side of this one so I’m looking for input.

As a kid growing up in small town North Dakota, I played Little League baseball games against surrounding small towns at 9+ years old (basically, our version of an in-house summer baseball league with the closest towns to ours), started playing school-sponsored basketball games in the 5th grade, football in the 7th grade, and rarely had (or looked for) camps or leagues during the off season.  I was fortunate enough to grow up with a twin brother, and we spent hours playing every sport imaginable against each other in the back yard, the basement, or the park across the street (if you’re curious, my combined lifetime record against him is roughly 5,000-0, at least it is according to me).  We had friends that we often played pick-up baseball, “touch” football, and basketball games with, and we spent an uncountable number of hours messing around at the pool.

I greatly value the benefit of participation in activities for fun.  All of that participation time was low cost/no cost to our parents, and we were able to be kids having fun without any pressure from others to win games or be the greatest athlete in the game.  If those pressures existed, it was because we placed them on ourselves.  Because of those experiences, I don’t like that the primary way my boys play games now has to be in a highly controlled, highly structured environment.  They get plenty of back yard time, too, but that all seems secondary to organized sports.

On the flip side, I’m crazy competitive.  Personally, I’ve never understood getting involved in an activity if you aren’t trying to be the best at it, and I hated (HATE) losing.  I’ve broken tennis rackets, punted basketballs, and thrown more baseballs at my brother than I care to admit (despite going 5,000-0 against him, obviously).  For that reason, I don’t entirely mind the highly controlled, highly structured environment of youth sports.  My kids play in games where scores are kept, someone wins, someone loses, and everyone has the opportunity to learn those life skills that become more important in competitive adult life.

So to my point – my 11 year old son has played hockey since he was 5 (in Grand Forks since he was 6).  Up until last year (his first year of Squirts), he only played against other Grand Forks teams.  As 1st year Squirts, the kids/parents had a decision to make: in-house or travel.  In Grand Forks, in-house Squirts comes with a $250 participation fee, two 1.5 hour practices per week, and a single game on every weekend – which worked out to about 16ish games if I remember correctly from last year .  Travel Squirts has a $675 participation fee, two 1.5 hour practices per week, 25+ games, and five weekend tournaments (one of which is in Grand Forks).  As I’ve written about before, I understand that the only guarantee for those fees and time are for my son to participate, so it was an easy choice for us: he played in-house hockey.

Great decision.  He got to play with his friends, got a little instruction, and had plenty of ice time, but he also had lots of time to do other things as well.  (As a parent, between his participation fee and equipment, I maybe spent a total of $350 and didn’t have to spend my weekends in other towns figuring out ways to kill time outside of the 3-4 hours my kid spent on the ice.)  Because of his limited game schedule and zero weekend tournaments, we spent time going to UND hockey games, watched our two high school teams play their winter sports, spent time with family, and even found a couple weekends to head to the lake (where my boys spent hours and hours skating in sub-zero temps on the lake and loved every second of it!).  My son got his fill of hockey, and we didn’t spend our entire winter doing nothing other than watching 10-11 year-olds play hockey.

This year as a 2nd year Squirt, our plan was the same.  We were going to get him into the in-house program and essentially duplicate last year’s experiences.  EXCEPT, the in-house hockey program was cancelled due to a lack of interest – 6 total registrants.

Which baffles me.

Grand Forks is probably going to have 6 travel squirt teams this winter.  At 16ish players per team, the program will involve in the neighborhood of 90-100 families (depending on siblings playing, roster size, etc.).  Here’s where I need help understanding the culture (and I’m hoping that the more anonymous nature of an online comments section will solicit some feedback).

As I’ve talked to other youth hockey parents, both current and past, I hear two themes continuously repeated:
– Youth hockey costs a lot of money.
– We spend all of our free weekends in other towns watching a couple youth hockey games.

So if the majority of families feel this way (and the majority of people who’ve talked to me do feel this way, so either (1) it is the majority of families who honestly feel this way, (2) I’m either not hearing from the other side, or (3) they’re lying to me because they know what I want to hear), why aren’t more people signed up for in-house hockey?  It seems so simple to me.  If parents don’t like spending that much money and don’t like spending all of their weekends at youth hockey, then why the heck aren’t more people taking advantage of the option that’s both cheaper and less time consuming (while still giving your kid a ton of ice time!)??

As a comparison point, many of these same hockey kids – mine included – also play youth football and Cal Ripken baseball.  For the youth football league, there were 9 teams (which included some teams from area towns); the kids practiced twice a week and played Saturday morning games in Grand Forks.  For the Cal Ripken baseball league, there were two 5 team divisions; the kids practiced during the week and played Monday night games in Grand Forks.  For both sports, there was never a reason to leave Grand Forks.

In my opinion, not engaging in a full travel season (when possible) is better for everybody involved.  It’s better for parents so we don’t spend the additional dollars or all of our family time in the winter at hockey rinks, and it’s better for the kids who learn that entire families don’t revolve around their sports’ schedules.
All of that brings me back to my question for hockey parents, both past and present – what am I missing??  When I’ve asked parents about this subject directly, the only answer I ever get is “Well, that’s Grand Forks hockey.”  I have some theories, but I can’t make any of them fit the narrative.

  • Theory 1 – To play against top competition:  I get the impression that many parents feel like traveling around to play other towns is creating exposure against other “top talent” to speed the progress of our own kids.  BUT – (1) if that’s the case, why doesn’t the same concern exist in other sports?  Most (all?) other team sports have a participation option that allows kids to stay in town.  (2) Other towns are splitting their “talent” into multiple teams like Grand Forks does, so you’re never really playing “best on best”.  (3) Don’t we have quite a few good little hockey players in town?  Wouldn’t playing games against the best kids in Grand Forks be similar to playing the best kids from elsewhere?  (4) How do we know who are the best talents at 11 years old??
  • Theory 2 – More ice time with better coaches: As I listed above, the in-house program had about the same amount of weekly ice time.  The travel program has a handful more games and the weekend tournaments, but those come with a whole lot of other lost time, too (traveling, between games, etc.).  (And, like I mentioned earlier, my kid actually got far more ice team on his own on weekends by not being on a travel team.)   Regarding coaching, these teams are coached by dads.  If the kids are skating in-house, the dads are coaching in-house.
  • Theory 3 – Playing travel is the only way to make the “next” team: When parents ask me about whether or not to send their kids to camps, leagues, etc., I always ask them the same question – what’s the worst case scenario you’re ok with?  Applied specifically to travel hockey (or any other sport), after pouring all of this time and money into it, what’s the worst case scenario you’re ok with?  Are you ok if your kid doesn’t get to play college hockey?  Are you ok if your kid is a role player on the high school team?  Are you ok if your kid gets cut from the high school team?  Are you ok if your kid gets burned out at 14 years old and just stops playing entirely?  It’s important to remember that you’re only paying for the opportunity to participate with no guarantee for the future.  Between our two high schools, we only have roster room for 40 varsity players, so 60 of the travel squirts playing this year will NOT be playing high school varsity hockey in Grand Forks.  According to statistical data, only 1-4 of those remaining 40 will have to opportunity to play beyond high school (maybe 1-2 on a scholarship).  As you’re paying for participation fees and travel year after year after year, keep in mind that the math is against opportunities to play each year in the future.  Just about every year, I get at least one phone call from the parent of a junior or sophomore who was cut to vent about getting cut after spending all that time and money in youth hockey, so we obviously don’t have every parent in town “OK” with the worst case scenario.
  • Theory 4 – Your kid really likes travel hockey: Well, of course he does.  You’re scheduling your family’s time around him, buying him travel sweats that match his buddies’, and taking him to a hotel four weekends a winter.  Similar to my thoughts on summer camps (here and here), if your kid really wants to play travel hockey AND if you don’t mind spending the time and money on the experience, then go for it!  But ask your kid what he/she likes about travel hockey – especially if you’re not so OK with spending all that time and money.  Kids can get matching sweats and go play with their friends at Choice Health or Canadinn without the whole family spending the weekend elsewhere all winter long.
  • Theory 5 – It’s more about the parents than the kids: This reason might actually hold water although I doubt many, if any, parents would admit it.  I’ve heard multiple stories about – and seen first hand – how the coolers come out quickly before, between, and after youth hockey games at travel tournaments.  While I don’t agree with this part of the hockey culture in Grand Forks, I can’t argue with it’s existence.  Parents have the prerogative to use youth hockey as an excuse to create get-togethers with friends, although that’s a pretty poor reason for justifying youth sports.
  • Theory 6 – Keeping Up With The Joneses:  My gut tells me that this is the real reason – that parents in Grand Forks continue to think travel is the only real option simply because kids in Grand Forks have always piled onto the travel teams.  I get that it’s difficult to be one of the parents who doesn’t follow this trend, but I think it’s worth exploring what your goal as a parent is and whether that matches your kids’ goals.  When the in-house season was canceled this year, I talked to my son, and we decided to not participate in travel hockey.  He is luke-warm on spending that much time playing, I’m not going to spend that much time and money for him to participate in something he’s marginally committed to, and he has other things he’d like to do this winter.  Instead, he’s going to try out some club swimming (which should be a great new experience for him!), he’s trying to talk his step-mom into taking him skiing, we’ll head back out the lake a couple times, and we’ll have plenty of weekend time to pursue other interests.  The discussion for my 2nd son will be different when he gets to Squirts next year because he loves playing hockey.  My hope is that we’ll have the in-house program for him to get his time, but if not, we’ll have to discuss as a family whether that cost and amount of time is worth participation.

…and so I’m back to the beginning, asking past and present hockey parents for answers.  Maybe I’m in the complete minority in all of this, but I have to believe that out of 100 Squirt parents, I’m not the only one sitting on this side of the fence.  The comments section of this blog can be as anonymous as you want them to be, so please comment to let me know what I’m missing in all of this.  If you’re one of the hundred families who avoided the in-house program this year (or one of the thousands who avoided it in the past), tell me why!  Just because I don’t agree with the culture certainly doesn’t make it wrong; I’d just like to understand the reasons.

Comment away…

…and GO CUBS!

 

EDIT – Just had a colleague send me this link about Duluth.  I figured this was a good place to put it.

165 Responses

  1. Personal opinion only so take it for what it is worth – A lot of parents think there kid is going to be the next “big thing” and a lot of parents think that if their kid is the best player on the team then they are the best parents too. I have played and coached for a long time and I have seen this on way too many occasions.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you, Mr. P. I try to use math as much as possible, but it’s difficult to believe that *my kid* may be one of the 60 who don’t make the team along the way.

    2. Sam

      House league hockey is typically for kids who don’t know the game of hockey that well , they just want to play for fun traveling hockey teams is made for kids that understand and know the game very well that’s why they Excel and exceed the next level no one is interested in house league hockey no one cares about it the kids that play in house league hockey are very untalented, as selfish and as in conceited as this might sound that is the truth the kids and house league hockey are not talented hockey players no one’s interested in watching them and no one wants them on a team no pun intended but there’s the truth there you have it that’s the truth in your face, and if you want to play hockey you have to live hockey you have to bleed hockey you have to breed hockey you can’t think of nothing else but hockey that’s it that’s all there is to it nothing more nothing less

      1. highschoolsportsstuff

        There really isn’t a whole lot of logic here; this is the attitude that’s feeding the problem in Grand Forks.

        If everyone was playing in an in-house league, wouldn’t the in-house league then contain all of the kids who “bleed hockey,” “breed hockey,” and “can’t think of nothing else but hockey”? With a cheaper and less time consuming option, I wouldn’t listen to parents continually telling me about how difficult youth hockey is both financially and in terms of time commitment.

      2. Bobbi

        Hopefully your child puts as much time into school work as he does hockey. That way he may have an understanding of punctuation and grammar and teach it to you.

        1. West Fargo

          Wow who cares, life is short. When it comes down to it these phones and auto correction don’t work. Plus english grammar and spelling is rediculous and not as important as you think anymore. All kids use slang, abbreviations, etc.

      3. HH

        It would be easier to understand your point if you were able to use grammar and punctuation. That’s it. There you have it. That’s the truth in your face. (See what I did there?)

        Also, what exactly is “breeding” hockey?

  2. Sioux per Fan

    Hockey is a huge sport in this town and out youth grow up watching UND and thinking of playing there someday. Whike all your data is completely true in 2016, in Grand Forks, and playing hockey, no one cares about those numbers. IF you/your son want to be a part of hockey, this is the road you travel starting at age 10 or so.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Well, yeah, but why? We send kids to college teams in other sports without forcing meaningless travel on them at 10 years old. Why is the perception that it *has* to be like this in hockey but not in anything else?

      1. John

        That’s not true at all. All sports have traveling teams, not just hockey. Baseball and Basketball both have traveling teams starting around the age of 10. And the truth is usually a kid that is not on a traveling team will never make the team as they grow up to be highschool age. Highschool coach’s are aware of who the good players are on traveling teams.

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          Yes, every other sport has a travel team, but hockey is the only one that doesn’t have a non-travel option. Hockey is also the only sport that I ever get calls about because of the excessive cost and time at the youth level. I’ve never fielded a similar call from the parent of a kid in a sport other than hockey who is frustrated about the amount of time and money they’ve spend on their kid(s).

          Our high school coaches are aware of who is good when the kids walk onto the gym/rink/field; they couldn’t care less if a kid became good with or without travel. The benefits of excessive competitive play are only for a very small percentage. The kids who are loaded with natural talent are going to make teams regardless. The kids without any natural talent are not. Between those two groups are a ton of kids with a ton of variables, all of which add up to having the ability to make a team or not. Seems silly to me to create a culture that limits the number of those potential participants as early as 10 years old.

  3. Sioux per Fan

    Like it or not, growing up in GF kids and#or parents are in love with hockey. Everyone follows UND hockey, GFC and GFRR hickey are supported and successful year in and year out. While all your data is spot on accurate, no one thinks about that when their child is 10 or 11 years old. We give our kids every opportunity to be the best and the cost is immaterial. No one says it’s right, no one says it’s productI’ve but the other option is having your child not compete. I’m 53 and it’s different now than it was 40 years ago. It just is

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Exactly my point. People need to be aware that 60 of these 100 Squirts aren’t going to play varsity high school hockey, so we should be providing a cheaper, easier option for the masses. Back to baseball as an example, why not follow that model? Make the bigger league strictly in house with two separate travel teams for those families who want to go that route. Like you said, right now, if you don’t travel, you can’t play hockey…which isn’t doing the right thing for our kids.
      And I still haven’t had someone tell me how/why we need to leave GF to make our 10-11 year olds better. If we’re churning out all these good hockey players, why do we need to leave town to be challenged? Beyond that, how many times do our multiple teams travel to another town for the weekend only to end up playing each other? Makes no sense.
      I don’t read your comments as arguing, but I also don’t think that continually condoning the culture will help, either. Regardless, I appreciate your reading and commenting!

