So here we are, almost a month into another hockey season. This is my seven-year-old son’s second year playing competitive, or ‘rep’ hockey, and the schedule juggling and cheque writing already feels like old hat.
But last year? Hoo boy, was I thrown for a loop.
Granted, neither my husband nor I have any experience with competitive sports at this age, so perhaps we were greener than most parents. But even dads on my son’s team who played hockey as kids said they didn’t remember things being quite so nuts.
So if your little tyke has graduated from the house leagues and you’re finding yourself crawling across town in rush hour wondering what the heck you’ve signed yourself up for, here are some tips to help survive being a first-time hockey mom:
Car Care and Maintenance
Most arenas are not transit friendly. You need access to a reliable car, and you’ll be spending a lot of time in it. We put more mileage on our vehicle in the past year than in the four years we’ve owned it, and we’ve now added some bells and whistles that we previously deemed unnecessary. Driving in bad weather to unfamiliar parts of the city necessitated a GPS (but I’ve since switched to the Waze app with my phone in a holder) and we invested in satellite radio to help make the travel time more bearable. The night before a game make sure you’re topped up on gas and wiper fluid. I learned this lesson the hard way.
Have Cash on Hand
You’ve probably already heard that hockey is super-dee-duper expensive. It’s definitely not cheap but compared with our daughter’s ballet, right now it seems like a relative bargain. For ‘select’ hockey, expect to pay around three to four times your house league fees for a program that runs from October to March. Hockey tends to cost more as kids get older, and depending on how competitive your league is, fees can be much, much higher. Here in Toronto you hear stories of paid coaches for tyke teams, and annual fees of $7,000 and higher. Yikes! But what I hadn’t budgeted for was the gate fees. Our league charges $5 per game for players and also spectators aged 13-64, and they don’t take debit or credit cards. After scrambling for change at the bottom of my purse (and the floor and glove compartment of the car) too many times, I learned to keep a secret stash of five dollar bills hidden in the hockey bag. Please note that arena snack bars are also cash-only before promising that post-game popcorn.
Just Surrender Your Calendar
From mid-September onwards, my initial response to any invitation is, ‘Maybe, I’ll have to check the hockey schedule.’ Depending on the commitment expectation of your team, you might be wise to instill that answer in your child as well. I foolishly anticipated booking a last-minute March Break vacation last year, but now I know that’s mid-playoffs. Typically long weekends = tournaments and during hockey season your child may have to miss birthday parties for hockey practice. If this is unacceptable to you, you may want to seek out a less-competitive team or stick to house league. Some leagues publish their scheduled games months in advance, making it somewhat easier to plan your life. The Team Snap app has been my savior and I should totally buy stock in it. This year we’re going to schedule family mini-breaks around out-of-town tournaments.
Embrace Your Village
I work full-time and so does my husband. We are fortunate to have a certain level of flexibility in our jobs, but very few employers would consider minor hockey to be a legitimate excuse for missing work. In order for my son to attend mid-week games, I rely on fellow moms and dads to get him there after school. I drive up after work and meet them at the rink. As an admitted helicopter parent and control freak, this was a HUGE step for me. Did he eat enough? (See tip #5) Is he buckled in properly? Is he using his manners? Throwing up in a teammate’s car (sorry, Sandy!) was one concern I hadn’t thought to fret over, but putting my son’s care and feeding in a relative stranger’s hands was really hard for me, especially since it’s unlikely I’ll be able to return the favour anytime soon. You will probably spend more time with your fellow hockey parents than your other friends and family. I’ve heard the horror stories too, but if your bunch is as great as mine, be thankful and pitch in where you can.
Figure out Food
My son’s games are almost always right at dinner time. Considering that we need to be at the rink 45 minutes before the puck drops, and it can take up to an hour to drive there, it’s a constant struggle for me to figure out what he should eat and when he should eat it. If you’re ‘lucky’, the snack bar at the rink will serve hot dogs or pizza pockets, not exactly the nutritional powerhouses you’d like your little athlete to consume. To top it off, my guy is SUPER picky. The usual car-friendly pasta salads or sandwiches won’t work for us. But hockey has helped to reinforce with him the importance of good food as fuel for his body, so I’ve stocked up on the healthy(ish) snacks and protein bars he will eat, and keep a stash in my purse and the glove compartment. Some nights they are my dinner, too.
Editor’s note: these nutritious granola bars were given two-thumbs up by our kids, and these freezer-friendly roasted broccoli and sausage calzones are perfect for eating in the car. We’ve also got healthy snacks from the grocery store, vegetarian and vegan snacks from the grocery store, snacks that travel well, and make-ahead meals and snacks for busy families.
Being a hockey mom was a lot more work than I bargained for. But this experience has been so valuable for my son that, for now, it’s worth it. He has found an outlet for his competitive nature, and by displaying how hard work and determination can pay off, he’s become an inspiration for our whole family. I may never understand why they don’t always call icing, but for as long as he wants to play I will gladly don my Uggs and parka and schlep him to the rink.
Corinne McDermott is a mom of two and the founder of HaveBabyWillTravel.com . She travels a lot less now between October and May.