There is no shortage of gear you can buy for any youth athlete – as the bank accounts of many parents can attest – but some sports require more fundamental equipment than others for even the youngest players.
Basketball? Yeah, all you really need is a ball and a pair of shoes. Cross-country running? You don’t even need the ball. Just the shoes.
Hockey is in a special class when it comes to equipment, which can be tough for parents of young players to navigate. How much do they need? How much should they spend?
Fortunately, Bob Mancini is here to help. Mancini is a regional manager of USA Hockey’s American Development Program. He professes to “not be an equipment guy,” which actually makes him perfect to talk about the needs of an 8U player.
Mancini outlines four components – basic, but specific – that you should look for when it comes to gear for that age level.
His first piece of advice: Make sure you are buying equipment that fits, particularly when it comes to skates.
“If we want kids to enjoy the game and learn to skate, they need to have a decent pair of skates that fit,” Mancini said. “They don’t have to be the most expensive, but their equipment can’t be big.”
Ill-fitting skates can cause the heel to slide around, lead to sore ankles and generally make a young skater feel uncomfortable on the ice. That in turn can make a young player either lag behind in development or – even worse – cause them to not want to keep playing.
Similarly, shin pads that fit are important as well.
“Big shin pads will impede your ankle bend and knee bend and your ability to skate,” Mancini said. “Again, it doesn’t have to break the bank. It just needs to fit.”
Proper-fitting equipment is not just about comfort — it is key to player safety. Finding the right-sized helmet, facemask/shield, mouth guard and neck guard is paramount, Mancini says.
It is very important that you do not buy a helmet that is too big just so they can grow into it over time. A nice, snug and secure fit is crucial. If you’re not quite sure about helmet fitting or any other equipment fitting, ask a store representative.
“These are important things. At the end of the day, the most important things are safety and proper fit,” he added.
That’s obviously essential from a basic safety standpoint because nobody wants to see anyone get hurt, but it also takes any worry away from players, allowing them to focus on development and having fun.
“It’s going to allow children to enjoy more because they will be able to learn,” Mancini said. “When your equipment fits and you feel safe, you don’t have to worry about it.”
You can spend a lot on a single hockey stick made of the finest materials, but at 8U, that’s neither warranted nor necessary. A decent wood stick will do just fine.
“There have been some companies that have recognized that they need to make reasonable sticks for the youngest kids,” Mancini said. “You are finally seeing wood sticks or reasonably priced sticks because a player at that age doesn’t need the tech that’s in the stick that costs a lot of money.”
Mancini referenced cost and affordability numerous times when talking about 8U gear, but those are relative concepts. Families who can’t afford the cost of decent equipment – or who aren’t sure whether they are ready to fully commit to hockey – shouldn’t be shut out of the sport and there are resources to ensure they are not.
“The NHL has done a good job of providing gear for players starting out and USA Hockey has done a great job with its Try Hockey For Free program,” Mancini said. “Associations have done a great job of gathering equipment and having it available for the youngest players to try or swap or pass down.”
Continuing that trend is a key to growing the game.
“I think all three of those entities have done a nice job, but I also think it needs to continue to be a focus because we want to get more kids in the game,” Mancini said. “We have to keep our eye on those things that are barriers that we can overcome.”
Tag(s): ADM Features