THE ART OF HOCKEY – Youth Development Programs Encourage Every Kid to Hit the Ice

As both professional and amateur ice hockey seasons are in full swing, adult fans might wonder how to get their own children into the sport. A blast to play whether as an elite athlete or a young newbie, ice hockey was invented in about 1875 and has been a hugely popular sport ever since.

California boasts three National Hockey League teams (the Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks). That league has 32 total teams, while the Premier Hockey Federation, the women’s pro hockey league, has six teams currently competing.

Most NHL teams have extensive youth hockey programs in their communities, designed to teach both boys and girls the fundamentals of the art and skill of playing ice hockey. And if those programs result in a few pro hockey players – including Gabe Gauthier, who came up through the LA Kings’ youth programs – that’s amazing, but the actual goal is to instill a love for the game at any level in young athletes.

Ice Hockey for Every Child

Girls and boys from every background are welcome to try their hand at ice hockey in programs happening all across Southern California. Exploring the LA Kings’ initiatives for kids is an excellent example of how pro teams encourage children to embrace the game, beginning with teaching little ones how to skate on ice and teaching ice hockey fundamentals with ball hockey, played on solid ground, to get players started with the basics.

The Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo is the LA Kings’ state-of-the-art facility, where classes for learning to skate begin with Beach Babies, for ages 3+, and continue to age 14. Once the little athletes have mastered skating, they can move on to Hockey Basics; at every age the classes are coed and reasonably priced for participation.

Working with the YMCA, the Kings sponsor a Youth Ball Hockey program that includes classes and leagues at 16 different SoCal Y’s for boys and girls ages 5-14. Kids are assigned to teams by ages and skill levels; all participants receive a free LA Kings Ball Hockey uniform, hockey stick and more.

Children who may otherwise never play hockey will benefit from a new association between the LA Kings and Winmark – the Resale Company, through their joint equipment donation program and resale fundraising. These initiatives combine to provide underserved youth with the chance to try hockey.

Through signature LA Kings camps, clinics and leagues, including the competitive Jr. Kings program (boys) or LA Lions (girls), players will develop their skills and build character. For some, this may result in a hockey career which takes them through their education and beyond, but ultimately the goal is to spread the love of hockey.

One Family’s Experience

When Demi Stevens’ son Zane Rowan became enamored of ice hockey at age three, she put him into a Kings’ toddler class that taught him to skate. “Zane was obsessed with ice hockey from that moment on,” his mother recalls. As Zane’s skills increased, he continued in youth ice hockey development programs supported by the Kings and others. Then he joined the Junior Kings, and at 15 went to Canada to play and is now a member of the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League at 17.

“These youth hockey programs teach the kids to learn to work as a team, but also how to be a heightened individual,” Stevens explains. “The kids are held accountable, both on and off the ice, and what you as a parent get in return is a very well-rounded kid, who has strong values and an amazing work ethic.”

The Keck Medicine of USC and the Meyer Institute of Sports at the Toyota Sports Performance Center

Youth involved in the ice hockey programs at the Toyota Sports Performance Center (TSPC) in El Segundo have a level of added protection on site, with two top-notch professional medical teams on hand.

At the Keck Medicine of USC Urgent Care Clinic, sports-medicine physicians diagnose and care for athletes of any age that are injured or have medical issues while playing at the TSPC.

At the Meyer Institute of Sport, a medical team provides rehabilitative physical therapy, preventative sports performance programs and biomechanical movement analysis for the Kings and for the young skaters participating in youth hockey development programs.

Both clinics are open to the community as well, serving as the premier orthopedic facility located in the South Bay.

(The news and editorial staff were not involved in the preparation of this article sponsored by an advertiser)

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