      1. Nodak Loves Hockey

        This is coming from another youth hockey organization (Minot) player-parent perspective : In house squirts is not at all a bad option. I believe some 10-20 years ago that was the only option in our town. I grew up playing against in-town competition where kids were spread out mostly evenly and this made hockey fun. With Pewee hockey around the corner at 12 and traveling teams then made necessary to advance to high school, I think squirt traveling can wait. Make the A team in pewee then worry about development. Or make the B team and if your not satisfied work harder. Play street hockey all summer, go to camps if your parents can afford it. The true test is to see what your kid will do when he realizes he/she is not the best at their age right now. Will they pursue other sports? Or will they work harder to get better? I ate, slept, breathed hockey and got better, made the A team (after getting cut as a 6th grader) then went on to high school and junior…

        On the other had I also can side with traveling as I loved the end of the year tournament out of town. Felt like the Stanley Cup! Now I didn’t do that in squirts every other weekend or anything but I can’t take away from the parents and players who do.. It’s all on how much you are willing to give to the game. You wanna be the best, you play the best. As good as Grand Forks hockey is, traveling to play area teams like Grafton, Warroad, TRF, Roseau etc IS going to make your little guy better by giving them that outside glimpse of what is out there. Even if they are on that borderline 40-60 range player, they know they have to work that much harder. Again this is the diehard hockey fan talking so take it for what its worth. I wanted to play all year even though I still played other sports, I just knew hockey was the one.

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          I have no problem with the families that want to be involved in travel sports for whatever their reasons. My opinion is based on the number of people who are “choosing” to be in travel hockey but then complain about how much time and money it takes. There was a cheaper, less time-consuming option that people simply didn’t take advantage of because of (from what I’m hearing) the “perception” of in-house hockey. It just seems silly to me to choose the expensive league that takes away a ton of time then complain about how expensive it is and that you have no free time. I’m advocating for a culture change where the in-house program is the “norm”, and families can choose to be a part of the travel world or not based on their own rationale. As it is now, if you don’t travel, you don’t participate.

  4. Kristin O'Connor

    We were one of those 6 kids who tried to register too! Our son was DEVASTATED when we told him it was cancelled. He loves hockey but doesn’t want to travel and is now left with basically zero options to play. So sad for these kids!

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I don’t think this describes most of the kids or families though. There are several (and I might be one next year) who bite the bullet and do what’s necessary so kids can play, but my hope is still that in-house makes a return next year.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. HNK

    Excellent article. I have first hand experience with traveling squirts. Its insane, parents are insane. l’m gonna say you’re right on about parents wanting to keep up with others. I’d even go further to say It’s not always the wish the child, but parents living through their children. I did not know about this in-house option, maybe more parents band together and demand it.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for the read and the comment! I hope in-house returns; it’s a good option for kids to just have fun and get ice time.

  6. Family of Seven

    Fantastic write-up that is spot on, Mark! Our family wholeheartedly agrees with your reasoning. This is an excellent article which raises valid points that a lot of families are thinking but feel like they don’t have a voice in the matter. Thank you for putting a spotlight on a hushed (almost socially taboo) issue.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’ve had the same feeling based on comments that parents make to me – that lots of people think this, but nobody wants to be the “outcast” who talks about. Thanks for the read and reply!

  7. Frustrated mom

    I went to sign my son up online last week to find the same devastating news. I have an older son who is now a junior in college who played hockey and traveled and worked hard enough to play high school until his senior year when he was cut. I won’t even get started on that. My younger son who is 10 has played hockey but just does not have the same drive to play hockey 6 days a week and travel. He loves to play hockey and now as your son has no opportunity in this town to play. When I called the park district they told me they only had 7 kids signed up and I said registration goes for another two weeks how can you make that decision already. My son wasn’t even signed up yet. We just finished football and were now getting ready for the next activity. We were lucky enough when my older son was this age to play as part of the Supras hockey club. We were a part of that team for three years and that became our second family. We were blessed with two amazing coaches who taught are boys not only about hockey but about respect and team work. We had a very successful team not only in wins but in the young men who grew up together. Three of these young men do play division one hockey as we speak. I think we have lost sight of so much of this in today’s Grand Forks hockey.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for the read and reply! That stinks for your son; hopefully he’s able to find something else he enjoys to occupy some time this winter.

    2. Your senior was probably cut because there was another player that actually did take it seriously all those years and simply outperformed him. That goes back to the beginning of what you want for your kid. If you want them (if *they*) want to play highschool hockey, it’s just a fact they need to put in more time & effort & skill than the kid that just skates once a week for 10 years. Unfortunately (for him), that’s the nature of sports. Any sports, I’d say. You can’t expect to not play a higher level of baseball (travel) all those years and make a varsity team. It just doesn’t work that way, because those kids put in much more effort. (Unless they are hyper-talented). Football is about the only sport where you don’t see a travel/elevated option.

      1. highschoolsportsstuff

        But, again, you also can’t create an expectation that playing on a travel team means the kid will make a varsity team.

        You have a curious comment in your reply: “That goes back to the beginning of what you want for your kid.” This is a majority of the problem with youth sports today – kids getting forced into what the parents want for the kids.

        1. I disagree. “What do you want for your kids” does not (always) mean you’re forcing them in to anything. *I’m* curious as to why *you* jump to that? As a parent “I want for my kids” to be good people. So I teach them to be polite, kind & respectful. Am I forcing that on them? As a parent “I want for my kids” to enjoy books, so I give them books for Christmas and their birthday. Am I forcing them to love fiction? No, I’m offering up different genres to them to see what they like. “I want for my kids” to develop a love of sports, so I put a baseball bat in their hand at 2 with a plastic tee. Am I forcing baseball on them? I’d say I’m showing them what’s available. By that logic, your kind of thinking – that I’m somehow forcing them to play hockey – is a problem, and an absurd, inconvenient assertion. My 11 year old wants to play highschool hockey like his brother did. And if that’s what he wants to do, then he’s got some work ahead of him. And it doesn’t involve skating once a week if he really wants to fulfill that dream of HIS. Your negative depiction only suits the narrative you want to be victimized by. THAT is a problem. Just acknowledge you don’t want to encourage your kids because it’ll cost you too much money and move on.

          1. highschoolsportsstuff

            You need to read more replies on this whole thread before generalizing. I don’t spend the time and money for travel hockey on my oldest son because he’s not that interested in hockey. He wanted an option so he could skate a couple times a week and play some games against his friends – something that a whole lot of people in town would like. My 2nd son will be a Squirt next year. If travel is the only option for him, we’ll probably do it because he loves playing hockey. I’ve never said anything negative about encouraging kids to play sports – I obviously value that – but a culture that says you must travel at 10 years old without any other options is a problem. Personally, I’m not victimized at all; I have the means to make decisions with my family that we feel best suit our family. We’re still going to spend that time and money; it just won’t be on squirt hockey. The victims are the other families in town who have to give up hockey this early because they don’t have the means to participate in travel hockey.

            Your comments are exactly the cultural problem in Grand Forks. I don’t have a problem with anyone choosing to play travel hockey (or any other travel sport); I have a problem with a culture that has decided to tell families that they must do travel hockey if they have any chance at all to play high school hockey. 100 squirt families are in travel hockey this winter, many of them with the same mindset that you have. 60 of them aren’t going to be watching their kids play varsity hockey in Grand Forks – that’s just the simple math. While I have no problem with any family doing whatever they feel is necessary to be one of the families of the 40 kids who make varsity rosters, I do have to deal with the phone calls and emails of the frustrated parents who don’t.

  8. Matt C

    Here are a few analogies that I believe are related to what you are seeing:
    * Why won’t people save enough money in their 401(k) even though there is overwhelming evidence and statistics on the need to save for retirement?
    * Why won’t NFL coaches go for it on 4th down more often when data shows that it would increase their chances of scoring more points?
    * Why won’t parents let their kids play in the park by themselves any more, stating fear of a molester or kidnapper, even though there has been no increase in the risks over the past 30 years or so.

    A combination of conventional wisdom, thinking statistics don’t apply to them or their unique child, irrational thought and a general fear of NOT following the Jones’s is what I think is contributing to this. Here is what I think some parents go through in their thought process, whether consciously or unconsciously.
    “I know that the odds are against my kid playing college or even varsity hockey. But why should I limit his opportunity to excel today? This season? Shouldn’t I be giving him/her every opportunity to succeed? What if my child is one of the special ones? I don’t want to regret later on that my decisions to hold back his development will preclude him from fulfilling his potential. We can always move to a rec league next year, or the year after that, why should potentially stunt his/her development now? And besides, this is just how hockey is at this age. Everyone is playing on travel teams, so they must be doing it right, right? Right?”

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’m guessing that you’ve written an inner-monologue that most parents have had. Thanks for the read and reply!

  9. Eric Polries

    Good blog Mark! As a parent of a 2nd year Pee Wee…it sure makes a guy think. I’ll be contemplating this question all day now 🙂 With that said….my son really enjoys the sport, has learned a lot from it, and has made some great friends from it, so we do the traveling. I am assistant coaching for the second year in a row. Not only does it help compensate the fees, but I really enjoy the change of pace from coaching runners all year. It’s certainly a fun and intense sport! (Yes a little craziness thrown in) Good theme once again!

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for reply, Coach Polries!
      I’m certainly not questioning hockey as an activity or the benefits of being on a hockey team (you listed some good ones!). I’m just questioning a culture that has parents thinking that you *have* to travel or something really horrible might happen. With six Squirt and six Pee Wee teams, there really isn’t any reason for our kids to leave town to get their fill of hockey. (Actually – pure speculation – I’d be willing to bet that if the “main” league was a cheaper, non-travel league, we’d have more than 6 teams for both of those levels.) Just like baseball, there could still be a try-out based team (or two) for those kids/families that really wanted to travel around, but it sure stinks that GF had built a culture of “necessity” for hockey travel teams.

  10. Rob

    Theory #7
    Genetics plays a huge role and you can’t out train it.There are roughly a dozen scholarships available between ND, MN and WI. These colleges recruit all of North America looking for the best talent. Do you seriously think your child is one of the best in the country? Have you looked at the roster for UND?
    Sorry to burst your bubble, but 5’9 170lbs won’t cut at the top level, unless you are insanely good. Let them play the game and be kids, quit worrying about the future. If they are that naturally gifted, they will be found.

  11. Matt Noah

    One inconsistency in the lengthy article was the amount of weekends spent away from hearth and home. It is either 5 weekends or every weekend. Which is it?

    At least in Fargo, there is a multi-age recreational hockey program; Sunday nights at SW rink. There are also kids who go to outdoor rinks.

    Parents, not kids, make the decision to register and play squirt, peewee and bantam hockey. That’s 6 years’ worth of competitive youth hockey before they sniff a varsity roster. The numbers show there aren’t enough spots for all these kids on Red River and Central, forgetting about the kids above or below them in competitive hockey also competing for roster spots on the varsity of one of those 2 teams.

    Right now there are lots of players from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks making the UND roster. But no more than a half dozen.

    If one buys the hypothesis that all 100 players in squirt hockey have parents who believe their son holds the lucky lottery ticket to UND hockey and the NHL, then this is a case for a mental health professional.

    I can speak specifically to soccer as I run the Fargo Soccer Club. We have to travel with our competitive teams because there is little to no competition in soccer in our region (200 mile radius). That means some local game but mostly travel to Minneapolis for tournaments; 3-4 per summer. That is hardly every summer weekend. It is reasonable and affordable.

    Soccer can be expensive if one is on a ‘special’ team that competes at a very high level. Then travel to Chicago or KC is almost necessary to find competition and be seen by college coaches who wouldn’t set foot in the Dakotas or Minnesota. One player I coached for 7 years is getting 80% of his college paid for through his hard work and talent. But even the role player on the team he played on has great memories of youth soccer at an affordable price.

    In the end, there are no easy answers. Register, pay and play if you want to do it. Don’t if you don’t. There is no utopia.

    BTW, some people go a step further and actually move to cities where programs are better than their current home. Some even send their child off to Canada to seek their hockey dreams.

  12. Upset as well....

    Great article! I can tell you from personal experience that Theory #5 is spot on! I grew up in Grand Forks, played Park Board hockey, and was fortunate enough to play for Red River. I have a Squirt that played on the travel team last year (1st year)…… I was disgusted at how the hockey culture has shifted in this town. We were considering making the shift to in-house this year, but obviously now not an option. Hockey in Grand Forks is now run (and mostly coached) by a few select parents that truly believe that their child WILL be in the NHL. Keep digging and you will hear horror stories about how these kids are treated in the locker room…….it is about the kids having fun, I think not.

  13. Squirt Dad

    You are definitely not in the minority when asking “why?” I have two boys that are now in college that only had the option of playing travel youth hockey and both did. I was new to hockey but loved it as a fan. Squirts was the level I myself looked the most forward to and afterward disliked it the most. It was a milestone, see new rinks, play new teams, validate our program by playing and beating these other teams, validate your kid and your parenting by your kid being selected to the “A” team. Cost was not a problem for our family and our program was less expensive than the programs you mentioned. Hockey politics, egos (parents AND kids), the keeping up with the Jones, who has the most expensive stick. After squirt team selections were made, I lost friends, my kids lost friends. If you weren’t Squirt A, you weren’t sh–. We survived, my kids played high school hockey and they have life long friends from those teams. Those that determined who their friends were by what team they were on weren’t worth being friends with anyway. I haven’t ice fished in 12 years, I don’t own a snowmobile, sold my 4 wheeler because I never used it, my deer rifle is dusty, my dad even sold his boat because his son and grand sons never went fishing with him anymore because they were playing summer hockey. For ten years I got to spend hundreds of hours of time with my kids and watched their successes (there were actually a lot of successes and very few disappointments) But what all have I missed?

    As another poster mentioned here, I think hockey in Grand Forks is worshiped as it is mainly due to the success of UND and of the amount of local talent that is on the current and recent UND teams, as well as local kids that have gone on to other NCAA Division 1 programs. It shows there is the talent here, the powers that be see the talent here, and they think “why cant that be my kids?” They also know those kids didn’t play in-house. For some reason, people will start spending money when kids are not only 10 years old, but 6, 7, and 8 and “need” to be on certain summer teams at thos ages so there kid is on a track to secure a scholarship worth $80,000 and spend $100,000 to do it. Seriously, you think that number is big? Just last year the GF Herald ran and article where a mom was taking out a loan each year to pay for her kids hockey. Yes, $100,000. Look at your hockey expenses, registration fees, equipment, travel, hotels, meals, camps/clinics, specialized training (The Hockey Academy, EXOS, ect), spring/summer teams, preseason clinics/leagues, elite evaluations, junior hockey try out camps, warmups and team gear. Now look at that from when your player is 6 years old until they graduate. I am not saying don’t play, but play where your kids is having fun and you are still living life. UND is only $18-$20K per year, Bemidji St, MSU-Moorhead, Minnesota State Mankato are the same. Start a college fund and play in-house, have a life.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Lots of great comments in this reply. I’ve written about a lot of this in the past – too many to link here, so I agree with a ton it. Thanks for the read and reply!

