Hockey Development Faces A Long Up Hill Battle For Popularity In Southern California
Special Feature Written By Sharon Keeney

  
Editor's Introduction
The following is the text of an email that was sent to After The Whistle by Sharon Keeney, a parent of a 10 year old goalie who plays as part of the California Waves Hockey Club in Anaheim. She identified some of the main issues facing minor hockey in that area of the continent. As you will see, many of the issues are common to other locations, but the geographical factors coupled with the tremendously high cost of playing this sport will have a huge impact on slowing the growth of the development of hockey in the United States. We thank Sharon for being so candid and for providing the rest of the readers of this web site with some excellent insight into her situation, which should help us appreciate our own.
  
The following are the main issues preventing us from obtaining more players in Southern California: 
1.  Cost of hockey limits participation
2.  Not enough high school teams to encourage high levels of participation
at younger ages
3.  Competition with soccer, baseball, basketball - difficult to handle
other sports with hockey due to time commitments for hockey

The following are the main issues and concerns for existing players: 
1.  Shortage of referees
2.  Not enough rinks to let the kids play close to home
3.  Not enough qualified coaches - qualified means more than having a kid
that plays hockey and attendance at a coaching class

Allow me to expand on the above.

We have on the order of 3600 players/goalies in Southern California - I'm sure USA would have exact numbers, but I'm close on travel players - this wouldn't count inhouse players.  Our league (Southern California only) had 2217 travel players registered at the beginning of the season and there were a handful of independent teams (perhaps 15 to 20 teams total at all ages).

User pays here.  The clubs take the cost to play and divide it by the number of players in the club.  The rinks are all privately owned, for profit.  Ice time varies from $150 per hour at the smaller older rinks during off hours (our age levels are restricted on how early or how late they can play, so this is mostly for adult use)and $250 per hour prime time, and $350 to $400 per hour for the rinks that are newer/bigger/better areas.  We also on our club pay the coaches and their tournament travel expenses so we are a more expensive club with higher skilled coaches than most.  When you look at the cheapest programs which cost around $1200 to play (shared ice, single practice, jerseys not included, don't travel, etc., non paid parent coaches) and compare it to $40 to play soccer in a rec league - you can see the problem.  Many people cannot afford to play hockey, and there is an issue with exposure and people even thinking about playing hockey.

The rinks are also spread out over a very large area.  We are to the far east of Los Angeles in Lake Arrowhead.  We have a rink that is 45 min away (Riverside), two rinks that are 1 hr away (Ontario for both), then 1 hr and 10 min (Yorba Linda), then two rinks 1 hr and 30 min (Anaheim for both), going North another three or four rinks just over 1 hr and 30 min (Lakewood, Norwalk, Paramount) and at 2 hrs another two or three rinks (Huntington
Beach, El Segundo, Torrance), and then others are all over 2 hours.  There is heavy traffic to all.  Our son started at a local rink (since closed, it collapsed two years ago from snow load) and was taken from age 3 to skate twice a week, and then into hockey lessons.  Had there not been a local rink, I don't know if we would have ever taken him to learn to skate even - we had no exposure to hockey at all, and in fact became hockey fans as a result of his passion for hockey which developed without even encouragement from us.  He wanted to play hockey from 3 years old as soon as he saw the lessons at the rink, and we were taken along for the ride. We kept him in lessons for 3 years and finally under pressure from the local hockey coaches moved him into inhouse at 6 and then travel at 7.  He has done 2 years of mites (defense, then goalie), and is in his second year of squirts (both as
goalie).

Most of the kids here who play hockey on A, AA, and AAA teams have coaching.Goalie coaches are $70 per hour out here - our son does two lessons a week, one private at $70 and one shared at $35.  Players may have private lessons at $60 per hour or shared lessons (with 5 or 6 skaters) at around $20 per hour per player).  The most expensive skating coach out here charges $150 per hour and that is generally with 2 skaters.  Clinics run $20 to $25 per hour and generally are for around 30 kids - a few are good, most are
mediocre at best.  We do a mandatory clinic every Monday that is included in our club dues, and it is a Turcotte stickhandling clinic.  Typical cost to do puck time is $8 an hour.  It varies from $6 to $10.

The local rinks charge on the order of $250 to $300 for an in house league. The big  problem with the inhouse leagues are that they are a mix of ages.

Our mite son played inhouse with mites, squirts, peewees.  He did an inhouse spring league with squirts, peewees, and bantams.  It is quite difficult to have a good program with this type of age spread in my opinion.  The skills vary from AA players to learning to skate as well.  The rinks also each collect old gear to encourage kids to start hockey, but the cost is still significantly more than the other local sports, and many of these players can't make the transition to travel due to the costs.  Many of the rinks are to cover their costs even at these rates due to the high energy costs here.

There are not a lot of high school teams here.  In Valencia there is a team and they have a lot of players for that rink.  The high school is across the street from the rink. Many of the kids want to focus on a sport where they can letter in high school.

Some of the kids also play roller hockey, but we are also 45 min and then 1 hr and 10 min from the nearest 2 roller rinks.  Its cheaper, but not as much fun, so we figure if we have to drive he might as well do ice hockey.

Issues 2 and 3 are typical all over the US.  Baseball is the national sport, just as hockey is in Canada.  Even in areas without good climates, baseball is a very popular sport.  Football is also an issue, but most football leagues require 70 lbs to start and so it doesn't impact the younger age levels.  Soccer is extremely popular in Southern California, partly because
there are many hispanics in the area.  In the City of Yorba Linda as an example (middle of Orange County, generally educated and affluent
homeowners) there are about 2500 travel soccer teams (AYSO).  Our freinds who live there can pick from 20 teams at gold level (equivalent to our hockey level at AAA) within 20 minutes of their home.  A typical travel soccer team at silver or gold, playing league, many tournaments, and state cup will cost you around $2000 to play including uniforms and travel costs, and all events will be within the LA area or within about a 2 hour drive
from Yorba Linda, with most things much closer than that.  You only pay extra for your shoes and private coaching which is generally around $20 per hour.  Fields for baseball and soccer are typically provided and maintained by the parks and rec departments of the local counties much as hockey is in Canada.  In the winter the US kids play basketball indoor - similar setup, play at local middle or high school gyms, cost is about $60 for rec league.

Refs are in short supply here, and we have a lot of nasty parents resulting in a lot of refs quitting the first year.  Many of the refs don't have the skating skills to effectively cover a game even at squirt level.  Our rinks display all of the Canadian posters on refs/players sent by our Pacific District of USA Hockey.

You probably now know more about Southern California hockey than you want to.  Our club website is www.californiawave.org, the local league is www.scaha.com, and our local bulletin board which is we all use is www.socal-hockey.com.

 
 

 

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