  14. Daren

    Mostly I agree with these thoughts. “Travel” vs “House” is all relative. I really don’t think there should be a house level since, in reality, all teams travel to some degree (or if it feels better there should be no travel teams and all teams are house teams). We pay more money for travel ball/hockey because our association sets up tournaments (2 local, 1 travel) and those tournaments cost a lot of money (on average more than $1k per team entry) so who pays for this? The association? Not enough funding, so the cost gets passed to the parents of those kids. The fact that both my boys are goalies certainly doesn’t help but as long as they continue to have fun then we will do what we can and the minute is stops being fun then it ends.

    I believe the idea of setting up “travel teams” should come down to the playing level of the child. I have one boy who plays on a “C” Team and the other plays on an “A” team and they both are at the competitive levels they should be playing at. While I appreciate those who want to be on a house team, I have also seen some house teams carry 2 or 3 players who have no business playing at this level. Who likes it when they see a kid score 56 goals in one game and dance around those who don’t have near that ability? I don’t think that’s a good approach. I think we get caught up on the words “travel” and “house” and the stigma associated with those words too much. I say just put teams together with similar playing abilities and let them play.

    Just my thoughts.

  15. highschoolsportsstuff

    Thanks for the read and reply! I just spoke to another parent who took the time to coordinate a group of kids to spend time on the ice together on the weekends without excessive fees and travel – just pay for ice time and let the kids go play (with a little instruction from dads…because we dads just can’t help ourselves).

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Hopefully Fargo has enough options in town for your son to just play baseball! As long as he’s throwing a ball, swinging a bat, having fun, and learning a little bit, the experience will be exactly what it’s supposed to be.
      Thanks for the read and reply!

  16. erik throne

    I agree with HNK about parents living through their children. In today’s world too many parents look at the children’s success or failures as a direct reflection of them.. It is as if they succeeded or failed and not their children. Many years ago Kevin Hartzell made a good point about youth hockey. He said that it has become the social circle of parents more than for the kids. He went on to say that when a kid did not make the squad the following season the parents had to find a new social circle. Parents seem to love to brag/complain about all the travel and expense. Which really makes you wonder if it is about the kids or the parents?

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I suspect you’re right. I’ve written a few posts about this topic most notably here and in a five part post starting here.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

    2. It’s so unfortunate that it has to automatically mean parents are trying to live through their kids. I am a single mom, with no sports history. Who am I trying to have him re-live? Maybe it’s the other way around – parents that didn’t amount to much are afraid their kids won’t measure up, either, so don’t give them an opportunity to excel. Does *that* generalization sting a little? (Fair’s fair, right?) Are you as critical of parents who put their kids through accelerated classes at school? Maybe – just maybe – these kids want to play competitively. What “fun” is it to have a kid out there working hard and playing hard, only to run in to a kid chasing butterflies? What fun is that for the kid that is a half a rink behind the others? It’s unfair to condemn parents (equivically) that have kids that want to compete. And what if maybe – again just maybe – it turns into a scholarship to pay for school? (Basketball, football, baseball, soccer, hockey…whatever) I’m not saying I believe there’s a shot he’d make UND’s team, but maybe a community school where their hard work pays off in the end. Why is it OK to tell kids to be competitive and do their best in academics to achieve, but it’s somehow wrong to encourage the same drive and attitude in sports?

      1. highschoolsportsstuff

        I don’t think that anybody would argue with this in an anecdotal sense. There are lots of kids who thrive on competition. I haven’t seen anyone in the comments condemning parents whose kids want to be a part of this experience; the difficulty is the other way around. We have many sports at the high school level with lower participation rates now than 10 years ago because kids are burned out or had a bad experience in youth sports.
        Similarly, nobody is going to fault a kid for working hard to chase a scholarship, but shouldn’t we be at least aware of those chances??

        The problem isn’t with any singular example; we can all find at least one kid whose story fits our narrative. The problem is the creation of a culture that tells kids and parents that they have NO chance without doing all these things. I’m all for families spending every dollar and every free minute of time chasing a kid’s passion if that’s (1) what the kid wants to do, and (2) the parents are ok with it.

        1. I’m quite aware of “those chances” to get a scholarship. But what’s the harm in having aspirations? What kind of example are you setting to just say, “well son, there’s only a 7% chance you’ll ever make good on playing sports, so let’s not even try to be competitive and just go have fun, sport, because I don’t think you have it in you.” That’s the real shame.

  17. erik throne

    One thing that has always bothered me is when parents complain when the schools want to up the fees for sports. The whine that it is too much. Funny they had no problem spending thousands a year for squirts, pee wees, and bantams though. It is like a magical wand has been waved and now the tax payers are suppose to foot the bill instead. The usual argument they come up with is if fees are raised that will squeeze out kids who can’t afford it. I call BS on that. From this blog and other sources those kids were squeezed out already back in squirts.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      This is actually central to my frustration. I have ZERO issues with the idea of travel hockey if that’s what kids and parents really want to do. What’s frustrating to me is that a cheaper, less time consuming option existed, very few chose to take advantage of it, and now there will be parents upset about the amount of time and money they’re spending.

      We’re actually seeing a bit of this trend in some sports in Grand Forks. We actually have a higher participation rate in the buildings where families haven’t come up through club travel than in the buildings where it’s rampant. My guess – just a guess – is that it’s a combination of kids being told they aren’t good enough at a young age and burn-out (both time and money) that’s causing declining participation in those buildings.

      Thanks, again, for the read!

  18. Soccer/Bball Dad

    Hockey is not the only sport that is trending this way. Youth basketball and soccer are starting to become the same as hockey. Travel basketball teams are run strictly by the parents. Teams are having tryouts and cuts as early as 2nd grade. It seems awful harsh to send that message to a kid at that age that they aren’t good enough. Especially when that child in 3 years could grow, develop, etc. and become the best player at their age. All this so that our kids can be on the “Best” team and destroy another kid’s self esteem. However, if you want your kid to participate and get good competition you have to do the travel teams.

    Soccer is run mostly by clubs and has a wide range of talent, and in most cases if you are a travel player and go to their “Rec(Non-Travel)” leagues you are not getting quality competition. Is your child’s skills really getting any better playing against these weaker skilled kids?

    As a parent the biggest thing to remember and constantly monitor….is your child having fun? As long as they truly love playing the game, the practices, and their teammates then it’s all worth it.

    We as parents just need to remember to stay out of the way. I’m guilty sometimes just like every other parent. However, the one thing I’m constantly monitoring is if my daughter is having fun! She is not always on the best team but is not always on the “B” team. There are life lessons for her to learn here and being a leader is one of them, and having to work for playing time is another. These are lessons that later when she is working will be very useful! So, is travel the way to go I’d say yes if your child is mentally ready for it, but if they aren’t then Rec/In-house is the way to go until they either want to travel or give up the sport because it’s not fun anymore.

  19. Mom of Four

    100% agree. After two years playing GFK in-house Squirts (and numerous calls to surrounding communities if see if they have any in-house options) my 12 year old son was devastated when we told him he can’t do the traveling hockey (we can’t afford travel costs, I am a “single” parent to four kids and can’t drag them to games/tournaments). If there is enough interest, I would be willing to coordinate a rec league for boys and girls to play Saturday/Sunday afternoons at the Park District hockey rinks.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thanks for the read and reply! I just had a conversation with another parent who coordinates ice time for his son and buddies, too. Even splitting the cost of indoor ice rental for a group of kids is a cheaper, less time consuming option.

      1. Which is absolutely fine, but also be prepared that when little Johnny develops a love for it and wants to play high school, the heartbreak is waiting for him there, at that time, then. He will be miles behind the rest of the kids that actually put forth the effort to excel. I don’t mean this to be harsh, but it’s a fact. If every town was a 9-man town that needed every kid to fill the team, it’d be a different story. It’s just not how it is in a town this size.

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          Well, those kids won’t be miles behind if they have the genetics and talent to compete at that level, which is integral regardless of how much time and effort any one has put into a sport.

          This attitude isn’t helpful because it helps to spread the idea that putting a million hours and dollars into skill growth is absolutely essential to play at the “next” level – which just isn’t true. High school teams (and college teams) are loaded with athletes who don’t take the sport seriously and don’t spend time improving but are obnoxiously talented. At times, the reverse is true, too, but no amount of time, effort, or money will make up for lack of natural ability and talent.

          Beyond that, if you read what I’ve written, I’m less concerned about the kids who have played for fun then don’t make the team than the kids whose families are poured time and money into it and don’t make the team. I’ve received ZERO phone calls from parents of kids who didn’t do travel hockey but got cut during high school tryouts; I’ve always received at least one phone call per year from one of those 60 families who started travel hockey at 10 years old (under the belief that, like you’ve said, their kids will be “miles behind the rest”) then get cut.

          1. highschoolsportsstuff

            You’re dealing in absolutes; I’ve never drawn that line. In fact, I speak a lot about how the ability to play at the “next” level – whatever level that is for each individual kid – is a combination of genetics/talent and hard work. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that no amount of hard work can overcome a lack of genetics/talent (which, again, varies depending on what the “next” level is). I don’t tell kids not to dream about what they might become; I tell parents to have realistic expectations of what their kids might become. I have one son who thinks he’s going to play football for the Panthers and another who thinks he’s going to play hockey for the Capitols. I’ve never told them that those are stupid dreams or that it will never happen; I just tell them that it will take a lot of hard work to keep getting better. The reality is that my boys have a dad who’s spent his whole life stuck at 6’2″ and gangly. I know the reality of the situation, so I have tempered expectations. My boys have a dad who was an NAIA athlete, a mom who was an NAIA athlete, two uncles and an aunt who were NAIA athletes, a grandpa who was an NAIA athlete, and a host of more distant relatives who were NAIA or DII athletes. I’m as aware of their potential ceiling as I am of their percentage changes of playing any sport in college. That’s why I want opportunities for all kids – mine included – to simply play games, have fun, and work hard.

            I don’t need to say “you can” or “you can’t” to my kids, but it’s important that I know the score so I don’t end up like the hockey dad who was in my office a few years back screaming at me because his 5’4″ 120lb son wasn’t getting college scholarship offers.

        2. Kim

          Some kids excel in different areas of sports other than just physical prowess. It’s not as if all kids don’t put in a good effort, some who do still do not excel in particular ways. Genetics plays a big part. Look at the MN Twins. We played well with decent (but not excellent) players because they all played with heart and had fun. Now we have players that are supposed to be the savior of the program and because all we focus on is winning, we stopped winning. No heart in the program. Just stats and muscle, and it’s not working.

          Your post seemed like a reply to mine, but it doesn’t show under mine, so my apologies if my response is out of place. Our entire school district is less than 500 kids. My son (14, 9th grade) was on the ski team for a few years, and just this fall opted to try football. Turns out, he’s a decent player even after having never played, or even really watched, football. The coaches love having him on the team because he has a lot to offer in many ways. He wouldn’t get that chance in a bigger town. I’m glad he does. So are his teammates and coaches. And he plays both varsity and JV, gets lots of game time in. He wasn’t a very good skier, but wanted to try. His brother is an endurance athlete, and it turns out this one is better at things like football, bball and baseball. But he has the chance to try them all. Of course I understand bigger towns don’t work this way. I was simply expressing my gratitude that ours does because so far my kids have learned a whole lot about some very valuable life skills aside from just winning.

  20. Just Got Married....to Hockey

    Thanks for bringing up the conversation here. We are a first year squirt family after my son played 2 years of in house rec league. With him being the youngest of 3 children and our schedules competing against traveling basketball, dance, scouts, church and family, I certainly was nervous about signing up for traveling hockey. However, when my son started in his first year of rec hockey as a 2nd grader, he asked me, “when do I get to play a REAL game of hockey?” We are in a medium sized town in western MN (about 20,000) and in rec/in house hockey, he played his friends that he practiced with. They had scrimmages rather than games. The next closest hockey team is 30/40 minutes away and the next is an hour. In my son’s mind, he wanted to play a REAL, competitive game against other teams and was counting down the time until he was finally able to travel in 4th grade. And so here we are. If I had it my way, we certainly wouldn’t be paying for or dedicating this much of our time for a 4th grade sport/activity, but he loves the game and wants to compete so it’s our only option. Had he not cared quite as much and had not been begging for 2 years to join the travelling team, we would have definitely picked to stay in the rec program.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I hear you. My oldest sons are 11 and 8, so I hear the same things. I hope your 4th grader enjoys his time competing. Thank you for the read and reply!

      1. erik throne

        One more thing I would like to mention. It is wonderful that the Grand Forks Public Schools has someone such as yourself at the helm.

      2. Clair Jelliff

        I grew up in GF Hockey and if I remember it right, it was always about ice time, ice time, and ice time. My friends and I would spend countless hours playing outdoors at BF Elementary. The in house appears to be less attractive due to less ice time perhaps? I do remember the road trips and they are quite expensive. I honestly have no idea how my parents even managed it every weekend. Perhaps changing the perspective on house league could reinvigorate it. Having specialists or student athletes (both high school and college) guest coach. Like a grass roots effort by parents to get the ice time for all interested participants. I know you can rent ice. Perhaps this is something you could do and organize the alternative to travel. I understand that the park district cannot financially justify putting on a in house for 6 kids as the cost has to either be covered by them or the parents. Just my two cents, I guess. Make the house league more appealing to the masses….

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          Actually, the in-house program offered a fairly similar amount of ice time with the exception of the added weekend tournaments for travel.

          Changing the perspective of the in-house program is exactly what’s needed. It’s currently viewed as inferior, so it’s avoided for any families who want something other than just ice time for their kids. As I’ve heard from parents in other communities – particularly Moorhead – I would to see a system that requires hockey kids to be in the in-house program first. This would follow exactly what we do with baseball in Grand Forks which seems to be working fine.

  21. Brad

    Very interesting conversation. I don’t live in Grand Forks, but south of GF. We don’t even have the option for in-house hockey, but there are “try outs” starting at the squirt level. Even the lowest “B” teams do some traveling, but not to the extent that you talk about. I played hockey growing up in a town that was very serious about hockey. I attended camps, played at the outdoor, etc. I loved hockey. This is where I am torn. When I was 10 or 11 (or even 12 or 13 for that matter), hockey wasn’t #1 on my list. However, based on my parents pushing me a little to get better, I ended up making it on the high school team and not being a bad player. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life and instilled a love for the game for a lifetime. If my parents wouldn’t have given me that push, I may not have even chosen to continue playing. My love for the game got stronger the more I played and the better I performed. Having said that, I do see parents who are more in it for themselves than others. My parents had a way to pushing me, but making it clear it was about me improving myself and not doing it to make them look better. I’m struggling with this very thing with my son right now (who is 9) and loves hockey but isn’t very competitive right now.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Anecdotally, you had a good experience. There are kids who get pushed by mom/dad to do more, get better, etc., and respond positively and have a great experience. Unfortunately, I think we’ve created a youth culture around those positive stories with the belief that it is like that for everybody.

      To your first comment, it’s a different discussion in communities that can’t support an in-house program. I grew up in a small town, so the only way our team could play another team was to travel to a different town. Looking back, though, we were basically in an in-house program; it’s just that our “house” had a 60 mile diameter!

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  22. Leah T

    Whether you want to believe this or not every sport is like this or should I say most sports. Competitive gymnastics costs upwards of $400 – $500 per month every month of the year and they travel every weekend during meet season. Like life everything is a choice. You choose to play traveling hockey, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, wrestling. If you don’t want to that is your choice. We have a hockey player and the level of hockey he wants to be engaged in is his choice. He loves it and if he wants to play at the next level then we will do what we can to make that happen. No I don’t think he is going to play for the pros or even in college. That is not the expectation but for right now if he loves it…. And i love the families. I love knowing the families that my child engages with. To me youth hockey is affordable. My daughter was doing dance $40 per month for 9 months of the year. And a two hundred dollar dance outfit that they do not use for more than one year. I don’t know I just don’t understand. Sorry! To each his own but now days everyone expects far more than what is reasonable. All sports provide far more than college scholarships and contracts and I guess if you cant appreciate that then yes it is expensive and time consuming and not worth it.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’m with you on all of this.
      Individual sports tend to be more travel oriented – absolutely. I was posting more about in-house programs for team sports (especially those team sports that have enough players in town to support multiple teams). Specific to Grand Forks team sports, 10 year olds can play football, basketball, soccer, and baseball/softball in a non-travel league. Hockey is the only team sport that doesn’t have a non-travel option for 10 years olds. (To be fair, the 10U girls’ softball teams have a little bit of travel because there aren’t enough teams in town to support a full league – understandable.)

      I really agree with the rest – travel sports are a choice for the families involved, but without a non-travel option, many families feel like they don’t have a choice. If your kid wants to play hockey, participation comes with a price tag and time commitment with no other options. Every family needs to have that conversation. For my family, we could make the time and money work, but my son wasn’t entirely fired up about spending that much time in hockey so he’s not doing it. We might have a different conversation with my 2nd son, but I’m hoping that in-house will make a return by then.

      I wish more people had the same attitude as your final comments. I’ve said multiple times that the time and money spend in youth sports is for nothing other than the ability to participate. I hear from far too many parents who think they are paying for a varsity sport, or a college sport, or greater than that. Thanks for the read and the follow!

  23. Nick

    Mark – thank you for writing this article and bringing attention to this subject. I was a 3-sport athlete through high-school and played college football, but never got the chance to play organized hockey which was due to the fact that I was born in a place without it. In-spite of this, I spent my winters skating on the pond in my backyard and when I was 10 we moved to Fargo. At that time I wanted to pick up organized hockey, but those older than me said I shouldn’t play because I won’t be able to keep up having not started from when I was little, which I realize now is a bunch of BS.
    I now have a 2-year old son who I hope wants to pick up hockey (and from what I can already see in him, I don’t think it will be an issue). Problem is, every hockey person I mention this to tells me the same thing – Do you realize how much you will be gone? The costs? The year-round commitment?
    I try to tell them that having that ‘lifestlye’ is their choice and that my son can still play hockey without us having to sign up for out of town tournaments every weekend. I also cite sources such as Pete Carrol and Nick Saban who prefer multi-sport athletes, but they don’t want to hear about it. http://www.stack.com/video/1353518167/pete-carroll-on-multi-sport-athletes
    Fortunately I live in St. Paul now and have many options for my son to play hockey, but I feel terrible for your son and the other 5 kids that do not have the option in GF.
    Because of all this, my current perception of hockey families resembles those of ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ which I’m hopeful will change over time.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thanks for the read and the reply! Hopefully, the world of youth sports doesn’t get crazier as you’re making these decisions with your son.

  24. Kim

    I just wanted to thank you for the perspective. I lived in Fargo for several years, but moved back to NE MN a few years ago with our kids, who are now 20,14 and 8. While I sometimes miss living in a bigger city and seeing all that bigger schools and cities have access to, I am reading your article and the comments with gratitude for living in a small town. Our town has about 3000 people, and our K-12 has fewer than 500 students.

    When my kids want to join a sport, they join. They get to participate no matter what. Yes, the better players get more playing time. But everyone is included, everyone is encouraged, and everyone is taught by excellent coaches to develop not just into the best athlete they can be, but the best person. Our area teams sometimes have problems having enough kids to even put a team together. Our high school football team travels to WI for some games to find teams to play. 2 of our games this year were 3+ hours drive away.

    The number of kids who never could have had a chance to become the best would have been much smaller had they never had the chance to play and develop. Despite our small school, we have top-notch baseball, football, cross country (skiing and running) and track teams. We don’t have the funds to have a lot of new equipment and facilities, so we work with what we have. We’re kind of the Rocky of the school sports world, I guess.

    I wouldn’t have it any other way, after seeing some of the comments on your post. I feel so badly for kids who don’t get the chance to play a game they love. There is more to sports than winning. Some of the best teammates might not be the best players. But they’ll cheer you on like no one else. They’ll be there on your worst days. Anyone has the chance to be the hero, and I see it happen often. We do have athletes who are sought out by colleges. One of our best football players this year has colleges calling daily, but he just wants to fly planes in the military. He just happens to be gifted in sports, but has no plans to go further. It’s just fun for him.

    Anyhow, sorry to clog up your comment feed when I don’t have a hockey experience to share. I just wanted to thank you for reminding me how lucky we are in so many ways that participation is not limited to only the best kids. Because sometimes the biggest heart doesn’t come on the fastest legs or the best hands, but they are just as necessary to the success of their teams.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for sharing! I agree with small town living. I grew up in a little town in the middle of nowhere. Our options for participation were limited, but (mostly) everybody did (mostly) everything. There’s a definite trade-off in bigger communities: more choices but fewer chances.

      Thank you for the read and reply!

  25. Hockey Mom

    We live in that other hockey-crazed city in the Red River Valley, Moorhead. We have two boys in the Moorhead Youth Hockey Association, a Mite and a first-year Squirt. So far, we have loved every minute of it! Unlike Grand Forks, in Moorhead the in-house program is alive and well because all Squirt travel teams are required to also participate in the in-house games. Last year there were 6 Squirt travel teams and 8 In-House teams. I have heard from Squirt parents and coaches that those in-house games are often more competitive than the travel games because the kids want bragging rights that they beat their friends. So even after a long weekend of travel games, those kids still have to play an in-house game on Sunday in Moorhead. I signed our 9-year-old up for travel hockey since it seems that that is “the thing to do” if you want your kid to keep up with the other players. All kids in Moorhead hope to some day play for the Spuds, but the odds are greatly against them, especially since there is still only one high school. There definitely is a culture of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in today’s youth sports, not just hockey. So far I have avoided the AAA Summer Hockey and camps, but it seems more and more kids are doing them to improve their skills. Once hockey season is over, both my boys have wanted to hang up the skates and move on to baseball. In Moorhead, everyone thinks their kid could be the next Matt Cullen, so they do whatever possible to give their kid the advantage. I think this culture is largely a result of the success of these two youth hockey programs. As long as Moorhead and Grand Forks continue to produce D1 hockey and NHL talent, parents will continue to chase the dream. Hopefully the kids are enjoying the ride, or it will all be in vain. I continue to tell my boys, if they’re not having fun, it’s not worth it!

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for sharing – sounds like you have a pretty healthy attitude about the whole process. Thank you for the read and reply!

  26. Brady

    Other sports travel as well in addition to regular league teams. I grew up in FM and played traveling basketball with about 10 tourneys a winter from 4th grade on in addition to the local Y league everybody played. We also had a traveling baseball team from age 10 on in addition to the local bambino/babe ruth leagues. We played in about 5-7 tourneys a summer for that. My parents footed the bill for these as well because what 10-18 year old team has a sponsor? I’ve been in GF for 12 years now and while it’s true that people play in house basketball and baseball, the best players on those teams are also playing on traveling teams. It’s not like they’re ONLY playing in house. So, you can say that we play in house everything else up here and that’s true…..but people travel for basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, etc. It’s just that they do so in addition to the in house leagues. Even if everybody played in house hockey, plenty of people would still get together and form traveling teams as well. Tournaments are fun because you get to play against teams and kids you don’t know. I think parents also like watching their children play. Both get satisfaction and fun from playing in tournaments. The biggest thing is to make sure that you’re doing it for your child and not for you. If the kid doesn’t enjoy it, then don’t keep doing it because you like hanging out with the other parents.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’m 100% with you, Brady. I’ve been using the baseball program as a great example of what hockey could look like (similar-ish) numbers. The Cal Ripken league is an in-house league with two divisions of 5 teams each. They practice in town and play all of their games on Monday nights in town. Aside from that, there were try-outs for a travel team that families could choose to take part in. Those kids on the travel team were also playing in the CR league – just like you’re describing. I believe it’s a similar situation for our YBL basketball kids and their Fastbreak travel teams, correct? My point is that kids in Grand Forks don’t have travel hockey as just an additional option; if they want to play hockey, they have to travel. I’d love to see a two division in-house league for both Squirt and Pee Wee hockey with two try-out based travel teams.

      Love your last couple sentences – spread the word with that! Thanks for the read and reply!

  27. erik throne

    It is so refreshing to see the comments here. I think many of us that have posted here are thinking “I am not alone.” Great article and I thank you for writing it.

  28. George

    Being fairly new to the Hockey program in Grand Forks, I have often wondered the same thing. If “playing better competition” breeds a better player, why can this not be done in house. From the comments I have read, it seems the traveling teams are broken out in a A-Z ranking. If that is the case, will not a “B” team get better by playing against an “A” team, no matter the location?
    Also, do we not have a Hockey program across the River in East Grand Forks, or in Fargo where the travel could be limited and reciprocated for better competition? I think we as parents put to much pressure on our kids and not let them enjoy activities. All with the hope that these special clinics and games will turn them into the next superstar, when in reality the odds are stacked against them.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’m with you. Our football and baseball leagues (I use them for examples because that’s what I’m more familiar with) incorporate EGF, Manvel, Thompson, Hillsboro, etc. into the leagues for additional teams. Could that work for hockey with EGF? Probably, but I also suspect that our 6 squirt teams would become 8 squirt teams if it was an in-house league. Splitting them into two divisions (like Cal Ripken baseball) means the kids would get to play against similar ability competition. All we have to do is change the mindset of hundreds of parents!

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  29. Mike

    As a parent of an in-house squirt last year, that program was extremely flawed first off. We talked with the director of the program and voiced our concerns a few times. We were worried that the program would come to an end this year. My son loves to play hockey for fun and the in house program would have been a perfect fit for him. We would have continued to use this program if many aspects would have been changed and I believe others would have as well. And it is really sad that this is no longer an option for us and I agree that we need more in house teams.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’m absolutely with you…but what would the program have looked like if all squirts in GF were a part of that league? The number one reason I hear from parents who choose travel over in-house is because the coaching and competition is better, but both of those would exist in the in-house program if everybody was a part of the in-house program. I’ve been getting lots of emails from parents in Moorhead who talk about how participation in their in-house program is mandatory for kids to be on a travel team, so all of their Squirts skate in-house then choose to travel or not. Unless I’m missing something, I believe all other youth team sports in Grand Forks is like that; we just need to get hockey on board.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          I see a couple different ways to put something like this in place.

          It actually was in place already, but parents didn’t take advantage of it. The in-house program was available and promoted by Parks and Rec through their usual channels, but a lack of interest forced the program to close up shop. Based on the replies I’ve seen today, it just appears that there aren’t enough kids/parents who valued the in-house experience (or thought the program was inferior) and instead opted for the travel teams. So the first way to make this change would be to convince the 100 families who didn’t sign up for in-house to actually sign up for the program. If all of the kids are involved, the perception of which is the superior or inferior league goes away.

          The second way requires a change in the way registration is handled for travel teams by the GF Youth Hockey – essentially, flipping the script for registering as a Squirt and Pee Wee to make the program similar to how youth baseball is run. GF Youth Hockey would have to require that kids couldn’t try out for a travel team until/unless they were participating in the in-house program.

          Pros – all kids in the in-house program means that the perception of inferiority goes away. Families would have a cheaper, less time consuming option for their kids to play hockey. I’m guessing that we’d see a higher retention rate from Mites to Squirts and Squirts to Pee Wee (hopefully with a much larger retention of girls).
          Cons – you’re right back to what probably caused the current culture in the first place. The parents of the better kids will feel like there should be a place for only the “good” kids to practice and compete, and the families of the kids there for fun will probably quickly tire of the uber-competitive nature of the travel families.

          Because it works for every other team sport in Grand Forks, I think it could eventually be a viable option again. It will take time to get away from the current culture, though; culture requires a lot of time to change.

        2. highschoolsportsstuff

          As I’ve reflected on this a little more – in order to meet the higher competition needs/wants of some kids while allowing most to compete against skill appropriate levels, I think I’d do this:

          All kids are a part of the in-house program to begin with (for a couple practices, at least) at the in-house rate. Have try-outs for two Squirt/Pee Wee A travel teams for those families who want to pursue that option. Once those teams are selected, they pay the cost difference for the travel league, and everyone else gets split into an in-house Squirt B league.

          Doing that would basically follow what’s happening now, except the B teams wouldn’t travel. This would be similar to what our baseball program does with the exception of pulling the A kids off the other team rosters – which is more necessary in sports like hockey/basketball where one talented kid could really take over.

          Yes, there would be some families who wanted to travel but were denied the opportunity, but there would also be more families who stay involved in hockey longer because of reduced cost/time. Based on comments, emails, and texts today, my gut tells me that we’d have far more parents happy with the removal of pressure to travel than parents upset that their kid didn’t make the A travel teams.
          Yes, it would continue to feed the elitist “I made the travel team”/”My kid made the travel team” mentality, but I’m not sure any system could cure that.

      1. Mike

        I believe That was how our grand forks in house program was up until last year when grand forks hockey didn’t want to participate in the in house program and the park board took it over. And then it just crumbled. I do wish we could get that back on track because we would love to participate at that level.

  30. Jordan McIntyre

    Over the years hockey has changed many ways in GF. Years ago this would have never been an issue as all kids played Park Board in-house hockey. They had 2 practices a week either inside or mostly at the outdoor rinks and one game on Saturday mornings. This made it possible for everyone that wanted to play hockey be allowed that opportunity. If a family/kid wanted to play more competitive/travel hockey there was then the privately funded Supras and Blues teams that one could play on. I believe that the true responsibility of the Park Board as it is payed for by the tax payers and all the people of Grand Forks is encourage kids to get involved and making that a possibility. I know there is a million differing opinions on this, but at the ages in which we are discussing it should never have to come down to the option of playing on the more expensive/ less accessible team or not playing at all. It would be great if we would hear a response from our Park and Hockey boards to this problem as it truly is a problem when there is kids and parent having to decide travel or not playing at all.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’m getting this exact same comment over and over today. I don’t know at what point this changed, but I’ve heard nothing but positive things about how the Grand Forks program “used” to be. Now, the park board’s in-house program is viewed as inferior to the GF Youth Hockey travel program, so it’s been largely ignored. So even when in-house is an option – like Squirts this year – it hasn’t generated enough interest simply because of the community’s perception of the program. Get all the kids back in the program, and the perception would change with it.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  31. Colin Clarke

    Hockey can be as crazy as you let it. The programming group at GF Hockey has some control and can do some things to make it better if they want. I know the markets are different, but with Fargo Youth Hockey at Squirts, here’s what’s been done:

    1) Focus on reduced/minimzed travel at ALL levels.
    2) Only 4 tournaments per year, max of 2 out of town (we have the benefit of calling Moorhead and “out of town” tournament, so really, just 1 truly out of town.
    3) Created a “metro league” set up with W.Fargo, Angels and Moorhead at the Squirt B (lowest) level in attempt to play most games within the metro city limits.
    4) Maximized play among other Fargo Hockey, W.Fargo, Angels and Moorhead teams at all levels (B1 and A).

    The result, at Squirts anyway, is minimized travel and a reasonable schedule. I know in GF you only have EGF next door, but Crookston is close too. The three cities could collaborate like Fargo, W.Fargo and Moorhead have done to create a minimized travel schedule — if they want.

    At PW and older age groups it gets more difficult because the NDAHA mandates schedules. You can talk to GF Hockey executives for more info, but NDAHA is essentially MANDATING programs at A and B1 to travel 300+ miles across the State to play league games (at PW and Bantam B it is east/west district based and far less travel.). Be sure to make your voice heard with NDAHA about the outlandish travel requirements they’ve mandated (GF Hockey execs have filed complaints too along with numerous other hockey programs). The state-wide league requirements are awful for families in terms of both time and expense.

    You make a lot of great points. I’d much rather have my son on the outdoor rink for 4 or 5 hours on a weekend than spend it in a car driving too/from some far-away place for a game or two. Work with GF Hockey execs and NDAHA and to make time/expense a greater priority. Good luck! Hockey DOES NOT have to be crazy!

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for sharing what Fargo does. I’ve heard from quite a few Moorhead parents who talk about their mandatory in-house program, too; good stuff!

      Hockey isn’t alone here; they’re just farther along the spectrum (at least in Grand Forks). I worry about the possibility that all sports move into travel only in the future – not good.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

      1. Hockey Dad

        You keep citing Moorhead’s mandatory in house program as a positive. You’re overlooking two important aspects of that program…. 1) There are generally only a handful of kids that play in house Squirt hockey in Moorhead that don’t also play on one of the travel teams. There are 6 travel teams and 8 in house teams…..but the travel teams have larger rosters. I believe generally there are only 6-8 kids that play in house Squirt hockey that don’t also travel in Squirts. 2) As a result of #1, the Squirt years are easily the most hectic years for Moorhead hockey families. As mentioned, you can play a travel game at noon in Fergus Falls and have an in house game in Moorhead at 6 that you are required to be at. If you’re goal is a low commitment version that keeps your time free for the family things you cite in your post…..very few people in Moorhead are concerned with that same goal because almost all of them are choosing to travel IN ADDITION to the in house program.
        The fact that almost everyone is choosing to do both in Moorhead, even though playing in house only is an option, would seem to suggest most either don’t share your views or at least enough to vote with their time and wallet accordingly.

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          Yeah, I get that, but at least kids/parents have the choice to play hockey without travel. In Grand Forks this year, if you aren’t a travel squirt, you aren’t playing hockey. There is probably a need for better coordination between the travel and in-house programs, but I like that the choice to play without travel exists.

          Thanks for the read and reply!

          1. G

            As someone who grew up in Moorhead, I remember travel Squirts being on of the best times of my life. It’s really the first time you are playing other kids from other towns, not just from Moorhead. The Squirt International is one of the biggest tournament ever and obviously every squirt wants to play in that. It costs more money to travel, but going back on it I am very glad my parents paid for it and also took the time out of their days to drive me around, so I could play at a competitive level playing the sport I loved.

          2. highschoolsportsstuff

            Thank you for sharing. It’s always good to hear about positive experiences!

            Thanks for the read and reply!

  32. Brantj

    If you have the numbers to play in house it’s a good option. Alot of small towns don’t have enough numbers. Alot of comments I’m reading is what is wrong with GF & alot of USA hockey programs. A 10-11 yr old is in their prime for skills development. The practice to game ration Should be 2:1 and 85% of practice should be skills oriented not game rules and hockey sense. I can teach a 13-14yr old offsides, icing, etc in 10 mins. I can’t go back in time and develop skills during their peak development stage.

    Finald has the population of MN and look how many NHL players come from there. They make up 25-30% of NHL goalies most years.

    If the way GF did things were effective EGF wouldn’t be able to compete with GF.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Good examples. Actually, from what I hear from people associated with USA hockey, their opinions are probably really close to yours. Without doing the math, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the practice to game ratio around that 2:1 that you describe; the issue is that in order to participate, all parents have to tack on time and money just to be in the program.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

      1. Sandra Short

        I posted these links on the Facebook page, but I’ll do it here too. I value research. And there is certainly enough of it in youth sports to make evidence-based decisions. I find this debate interesting and I respect your attentiveness to everyone’s comments and your overall attitude. I teach that just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be. That message shines through in your comments as well. Well done.

        http://canadiansportforlife.ca/learn-about-canadian-sport-life/ltad-stages
        http://assets.ngin.com/attachments/document/0098/1005/Hockey_For_Life_Poster_2016.pdf

  33. Matt

    I feel travel teams do serve a slight purpose. I grew up in a Hockey Family from Bismarck where there was no in-house choice. You only traveled, and no one thought any different. What I look back on most was the lack of popularity for the sport, especially from Jamestown west. now, there is no reason that Fargo (where i currently live), Grand Forks, or Bismarck can’t provide enough teams to put a program together of In-house leagues. But, cities like Jamestown, Minot, Valley City, Williston, Dickinson, and other smaller cities in this state have a hard enough time Fielding one team let alone two. Unfortunately those smaller cities don’t have as large of a talent pool to choose from, and tend to have weaker teams. The only way some of these other cities get a chance to play is if they travel to other cities to play. But, you have to reciprocate that travel to make it fair to the other programs. You cant expect them to travel every weekend and rarely have an opportunity to play at home with their family watching. (remember, these are children we are talking about). I feel, for the larger metro areas and hockey hot-beds that these in-house leagues should still be provided and maybe better advertised and not degraded. Think of all the talent that could be cultivated from these in-house leagues that may never be found because some child’s family can’t afford to participate in the “holy grail” of hockey programs. I know I would be more inclined to enroll my 5 year old daughter in hockey if there were dependable cheaper alternatives provided for kids who are barely entering their adolescent years.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’m 100% with you! I get the need to travel in smaller communities (I grew up in a tiny one!). I’m talking about those places like GF (and probably Bismarck, now) that have enough players and teams to support a league in town. I’d be curious to know how many times we’re sending our 6 Squirt or Pee Wee teams to out of town tournaments only to have them play each other anyway.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  34. GF Resident

    The math may be worse than you stated in making varsity. When this group reaches their junior/senior year some of the 40 varsity spots will be taken by sophomores or freshmans.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Yeah, I cheated the math on both ends: there are more kids involved when you include two more grades, but there are also 40 more roster sports when you include the JV teams. With most freshmen still playing Bantam, we’re probably closer to 150-175 kids fighting for 80 JV/V roster spots in high school. I was being lazy with my math…which is ok because I’m an English major.

  35. Steve

    Who’s to even say having your kids playing other teams is the right approach at the Squirt age? Finland has a youth hockey program that concentrates on developing the child’s individual skills throughout their youth until some are 16 or 17 years old. Some kids had never even played hockey on a full sheet of ice until then. Finland has less registered youth hockey players than the state of Minnesota, yet they have a dominant presence in the NHL. I know this sort of digresses from your arguments, but maybe organized/traveling teams for 9 and 10 years olds should be a way of the past? Just a thought, not even sure where I stand on the theory, yet. Great article.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Agreed, and I think the travel monster has grown so large now that it’s difficult to send it back from where it came. Once upon a time, everyone was competing in-house (or with-in the smallest area possible). A couple groups of well-meaning parents or coaches probably decided it would be fun to take Town X’s best kids to go play Town Y’s best kids so they could play best-on-best to get the kids some experience against higher competition. When those kids then made varsity or college teams (which probably had far more to do with their natural ability than having played some other town’s team), so more well-meaning parents or coaches figured that that must be recipe for creating great athletes. Play that scenario out over the last 20+ years, and here we are today.
      I think that the culture can be changed, but it will take as long to go back as it took to get here…and will probably be more difficult. Thanks for the read and reply!

  36. Baseball forever!!

    Great article. Love how you didnt respond to Mr. Noah. Good call. This summer, I will be coordinating a grassroots baseball program. Simple and easy. I will be there to watch kids play baseball. Thats it. Kids need more of just play.

  37. Steve

    The answer is simple. Hockey. It has it’s own (perceived) rules and expectations. Right or wrong, good or bad, necessary or not. My kids (and my wife and I ) will not spend countless days and dollars traveling. It’s ridiculous. Plenty could be done “in house” and I think plenty more could be done to encourage life long health/fitness as opposed to life long competition and ridiculous expectations and sacrifice.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I think there’s a lot of value in learning about competition and sacrifice, too; I just think we’ve really gone off the deep end in trying to meet those goals.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  38. Cher

    And what about keeping sports around and local because it is good for our kids. I know my son won’t be a college hockey player but if he loves the sport, wants to play, gives him meaning, and it supports positive decision making through out school….he should be able to play!

  39. DB

    Sports are supposed to be fun. Sports can teach a lot of children and adults about teamwork, fair play, and some obviously important social skills but problems tend to come when parents try to relive their childhood sports memories through their own children.

    I have 3 children, 2 are old enough to be in some activities throughout Grand Forks and my 2 older kids have tried various sports and activities some they have liked and some they have not. Its hard sometimes to try and hold back and not be to involved and try to push them to hard but I have tried to keep the mindset and tell my kids that all I expect them to do is try as hard as they can and work hard. If you work hard enough no matter what happens you cannot be disappointed if you worked as hard as you can. I consider myself to be a realist and with that I would like nothing more for my children to be the next big star in whatever sports they enjoy but lets look at the actual statistics and go from there. In Hockey 11.3% of all high school players will play in the NCAA and only 6.6% of those NCAA players will make it to a Major pro league. In Football only 6.7% of all high school players will make it to the NCAA and of those college athletes only 1.6% will make it to the NFL. Basketball isn’t much better with only 3.5% of high school athletes making it to the NCAA and only 1.1% of those NCAA athletes making it to the NBA.

    Its good for children to have a dream and there is some chance that if they have good genetics, some natural talent, and a hell of a work ethic they might make it but the odds are not real good. The harsh reality of this world is that you have a better chance of making a good life by working hard in school and picking whatever field is of true interest for your children rather than forcing athletics on them. If your children love the sports that they are in and its a good way for you to bond with them sports can be great however its tough to put all of their eggs in that basket. I was an athlete in high school and my wife was an athlete in high school and athletics can be a fantastic thing in a child’s life however other interests are just as important and should be thought of as such.

  40. Firball McBaine

    As a parent that is starting GF hockey for my son now and having played and coached years ago here I began to question a few things first why do we allow the good ice times to the older leagues? I noticed last night that at the icon fall kid camp was in one rink and the other looked to be beer league. I can under stand early in the season but when the kids start shouldn’t the younger kids get the early ice times at as many of the rinks as possible with then going to the up the ladder in ages and times. When did getting clothing so young matter? Also when did traveling teams start at squirts? When I played it was all Park District in-house leagues till you got to peewees then it was either in-house or travel. Squirts it was in-house and then either blues or Supras at times of the winter that didnt conflict. however my last yr of coaching in house peewee the kids that did both started to miss a few games on the weekend due to the travel for those extra teams at the holidays and closer to the end of the season.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      My kids are never madder at me then when I tell them no to the travel sweats!

      I’ve had my boys come through Termite, Mite, and a little Squirt now, and I’ve never had a problem with their ice times (except maybe for early Saturday morning, but that’s because I’d prefer to sleep in!). Generally, I think the park district has done a good job of keeping decent practice time for all – something that we’re spoiled with because of the number of indoor sheets of ice. When I was the AD in Dickinson, there was only one sheet of ice in town, so the poor Bantams were often getting home around midnight-ish after practice.

      I’m hearing the old version of park district in-house coupled with Supras/Blues coming up a lot today…which sounds similar to what I’m hearing from other towns. The big obstacle here is getting believe to again believe that an in-house program is viable and productive. Changing culture takes time…

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  41. Heather

    Grand forks is not the only town with this culture. Some hockey parents use it as an excuse to party with a selected group of parents every weekend. Growing up in a hockey family. Our weekends were consumed by hockey. As adults we look at it as family time. We spent many hours traveling the state of ND, Canada and Minnesota. It made us a closer knit family because of it. But it is costly and some parents really think their kids is the next big thing. When really many of the times that child isn’t any better then the kid who’s parents struggle to pay the fees and put the skates on their kids feet. In my hometown you want playing time you have to have a name. In order to make the A squad you had to have a name. I laugh as an adult because I remember a group of A squad kids not making the state tournament. The B squad kids did make it and actually won. The banner still does not hang at the rink because that squad did not consist of the kids who had a “name”. Parents have chased good coaches out programs and sometimes out of town. The kids who really do well in the sport are the ones who play for the love of the game. My senior year we had a coach come him who had previously been chased out decades before hand. He was the best coach we had in years. Some of his methods were unorthodox but he taught the boys to play for the love of the game. They set goals as a team and accomplished the goals as a team. The boys kept their nose clean and worked as a team.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Great example. I don’t have anything against travel hockey if it’s done for the right reasons and with the right attitude; as you mentioned, I think there are plenty of positives that can be taken from the experience.

      Thank you for the read and reply!

  42. Joseph

    Is this what you do all day? Maybe it’s not about what you want to do and it’s really about what your kids want to do. Have you asked them? Families in GF let their kids play traveling hockey because it is fun. I’m guessing your kids would have a blast staying at hotels and playing meaningful competitive games. It’s hard to find a Dad that looks back on their days playing hockey without great memories.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      If you read the post, you’ll see that I not only had the conversation with my oldest son about it this year, but I’m expecting to have a completely different conversation with my 2nd son next year. My oldest isn’t hockey crazy; he enjoys playing, but he enjoys a lot of other stuff, too. When we talked about not having in-house as an option, he didn’t really care whether he was in travel hockey or not. I told him that I wasn’t spending that kind of time and money on something he wasn’t passionate about, and he was fine with it. In fact, he’s pretty excited about doing some other stuff that he wouldn’t have had time for. Of course he would have had a blast staying in hotels, but he couldn’t care less about playing in competitive games; he just wanted to have fun playing. I can get him lots of outdoor ice time (and time in hotels) without travel hockey.

      Next year could be different. My 2nd son loves playing hockey. If travel is the only way for him to participate, I’ll probably have him in it although I’d prefer in-house. He can play a ton of hockey without the whole family schedule revolving around it.

      And, yeah…dealing with athletic stuff is pretty much what I do all day.

  43. Donovan Wadholm

    It’s simple. Hockey is a cult. You are either in or you are out. And even sometimes when you are in you are not actually “in, in”. I speak from experience – I played year round hockey from 5 until 16 when I burned out. My son played (only ever at his option) until he was 13 and burned out. I’m not butt hurt, it’s just a fact.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for sharing your experience. We’re seeing lower participation rates in many sports as a result of burnout because of the current nature of youth sports.

  44. Eli Rosendahl

    Great post, Mark. I couldn’t agree with you more on the premise of your statement. Having went through the youth system in GF, coaching for several years for GF Youth Hockey, working at and running the Hockey Academy, and now coaching at the junior level, I’ve seen the good and bad of youth hockey… lots of both. I could write a book on a lot of the issues discussed above (and I probably will someday) but for now i’m going to address a few points in your piece, and a couple of common themes in the comments. I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but hopefully i can provide another perspective on some of the topics.

    A lot of the disagreement on these topics is because of different peoples beliefs on what value and purpose youth sports serve. The masses will never agree on how much is too much, nor should they. In my opinion, as long as the kids are the ones steering the ship (which I understand isn’t always the case) and the parents are supportive of the level of involvement there child has in a particular sport, who is anyone else to judge. At the end of the day, everybody has the option to participate or not. That being said, my intention here is not to speak on the philosophy of youth sports but rather to give my opinions from the “hockey development” side.

    I don’t know the details of how the Mite and Squirt programs are currently operating (ice time, travel, games, etc.) but here is a quick rundown of how I think it should be operated:

    Mite- In-house only. 2 practices per week, coaches split kids into groups based on ability and they work through small area skill stations and games. Weekend games (cross ice) against each other.

    Squirt: 2 options (A & B)
    (A) In-house only… You are correct in your statements about us not having to leave our backyard to find good competition. Looking through the schedules of the SQA teams last year, i didn’t find a loss to another ND team. If there are 6 squirt teams, have 3 of them be “A” teams and 3 of them “B teams. Teams practice 2x inside each week and 1x outside. Saturday each team plays the other 2.
    (B) Travel option… In the travel option, all players still need to play in-house. Travel teams practice 2x per week and play games mainly Fri/Sat. In-house teams practice 1x per week and play Sunday mornings.

    PW- Should be the same as SQ option B, Travel teams with every kid required to play in-house.

    Bantam- In my opinion, Bantam is the time to crank up the intensity a bit. I love what GF has done with the AA team. This gives our top bantam age players the opportunity to compete against the best players at the same age in Manitoba and MN while limiting their games against the smaller towns in ND. All bantam teams should practice 3x per week and have games on the weekend.
    * I also think there should be a combination in-house league for Bantam/HS players. No practice, just games 1-2x per week.

    The most important aspects of development at young ages are ice-time, puck touches, and fun. By focusing so much on travel and playing against top competition, we are shorting our players of what really matters: getting on the ice and having fun. Perhaps instead of spending 2 hours in a car on Sunday afternoon, each level of players has a couple hours of open hockey?

    A few other notes on the article and comments section:

    * I don’t think parents/families are crazy for buying into the travel model at young ages. Yes, several of your theories above are correct, but most of the time parents simply want to feed their kids hunger for the game and provide them with every opportunity they can. The problem lies in the governing bodies (GF Youth Hockey & NDAHA) for creating the structure. Unfortunately, NDAHA (ND Amateur Hockey Association) puts limitations and restrictions on local organizations that make keeping things “in house” very difficult.

    * People often like to reminisce about about the old days, but in this situation I don’t think going back to the private club model is the answer. In the Supras/Blues days, teams were organized as Mites and generally didn’t change until after SQ or PW. If a kid wanted to play travel hockey, but wasn’t selected as a mite, they were generally out of luck until their PW year.

    * In peoples pursuit of the dream (college, pro, etc.) they fail to recognize what are actually the best steps to get them there. Spending crazy amounts of time and money traveling at the mite, sq, pw(?) level does nothing to increase the development their son or daughter is experiencing.

    Again… When your kids are young, get them on the ice, let them handle the puck, let them be creative, let them have fun. Trust me, it gets serious soon enough.

    Sorry for the novel.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thanks for the insight, Eli. Your perspective comes from a different place than mine, but we look pretty well aligned. I agree that parents are looking for opportunities for their kids; that’s why I’d like to see healthier options for the masses to pursue.
      Thanks for the read and reply!

      1. My thoughts-

        If I was lord of hockey in GF, I would suggest this-

        1. At every level (mites through bantam) There would be an A Team (travel team/ Rep team of GF) B Team (somewhat travel) and all others in-house programs.
        2. True. Most kids wont make the A team but so what? They are still playing hockey and loving it!
        3. Parents; Butt out! Your job is to get them to the rink on time and support them. That’s all. That is all you have to do. And make them carry their own gear for cripes sakes!
        4.. Oh. And parents? Your kid will not make the NHL. That is a statistical fact, (well, less than 1/2 percent do).

        That’s my list.

    2. Hockey Family

      Mark, I think you bring up a valid point about the lack of in-house option for hockey at the squirt level this year, however I think your theory loses credibility with some of your supporting arguments. As with many of the people that have commented on your post, I also grew up playing hockey in this town, where I was fortunate enough to play at the high school level, and beyond. I have two sons that have grown up playing hockey in Grand Forks, both of which started under the “club” programs and transitioned to the current GFYHA (one is now playing at the high school level). Incidentally, we have also had the pleasure of having both of them participate in “house” and “travel” baseball, and a daughter that has participated in “house” and “travel” volleyball, and “house” and “travel” dance.

      Your frustration in not having an in house level of hockey at the squirt level for you son is understandable, and I can’t say that I wouldn’t feel the very same way if I was in your shoes. The problem I have with your post is your premise that the driving force behind a lack of in house hockey for squirts is essentially that parents are mortgaging their families futures and sacrificing the fabric of their families in order to “push” their child through a hockey program with the end goal being a college hockey scholarship or a place in the NHL draft one day. While there are certainly “crazy hockey parents” that no doubt have that exact thought in their minds, my personal overall experience has been nowhere near that. In fact, I would say the percentages are very close to those we have encountered in the baseball community here in town, witnessed in middle school travel volleyball, and learned from close friends exist in the youth basketball programs in town. I say this because I firmly believe you are supporting your argument by attempting to paint travel hockey in the absolute worst light possible, while glossing over the very same problems that exist in each of those other sports (the one difference I will concede is the portion of cost associated with ice rental). Our days spent in travel baseball resulted in 4-6 weekends a summer “in hotel rooms, buying matching warmups, and rearranging our families activities around those of our kids.” Interacting with many of those same parents who longed to watch their child play varsity baseball, college baseball, or even professional baseball (what a bunch of crazies, huh?). I say this not to bash travel baseball, volleyball, basketball, or soccer. I say this in the hopes you can see that trashing youth travel hockey, the people that volunteer their time to coach and run the organization, and the parents that provide this opportunity to their kids because the kids actually really do enjoy playing a fantastically competitive sport with their friends at the highest level they can, doesn’t make your case very well.

      Eli’s response above was much more on point, and a better example of how you could have made your argument. I don’t have a great solution to solve the current problem. Eli has some good ideas, but there are issues with some of those solutions too. For starters, forcing a player to do both in house and travel hockey is difficult. The previous “club” teams attempted to do that very thing, however in the example above the in house kids played games on the weekends, the same days “travel kids” could be playing out of town. Which takes precedence? That left the in house games on the weekend with too few players to play a legitimate game. If you could create a program that required in house hockey that didn’t interfere with a child’s desire to play travel hockey, I would be open to having that discussion.

      Lastly, I take issue with your idea in a previous post about forcing in house hockey for all players with two divisions, then have tryouts for two travel based teams. I think that does exactly what your complaining about, only in reverse. The very problem prompting this post is the fact that there are too few kids signing up to play in house hockey. By using that logic and plan, aren’t you simply forcing kids into a model that the majority clearly aren’t interested in (even conceding the fact that there are likely some of parents that would prefer an in house option)? If more than 30 kids are interested in travel hockey, aren’t you taking that opportunity away from them in your scenario? And to be clear, I”m not just talking about “A” teams. I know dozens of families with children playing B1 or B travel hockey and, for most of them, are having every bit as much fun.

      For better or for worse, hockey is king in Grand Forks. Hockey people (for the most part) support it and embrace it. Non-hockey people loath it and don’t get it. It is a culture that has produced wildly successful peewee, bantam and high school programs…unarguably the best in the state of North Dakota over time. Our football teams, baseball teams, and basketball teams often come up short against teams in Fargo, Bismarck, Minot, Dickinson, and Williston, where other sports are clearly a much higher priority at a young age (I’ve experienced it). I say that not to justify pushing kids into programs at a young age, but because its a culture that has grown over decades. I have heard countless times over the years from parents in other cities about how lucky we are to have the hockey facilities we do in Grand Forks. They say their programs lack in development because of the lack of ice available at all times of the year. Well, Grand Forks has been able to do that, in part, because of the support of a hockey community that frankly doesn’t exist anywhere else in the state. All of those things you question in your post are bits and pieces of that community. Is it expensive? Is it time consuming? Could improvements be made? Yes, yes, and yes. Is there a huge family of people that enjoy it more than you can possibly imagine? Yes. Lets look for a solution to the lack of an in house squirt hockey program, not pick apart and bash a culture and program that has evolved over the years to provide thousands of kids a chance to play hockey at the most competitive level they can… if thats what they choose to do.

      1. highschoolsportsstuff

        Great reply – lots of thought – much appreciated! I’m going to disagree with most of it, but I like having the conversation!

        I’m trying to separate my thoughts as a dad from my frustration as an athletic director. As a dad, I’m really not all that disappointed that my oldest isn’t playing hockey. He’s had a history of pretty constant complaining about most things hockey related; he just really liked being on the ice with his friends and skating around for an hour. The in-house program was perfect for him for that reason. He was going to be done with hockey sooner or later anyway, so not participating in travel was an easy decision. I’m disappointed for him in that he doesn’t get that scheduled hockey time with his friends this year, but he’ll fill his time with other things and will survive just fine.

        My frustration as an athletic director is that our community has created a culture that sends the message that travel hockey is the ONLY acceptable method for serious hockey players. To be honest, I think that most of your reply feeds right into that cultural belief. You mentioned the rich Grand Forks history of winning hockey games, which absolutely can’t be disagreed with. However, how many of those games and championships that you’re referencing came as a direct result of “mandatory” travel hockey vs. just getting a ton of kids on the ice to skate and play? Arbitrarily using 2000 as a cut off year, Grand Forks teams won 72% of the state championship before 2000 and 68% after 2000 (I had to look that up; I don’t carry those numbers around in my head). Wouldn’t that suggest that our excessive travel culture is hurting our ability to win games and hang banners?

        Grand Forks has been wildly successful in hockey because we have far more sheets of ice than any other community in Grand Forks (which is awesome), and our kids have historically taken advantage of those sheets of ice (which is awesome). You referenced your own hockey career – I’m guessing (just guessing) that a large part of your own hockey development was skating hours and hours on an outdoor sheet closest to whichever park you grew up near. I’m also guessing (just guessing) that many of those hours occurred on Saturdays and Sundays in the winter while you weren’t sitting with your family in Warroad/Alexandria/Fergus Falls/Moorhead/White Bear Lake/Devils Lake/etc/etc/etc waiting for you next hour long game to start.

        All of that said, I have zero problems with the families that choose to participate in travel hockey – none whatsoever (or any other travel sport for that matter). Families can choose to participate in whatever experience they’d like, and I’m not going to tell people what’s right or wrong for their individual families. If you look through my posts and my replies (and lots of other posts on my blog), you’ll find that (1) I feel no differently about hockey or travel hockey than I do about any other specific sport, and (2) I don’t think that a majority of our parents are obsessive monsters pushing their kids to greatness. I do tend to focus on those parents/families because those are the parents/families/KIDS who ultimately have a bad experience (which often results in a phone call or email to me). I really don’t feel any differently about travel hockey than I do about travel anything else with one exception:

        Hockey parents in Grand Forks don’t have any other options.

        Hockey is the only team sport in Grand Forks that has created a culture (and practice) of telling families that you must play travel or you can’t play. And this year, that’s very literally the message because the travel league is the only option. You referenced travel baseball – yes, we have some really successful “all-star” travel baseball teams, but those are made up entirely of families who have chosen to take part in that experience. With 10 Cal Ripken teams in town, there were a ton of families who appreciated being able to let their kids practice, play, and have fun playing baseball without ever leaving Grand Forks. That’s my main concern – hockey families don’t have that option starting at 10 years old.

        The other part of your second paragraph is a hockey specific problem, also. Do I think that families are mortgaging their futures and sacrificing their fabrics to support travel hockey? No, but that’s only because hockey has socio-economically priced itself away from many, many families – and forcing travel hockey on 10 year-olds is part of that problem. Most (most, not all) of the kids playing hockey now belong to those families who can make the cost work within their budgets and time work within their schedules. I’ve done a socio-economic map of our team sport kids in Grand Forks, so I can use you as an example. You talked about one of your sons playing high school hockey – you know this already, and it’s no surprise to me, but 16 of our 40 varsity hockey kids in Grand Forks last year lived within a 12-15 block radius of your house (it’s 23 of 40 if I extend that radius by another 5ish blocks). That’s not a coincidence; that’s a specific anecdotal example of the nature of youth sports today. In fact, without even looking specifically at rosters, I’m guessing (just guessing) that most (not all) of the families you’ve spent your travel hockey time with are the same families you’ve spent your travel baseball time with.

        Again, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be a part of travel hockey (or travel anything – I know it sounds like I’m picking on travel hockey, but I’m not). Travel hockey (and others) are just fine for those families that can both afford the time and money and choose to be a part of it, but that’s not the reality for all families. What separates hockey from everything else is that hockey families don’t have a non-travel option; we’re essentially using socio-economic status as a method of weeding out hockey players as young as 10 years old. I know that this can be harsh to hear for the families involved in travel sports, but I’m not giving some broad, vague rationalization based on a stereotype. The data is really easy to find and shows how prevalent socio-economic status is to a kid’s ability to participate in youth sports today. Knowing that to be true, people can take one of two stances: (1) just say it is what it is and continue down that path, or (2) try to affect some small measure of change. I prefer the latter of those because I view the importance of athletic experience of every kid in Grand Forks, not just those in my peer group.

        I hear the same things you do about how great it is to have our hockey facilities in Grand Forks – more indoor and outdoor sheets of ice than anyone else in the state…….which leads me back to my original question. Why have we created a culture that requires 100 ten year-olds to leave Grand Forks to play hockey when we have more than enough ice and bodies to create a good experience in town? Again, I’m not begrudging the families that choose to participate in travel hockey; I’m talking about a culture that has now mandated travel hockey as the only way to participate. If you look back through my post and comments, I’m not bashing travel hockey or the families that participate in travel hockey. I take issue with the culture that is shutting the door on numerous families by saying that travel hockey is the only option. (And, again, I’m not talking specifically about me or my son; we choose not to participate in travel for other reasons. I’m speaking on behalf of those other families in town who are frustrated with the culture inside hockey in Grand Forks but don’t have the platform that I have. I want to see those families have a good experience in the exact same manner that I want to see your family have a good experience. By your response coupled with all the other responses to this post – both on this post and via email in the last two days – it’s very clear that families like yours ARE having a good experience (which is awesome), but we also have a ton of families that aren’t having a good experience (which is not awesome).)

        I’ll spot you that my hockey plan had flaws; I was just quickly spit-balling. I’m an administrator, so I can’t make decisions like that without meetings and committees that involve people far smarter than I am – people like Eli who have put more time and thought into it. My intention was just to show that it’s possible to keep travel and in-house leagues as viable options for all of our kids in Grand Forks, not just those that can afford the time and money.

        I like the conversation – like the debate. I’m clearly not against challenging the status quo, and it takes tough conversations to do that. You and I probably aren’t going to agree on this, and that’s ok; we’re looking at the issue from two different perspectives. I appreciate your taking the time to read the post and respond with some thoughtful insight!

        1. Hockey Family

          We could go on endlessly about this topic, making point / counterpoint arguments for and against each of our positions. I would like to make a couple of points regarding your response to my post, however. I’ll start by again saying that I feel your frustration for you individual situation. I absolutely agree that if you are a squirt, and want to play squirt in house hockey, that option should be available to you if at all possible. You indicate that you talk to many families that feel just as you do.. The problem with that is, obviously, if there was such a demand for in house hockey, the opportunity would absolutely be available to you. You seem to infer that the culture has “forced” families into travel hockey, and that given the choice many more would rather have an in house option. The facts simply don’t bear that out. I don’t doubt you have talked to families that feel the same as you.. for every one of those families, I would guess I could find 2 or 3 that feel strongly the other way. I give more credit to the families and hockey players in this town. I don’t for a minute believe that parents are forced into travel hockey in order to create the next college or pro hockey player. To suggest the majority are, is simply labeling them as mindless idiots.

          Your analysis of when championships were won, and what the causes of those championships were is also flawed. Prior to 2000, WAY prior to 2000, Grand Forks Central dominated high school hockey. Many of those came at a time when the number of HS teams competing in the state was not what it is today, both in numbers and quality of the programs. Red River came along, and between the two Grand Forks schools, they have continued to out perform every other school in the state over the long term. Hockey programs across the state have come along way, but I’m not sure you can make the argument that the changes made in the youth programs in Grand Forks have somehow hurt the success of Grand Forks hockey.. again, I don’t believe the numbers bear that out. Incidentally, I will go out on a limb and say that hockey could be FREE from termites through high school, and you would still be fielding calls from parents of players who were cut.. that will never go away, and its hardly a justification for what you perceive is wrong with our youth programs.

          You are absolutely correct that hockey was DIFFERENT when I grew up in Grand Forks. Different doesn’t mean better, or worse. I did spend hours playing outside, and I would like to see kids utilize them more. However, in recent memory, the outdoor rinks that once opened the first part of December and stayed opened through the end of February are now having trouble keeping ice for a month in a row (a problem I’m sure you can relate to coming from the other side of the state). There is more indoor and travel hockey now than in the days I played as a kid, but I don’t look at as necessarily a bad thing. The quality and skill of players now at EVERY age group is better across the board than when I played. Again, I don’t look at that as a bad thing.

          I’m not sure I buy your assertion that you feel no differently about hockey than you do about any other sport.. your examples and commentary speak otherwise.

          You repeatedly claim that the culture in Grand Forks has forced families to play travel hockey, or to not play at all. Yet this is the first year I can ever remember that the option doesn’t exist… and it doesn’t exist because the interest just isn’t there (at least this year; that is not to say it won’t next year). I will say again that I don’t believe its because, as you claim, the culture has forced travel hockey on the majority of people who don’t want to play it. People are smarter than you are giving them credit for. No doubt there are some that feel pressure to play, I hardly feel that’s a majority. Either way, are you willing to force everyone into doing something to make your model work? Is that any different from the very argument your making against the current model in which the actual registrations support the model currently in place?

          Again, I believe there should be an in house hockey option at the squirt level if its possible, but I take issue with you seemingly implying that GFYH simply doesn’t understand and has gotten it all wrong. There is a passion for the sport of hockey in this town that you admittedly don’t possess. I don’t hold that against you or anyone, I just ask that you don’t hold it against those that do, and question their motives because of it.

          1. highschoolsportsstuff

            I’m not articulating my stance very well. I’m not against travel hockey any more or less I’m for or against travel anything else. Regardless of my personal feelings about youth travel, I think we’ve gone too far down that road to be able to turn back now.

            When I say that parents are being forced into travel hockey, it’s because of the cultural pressure to do what they feel is best for their kids, and the culture of Grand Forks in recent years – for whatever reason – is telling/suggesting/giving the perception that if kids aren’t in travel hockey then they aren’t giving their kid the best chance to improve. This has created a horrible Catch 22 in that the in-house program is now viewed as a place for non-serious, screw around players (some comments on this blog post confirm that) which means that anyone who wants their kid to improve during the season avoids the in-house program. That avoidance then takes anybody who wants to improve out of the in-house program which further reinforces the belief that in-house isn’t serious. What I’m suggesting is a cultural change to again establish some credibility to the in-house program so it’s providing a place for kids who want to improve and want to compete but don’t want the travel option.

            You’re right – my original spitball suggestions are highly flawed. I don’t want to force kids into non-travel any more than I want to force kids into travel, but I don’t think that kids/parents have an actual option right now. The social stigma in Grand Forks surrounding the necessity of travel hockey has grown to a point that families feel like they aren’t being serious if they go the non-travel route. And, as I mentioned before, that stigma creates a circle where the in-house program loses viability because of the view that it’s not viable. Does forcing kids into the non-travel route fix that? I don’t know, and I wouldn’t know until or unless it’s been tried. However, I do know that while there are quite a few families that enjoy, value, and want to do the travel option, there are quite a few others that feel “stuck” with doing travel.

            Does that same stigma about the travel team exist around other sports? Probably, but it isn’t as rampant as in the youth hockey world. Look at the comments on this blog posts from the two kids who took the time to comment; their replies are exactly the reason parents feel like they “have” to take the travel route if they want to be serious about getting better at hockey. Unfortunately, I completely agree that those comments are probably correct – the only way to really improve might be to take the travel route – which is why I’m talking about a cultural shift where the in-house program is viewed as a place where kids can get ice time, get some coaching, and get better. If we can operate in-house programs like YBL basketball and Cal Ripken baseball for these kids, I have to believe that it’s possible to figure out a system that works for hockey, too. I’m not talking about the destruction of the travel program, I’m talking about an additional option for kids to get better without the travel. I’m not pointing fingers at the GFYHA because I don’t know who would/could/should be administering an additional program, but everything I’ve heard says that it’s been done in the past so I have to believe it could be done again.

            Last couple things – frustration out of my own kid’s experience wasn’t the purpose of my post. He wasn’t sure he wanted to keep playing hockey two years ago, but we stuck with it because he (sometimes) had fun and it gave him something to do. If nothing else, the lack of in-house option this year expedited the inevitable and will allow him to try some other stuff sooner. For me personally, it’s a completely different conversation next year with with my second son. He loves playing hockey, so we’ll make sure he’s able to participate in whatever’s available for him.

            And, no, I don’t think that hockey parents are bunch of mindless idiots (and I certainly don’t think that a majority of them believe their kid will be a college or pro athlete); I think that hockey parents have been placed into a situation that’s grown largely out of their control. Out of 100 squirt families, there’s no way that all 100 of them would choose travel if they viewed the in-house program as a good option. While the travel season is meeting the needs of many families like yours, it’s placing a lot of burden on a lot of other families who feel like they don’t have a choice. I think the experience that families like yours are having in travel is awesome, but I’d sure like to see something in place to better meet the needs of everyone involved.

            Again – thanks for the reply and insight!

  45. Hockey is not the only sport GF

    I can’t understand the obsession of hockey in this town… it even takes over competitive basketball opportunities because everyone just has to “play hockey!” Really even if they don’t want to… It’s focus and culture isn’t about the kids learning about competition and sportsmanship… they are being pressured to become UND hockey players at age 9, which for about 98 of the 100 players isn’t going to happen. The parents are the problem. If the kids aren’t “talented” enough to play professionally in ANY sport, why not then, at these young ages, turn the focus to play the sport for fun, learning the rules, and sportsmanship building… for the love of the game?!

    Not everyone is this town had the plague of hockey fever… it is saddening that other sports can’t be better represented along with the in house hockey. We just attended the Fighting Hawks Fan Fest for Basketball… it was fun! Very few attended, that also represents the take over of hockey in this town…. no hockey today, yet a continuous lack of support for other sports in this town. It is frustrating… that’s for the acknowledgment though your blog!

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I don’t necessarily think that the hockey obsession is a bad thing. Every community I’ve been in is obsessed about something; hockey is just Grand Forks’s something. I also don’t think that a majority of parents are trying to get their kids to play hockey at UND. Do I believe it’s a dream of most parents/kids? Absolutely. (If you ask my 2nd son, he’ll tell you that he’s going to play for the Washington Capitals when he grows up; his back-up plan is to play for the Blackhawks.) But I think it’s a dangerous thought to try to lump all parents into the category of pressuring kids to play pro.

      I do, however, think that most (most, not all) parents feel some pressure to get their kids to play at the “next” level during each winter. That number decreases every year, but it exists. Of these 100 squirt travel families, I’m guessing that most (most, not all) of them feel like they need to give their kids every opportunity to be a high school hockey player – which is where I’m trying to intercede. We don’t have room for 100 high school hockey players, so it’s important to me that kids grow up playing sports for fun and that their parents don’t feel like they’ve spent a ton of time/money in the hopes of some sort of return for their efforts.

      I do agree that other sports in Grand Forks don’t get the same level of exposure as hockey, but that’s going to happen with UND hockey in our back yard. I’ve had conversations with a couple people who talk about how UND hockey is both the best and worst thing for youth hockey in Grand Forks. That part doesn’t bother me as much because if it wasn’t hockey, it would be something else – every community has their something. We’ve had some other sports in Grand Forks – a couple wrestlers come to mind – that have done a good job picking up hockey players after they get cut, so I think each sport is finding their niche. My interest is in trying to get those niches to blend together a little better.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  46. BHP

    I understand your disappointment but most of this goes back to USA hockey forcing GF Parks, Blues, and Supras to combine under one charter. This made travel available to all families and not just Blues and Supras. It’s just a simple fact that kids want to participate in travel hockey.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I have to draw a line between my disappointment as a parent and my disappointment as an athletic director. As a family – meaning me, my son, my wife, and my son’s mother together – made the decision to not participate in travel hockey. I don’t want to give the impression that he absolutely didn’t have the chance to play this year; if he really loved practicing hard and competing on the ice, he’d play. I’m hoping that I’m accurately portraying that our decision was that the time and money cost wasn’t worth his level of interest and involvement. With this son, it would be a different conversation if it were football. Regarding hockey specifically, it will be a different conversation with my second son next; he loves practicing, playing, competing, etc.

      I haven’t suggested that kids don’t want to participate in travel hockey, nor have I ever suggested that nobody should be playing travel hockey. My frustration as an athletic director is that travel hockey is the ONLY option for kids in Grand Forks starting at age 10. There are zero opportunities for kids to play hockey just for fun. GF Parks offered an opportunity that wasn’t taken advantage of by a large number of parents. Again, that’s the choice of the parents, but my further frustration as an athletic director is that I know I’m going to hear from some of these parents in X number of years about the time and money they “wasted” in youth hockey when their kids get cut from the high school team. Again, I’m not suggesting that the time and money was wasted; I understand that any time/money cost in youth sports is simply for participation…but my view isn’t shared by all.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  47. Jimbo

    I could not agree with you more regarding our family and children, but… we live in a town with enough kids to field house league teams, should everyone come to their senses. Thinking about other towns like Mayville, Williston, Devil’s Lake, etc.; there has to be some travel to allow neighboring cities to participate. That could look a lot more sane than it does presently.

    Auston Matthews was raised on house leagues. I think that worked out fairly well for him.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Yes – 100% agree. Somewhere in these comments I talked about growing up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Our little league baseball team had to travel in order to play somebody; but thinking back on that, it was basically an in-house league. It’s just that our “house” had a 60 mile diameter so the league could include 6ish teams.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  48. Clint

    I played hockey when I was young from first grade thru high school and then on an independent team while attending college. Those hockey years were the best years of my life and taught me so much about life itself. But in regards to your question as to “why”. It’s about the development of your child and spending time with them. If you ever talk to employees at colleges the one thing they’ll tell you is that the hockey players tend to be the nicest and most down to earth individuals of all the athletes. I believe part of that reason is everything you talk about above. Unlike many other sports hockey player parents have to spend thousands of hours with their kids each year as they grow up. They can’t just buy them a ball and send them down the street to the park. They have to commit to their kids life and the hockey thing is just part of that major commitment. How many kids in other sports or in general for that matter spend months traveling and actually BEING with their kids for thousands of hours each year? How many go thru pushing their kids to their limits allowing both of them to grow and learn what hard work and practice can bring you? And how many kids have their parents actually there during all that hard work and practice? Those are just a few of the things hockey players and hockey parents get to experience. So, yes it’s a huge commitment on you and your child’s behalf. But many parents are willing to commit that much of their lives to their kids. As I read your letter, I do understand your wondering. But I also sense a little bit of selfishness on your behalf. If your letter is really about wondering why, then this is why. Sure every parent hopes their child will be the next big thing. But deep down most know they won’t. On the other hand, if your letter was really a sly slam to those parents who are willing to do this for their children, then I feel bad for your children who will miss out on this amazing experience called HOCKEY.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I think you’ve missed my point. My oldest doesn’t love playing hockey enough to justify the time and money. If he truly loved practicing and competing in hockey, he’d be participating. He just doesn’t feel that way about hockey, and it’s not worth it for the rest of the family to make that kind of investment into an activity that he’s going to complain about for half the winter. That’s not selfish; that’s reasonable.

      I haven’t questioned the families that CHOOSE to go this route. I have questioned a community that’s created a culture where that’s the only route. Hockey – more so than most other sports – has an enormous socio-economic split. Hockey has very quickly priced itself away from a large number of families. Everything that you’ve listed in your reply feed right into that. I know several families who “buy [their kid] a ball and send them down the street to the park” not because they are avoiding their kids but because they can’t afford to do anything else. Not every family has the ability to “spend thousands of hours with their kids” in recreational sports, which is almost necessary for travel hockey. (Yes, you could send your kid with another family, if possible, for weekend tournaments, games, etc., but that still wouldn’t meet your ideal of spending thousands of hours with your kids.) You’d be surprised at how many kids I’ve talked to throughout the year who resent that their parents pushed them “to their limits” in various activities that they really didn’t care about.

      My post wasn’t a “sly slam” at anybody. If you take the time to read through many of things that I post, you’ll see that I’m entirely in favor of families making whatever choices they want to make. I am making a very direct slam at a culture that’s been created that suggests kids HAVE to travel to be any good. And I am making a very direct slam at a culture that’s sending the message that if you travel, your kid will become good enough for ________ (whatever level it is you’re striving for).

      I don’t have the benefit of talking about what a great experience playing hockey (or any other sport) is for a certain group of kids. I get phone calls and emails from parents whose kids have been cut, kids who don’t play enough, kids who aren’t getting college offers, etc. etc. etc. I have a really large group of students that I’m concerned about – not just those families who both can and choose to spend time and money on travel hockey. For those families that enjoy the experience, I think it’s great; I’m all about positive sporting experiences for kids. However, my phone doesn’t ring every day with phone calls from parents who have had a positive sporting experience, so I feel that part of my job is trying to tweak a poor culture to try to get a handful more of those families a positive experience.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

      1. Just calling out this comment:
        “I am making a very direct slam at a culture that’s been created that suggests kids HAVE to travel to be any good.”

        I just don’t know how you get around the fact that when athletes travel, they (usually) gain more skills and get better than the kids that don’t – apart from the “prodigy” athlete. Just like the kid that reads 20 minutes a day will probably become a better reader than the kid that reads only 10. And the kid that practices his trumpet 20 minutes a day will be better than the kid that practices 10 minutes a day. In-house leagues are not a bad idea, I think if that’s the way they go, great. But for those that do choose to travel, and their kids gain more skills and can play at a higher/faster level, when that kid makes the high school team over the kid that doesn’t travel, it’ll be called foul. It’s unfortunate that every family is not able to travel, I agree. That’s where a scholarship or fundraising program for the activity can help. But it isn’t helpful to vilify the families that can.

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          Sure, but again, I’m not vilifying the families that choose to travel. I’m vilifying a culture that has taken away all opportunities from the families who don’t want to (or can’t) travel. For the past X number of years, the overwhelming consensus among families was that travel hockey was the only way to improve skill, make a team, etc. etc., but the non-travel option still existed. Now, the non-travel option doesn’t even exist, and I’m still waiting to hear about the massive extra amounts of ice time that travel kids get.
          Both in-house and travel had 3 hours of practice time per week, and both had a similar game schedule (my understanding is an extra 4-5ish games for the travel teams). The additional game time for travel comes in the form of the five tournaments. So if there’s a four game guarantee, a travel team will spend Friday night through Sunday afternoon/night on the road and hanging out in wherever so the kids can get 4 games on the ice (whatever amount ice time that translates into for each kid). OR, kids could stay home, skate an extra weekend game against a Grand Forks team, then spend an almost infinite number of hours on the ice the rest of Saturday and Sunday. If you want to make the argument that travel hockey allows for time in hotels, at tournaments, etc. etc., go for it; I can’t and won’t argue with that. It terms of potential ice time, though, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that driving to [Other Town] to play 4-5 games over the course of two full days leads to more ice time than walking out your front door to the nearest outdoor rink and skating with friends from after lunch until sun down.

          And, if you look through everything I’ve written, my main frustration as an athletic director is that the in-house program folded – in part – because parents didn’t take advantage of it for various reasons. That was obviously the choices that families made for whatever reason. But those families entered that choice knowing that travel was going to cost more time and money, yet my phone will still ring at some point in the future with an angry parent who spent all that time and money only to watch his/her kid get cut. What I’ve suggested all along is that a change in culture – meaning, a change in the way people view the in-house program – would solve the problem of parents feeling like they *have* to put their kids in travel hockey in order to give their kids any chance at all.

          Not surprisingly, I’ve never received a phone call or email from the parent of a kid who didn’t do travel but got cut – in any sport. My phone rings from the parents of the kids who did travel and still get cut, ESPECIALLY in the times that the travel kid was cut when non-travel kids made the roster. As I’ve said all along, I don’t have any problem at all with travel hockey or the families that choose to participate in travel hockey. My problem is with a culture that has taken away that choice. I’m still waiting for one good reason why in-house and travel teams can co-exist in every other team sport but not in hockey…

          1. I would offer that it can co-exist, but is monotonous. When we lived in Fargo, in order to play travel baseball, you also had to play league. This meant not only paying for league and spending two nights practicing + game night, but having to then get in a travel practice, and a weekend tournament here and there. And – you’ll find this offensive, I’m sure – but my kid was not developing because he was playing with kids who still didn’t know how to catch a fly ball or rules of the game. Can they co-exist? Sure. Is it beneficial for everyone? No.

            It’s not about “getting more ice time” – getting a few hours on the local pond is great – my kids live for it, but it isn’t a substitute for organized teaching. And as far as the parent coming in to your office whose kid played travel his whole life and is cut – bad on that parent. I can’t speak for him, but he also can’t speak on behalf of the rest of us who don’t make generalizations or expectations about our players. From year to year you just never know what’s going to happen, so let the kids enjoy it while it lasts. It’s a tough row to hoe and I don’t think there is any one answer that will satisfy everyone. I hope GF resumes in-house at some point, but know it’s not for everyone.

        2. highschoolsportsstuff

          BTW – if you see me at a game sometime, stop over and say hi. I don’t mind debating these issues live, either. We’ve got different perspectives on this issue, so we’ve got different visions – leads to good conversation.

  49. SportsDoc

    While there is reason to place kids in any sport by ability, it can be a negative. Not all kids develop at the same rate. I think, Mark, you bring up very valid points on travel teams, too. When the travel teams trump the house leagues for Elementary age kids you will also lose those whose families simply can’t afford the pay to play format, regardless of the child’s skill level or potential.

    As many D-I hockey players as GF has produced, how many more were missed due to either cost or “one sport” burnout? Kelly Lovering, long time director of hockey at Notre Dame Academy in Sask. and Coach of several Canadian National teams along with 39 future NHL players, once told me the best player he ever coached burned out and quit at 15. From that point on he changed his personal coaching philosophy and encouraged his players to only do hockey in the winter. Play soccer, football, baseball, golf, tennis, swim. Do art, music, science, church. Kelly also felt strongly that the growth of the whole child (spiritual, academic, athletic, social) was more important than the growth of one aspect, in this case athletic.

    Changing the culture will take time, but will be worth the effort. Good luck moving forward to those who choose the house league, multi sport route. The rewards are there. Compromise is a possible solution. Maybe require all players to do house league and then have those who choose travel teams to do so beyond the house league. You know, having the next Jonathan Toews forgo his 8th goal of a house league game to instead, of his own choosing, pass to the teammate who had never scored a goal has its rewards too, for both players.

    If you have an exceptional child in hockey and the CHILD wants to advance, give your blessings and encouragement, but continue to raise the whole child, that is a parents role.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for the read and reply!

      I do think that the GF travel hockey leagues are scheduled to (mostly) allow for multiple sport athletes. We have some overlap conflicts between the end of the middle school and freshmen football seasons with Bantam try-outs, but we see similar conflicts in other sports, too (off the top of my head, the end of our middle school basketball season usually conflicts with a travel tournament that most families want to play in). Thankfully, we don’t have leagues in town that require early specialization. Unless I’m missing something, I think that our kids at every age have good opportunities in Grand Forks to play many sports.

      Your hockey burn-out example resonates in many sports. We’re seeing lower levels of participation in many sports now, most notably girls’ basketball. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from a couple of them who stopped playing simply because they were tired of playing. I can’t say that those singular examples represent everyone who decides to stop playing, but it certainly affected a couple.

      1. Jeff Anderson

        Mark. You bring up some great points in your questions about hockey. As a parent of two former players we loved travel as it was our family vacation. We didn’t go somewhere warm in the winter other than the concession stand. When my kids teams started traveling more we embraced it. We played in a town southwest of Grand Forks where the hockey culture is still new. Many parents who were not involved with the sport said why would we want to travel all the time for hockey. We do have home games to. But basketball is king in this town as wrestling is where you come from. The parents and fans see no problem with the travel in those sports. It all comes down to the culture of the town. The problem with the inhouse program has trickledown to other towns to. This year there looks to be only six jr. gold hockey teams in the state. And only one team is in Grand Forks. When there used to be three. Fargo had two and sometimes three teams. These teams are needed for kids to keep playing. But I have been told by coaches at a high level in Fargo, Forks, Bismarck, and Minot, that they don’t want those kids taking ice time away from their primetime players. And I think that is what is happening with the program your son was in.

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          Thank you for sharing that; it sounds like you have/had a healthy attitude about your experience.
          Specific to Grand Forks, I don’t get the feeling that the in-house program was forced out to make more room for the travel program. I get the feeling it died a slow death for a variety of reasons, but I do think that a great number of families would benefit from the program’s return. Many of them don’t make much noise because it’s difficult to be in Grand Forks and say anything bad about hockey – much like speaking ill of basketball in your community, but I think having a good in-house program would remove a lot of societal pressure from a lot of parents. You’re absolutely right, though; every community has one (or two) of those sports that takes over…and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. The trick is finding some balance within those sports between competition and participation.

          Thanks for the read and reply!

  50. D

    Having coached and been involved in youth sports (hockey, baseball, football, etc…) I think your rant is a little tired and demeaning, especially for someone in your position. Yes, travel hockey is expensive, but so is travel baseball, and basketball, and don’t even get me started on cheer/gymnastics. You assume because my child plays this sport or that, and I pay the expenses, that I must want the next Lebron, Toews, or I steer name of superstar here. Truth is, I like the fact that sports teach my kid teamwork, winning, losing, practice, patience, etc… not because he is going to the NFL or NHL, but because it is those skills that will make him a great engineer, doctor, teacher, or even athletic director. Frankly, if I have the money to do it, that’s my business, not yours. But just so you know, I also support all my kids interest areas, whether academic or athletic, and yes…even my kids that don’t play hockey or other sports.

    What I will agree with you on is it is a shame there is no in-house hockey option. The in-house program was ran by the park district, not Grand Forks Youth Hockey, and there just was not enough interest. Most of those kids signed up for travel hockey (at a reduced rate), and I hope that them and their parents have fun and productive years. On a side note, hockey, and all sports are expensive, because organized youth athletics are expensive. GFYHA is a break even organization, that does not charge more than it costs to run the organization. With so many kids playing, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars that go for ice rental from the park district, coaching, refs, and tournament registration.

    It sounds like it is inconvenient for you to travel out of town for tournaments and games; but in our family we support each other. So whether it is hockey, baseball, gymnastics, or a band concert, we all go, and have fun together. To me I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I think you’ll find that many of my other responses address much of what you’ve written.

      Thanks for the read and reply!

  51. A Varsity Hockey Player

    Your opinion is way off and when I say way off I mean wayyyyy off. If you would pay attention to any hockey outside the state of North Dakota you would realize the talent level it takes play high level hockey beyond our state’s borders. Traveling hockey gives youth players the opportunity to play against other players from beyond our region that are interested in doing what it takes to play at a high level in the future. This weeds out the players who aren’t as serious about the sport. Why should a kid who has the determination to do what it takes to be successful be weighed down by having to play with kids who are just out to screw around, which sadly is what inhouse hockey is, a screw around. Take it from a kid who was able to play in both growing up. Only a few years ago in Grand Forks, kids were able to play both in house and for a travel team at the same time. When I was a kid, when kids who played travel as well as in house showed up to the in house games, the kids who played in house and their parents would complain that they weren’t having fun because the travel players dominated the game. The difference in the compete level between the two is exponential as is the coaching. Travel hockey is coached by dads, but what you failed to mention is that many of these dads played at a fairly high level, and they are smart enough to realize what it takes to improve. Our coaches and the level of competitiveness we were exposed to made the difference. Kids in GF grow up hearing the saying “You are either a hockey player or just a kid who plays hockey” and in house hockey is for the kids who just want to play hockey. Outside our state’s borders many don’t even have the option to play public hockey. Families are forced to spend upwards of 20,000 dollars for their 14 year old to get a chance to play.

    PS I believe your occupation is to be the Athletic Director for the GFPS. Posting a blog on a weekday while you are under contract is a questionable use of your time You should be finding a way to help our community embrace support for all youth sports regardless of age or level of competitiveness-not to critique them with your biased opinion. You’re the reason why high school students don’t want to go watch the games. By the way, only 4 of 40 Grand Forks varsity players did not play travel hockey. The proof is in the numbers, and if you still believe that players develop equally at both levels you are very naive

  52. James

    I follow your concern on why we do not have more opportunities for an in house league that allows the kids to play amongst their peers. But where you lose me is when you talk about the cost of the sport is why we are losing players. It is true that hockey is an expensive sport. But if YOU were truly worried about the cost of the sport, there are ways to save money at the high school level

    Using your reasoning could we not schedule more games against teams in the region, Roseau, Warroad, TRF, Crookston to name a few. Last year GFC/RR played three games vs region teams EGF(2) Detroit Lakes, I believe. If you are truly worried about lowering the cost of participation would this not be a good start?

    It is about the kids, and we have kids/tax paying families today and in the past that have made a choice to try and give their kid an opportunity to make it to the next level,i.e. Junior hockey, BEFORE the high school season.But because the people have made this choice it automatically disqualifies them from from returning back to their high school to participate if it doesn’t work out. Even if they have been gone a full year from North Dakota hockey participation, it was insisted they sit out a year of hockey.

    Other communities allow this, instead we force a tax paying family to move away, which happened this year, or sit a whole year of competition. What is the reasoning behind this?

    We all understand that SPORTS in general are getting more expensive. But I find it hard to follow when the people in charge of the budgeting of sports are the ones complaining about the cost when they have a chance to lead but don’t.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      High school hockey participation fees are $60 per player – same as every other sport; I’m not sure we could go any lower than that. None of the costs incurred for season are passed on to the athletes, so what the season/team costs GFPS doesn’t change what the participation fee is for the students.

      GFPS doesn’t have any control over the NDHSAA transfer rule. The most that I can do is give parents/kids as much information as possible so they can make an informed decision when deciding to leave or not. I can’t personally approve or deny the eligibility of any student; I only inform and enforce the NDHSAA rule.

  53. West Fargo

    I agree I don’t think kids should have to travel for games. All games can be in house or against your metro area. Playing on a travel team will not make you a better hockey player. My guess is that many years ago parents pushed having trave games. I am in West Fargo and I wish they had no travel at all except 1 tournament we participate in. Yes kids get burned out and when you have 3 kids or more it even gets more hectic.

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