As a father of four kids, nothing in hockey has ever impressed me more than the incredible dedication and personal sacrifice made by parents in supporting their hockey kids on the long and challenging and very expensive road from junior to senior hockey.
Let me be clear, hockey Dads are out there doing amazing things too and this article could easily be entitled ‘Hockey Dads’ but I wanted to give the ladies the limelight this time and let them share with you just a little of their lives as the hockey moms ………
Okay ladies, let’s start with you introducing who you are hockey moms to …….
“Hiya, I’m Alison Escott, hockey mom to Jack Escott who is currently playing for Phantoms under 18s, Phantoms 2 and Phantoms 1 wearing #34.”
“Hi, my name is Helen Hook and I’m hockey mom to Lewis Hook who I am proud to say began his hockey journey here in Peterborough.”
“I’m Rachel Clark and I’m hockey mom to Luke Clark #24 Phantoms U18 netminder and #50 Team UK and Bisley Bullets inline hockey teams.”
“I’m Emma and I’m hockey mom to both Adam and Nathan Long.”
So how and why did your boys first get into ice hockey and at what age ?
Helen: “Lewis used to play football at the Grange for Netherton FC and then he got invited to train with Northampton but he wasn’t too keen on all the travelling so in the end he decided football wasn’t for him. The irony of course was that his journey through ice hockey was to take him as far as Canada. Lewis was 7 years old when he first started playing ice hockey.”
Rachel: “Luke was 6 when he signed for the Phantoms Academy. He really loved going to watch the seniors with his Dad and couldn’t wait to get on the ice. He was adamant from the start that he was going to be a netminder and most games you would find him just watching the netminder rather than the game itself !”
Alison: “Well I used to regularly watch the Pirates when I was younger and when Jack was 10, I saw an advert in the Evening Telegraph offering kids the chance to try ice hockey for free. We’d been ice skating a few times and Jack had always had good balance and eye/hand co-ordination so I figured he might like to try it. We took him along to what we now know was the ‘Learn to Play” programme and he came home with a certificate saying he had potential and could do the first training level for free …… and he hasn’t looked back since !”
Emma: “When Adam was 12 and Nathan was 10, they both went to a skating party and were told about the ‘Learn to Play’ programme that the Phantoms Academy were doing. The following Saturday, we went along and there the Journey began. By the time they were ready to actually play, Adam was 13 and Nathan was 11. I still remember the first game Nathan played against Bracknell and I think we lost 0-32 ! I think we then shot over to Invicta where both boys were playing for the U14B team and we lost that one 1-25 but losing didn’t seem to matter and they both loved it !”
Did you each have a roll in getting them “hooked” – if not, what were your thoughts when they first told you they wanted to be hockey players ?
Emma: “Well I’d never told the boys I had played but someone saw me at ‘Learn to Play” so the boys soon found out ! Both boys played football and Adam had trials with Cambridge United but both of them were loving playing hockey. I think things were a little different for us having a severely disabled child at home but Luke was young enough to travel with us so we were happy that they were both enjoying something that we were able to support.”
Alison: “I guess I did have a hand in getting Jack involved as I’d been a Pirates regular as a teenager and so was immediately interested when I saw the advert. As parents, we always tried to give our children opportunities to try new things hoping they would find something they could be passionate about so we encouraged him to go back to get that first certificate and by then he was completely hooked ! When I first realised he was getting good and was passionate about it all, I thought it was karma that for all those years I cheered on the fights but now it was completely different when our son was the one out on the ice !”
Helen: “I like to try and claim I had a role in getting Lewis into hockey as I definitely remember taking him to the rink one Saturday to skate …… albeit I’m not sure why as neither of us could skate ! I can remember that as I went round holding onto the edge – or occasionally sitting on my bottom – Lewis was skating round gingerly but amazingly on his feet …… I kept calling him back to help me ! I also remember Lewis looking over and noticing at the other end of the rink, near the coffee shop, that they were doing hockey skills and lessons. He said “mum, I want to do that” and I told him that he needed to learn to skate first but I spoke with Steve Whyte who said that if he can skate round then he can join. I agreed to talk it over with husband Steve and Lewis went home full of himself, telling his Dad all about it which is where Steve’s claim to him getting him into it came about. He took him down to the rink the following Saturday and in borrowed kit from the second hand hockey shop, Lewis joined in and loved it so much. Little did we know that he would continue to play and still plays now at 21 !”
Rachel: “In fairness, it was the game itself that hooked Luke. He would always come home from watching the EPL Phantoms guys saying he wanted to play. It was a no brainer ….. he loved the sport !”
So did the cost of all that equipment that you must have soon discovered was needed come as a shock ?
Alison: “Absolutely ….. a big shock ! Especially when he was growing quicker than his kit was wearing out …… one year he got through three pairs of skates, costing over £100 each ! We started off with mainly secondhand kit and then he got new bits for his birthday and Christmas presents and then there were the training fees, match fees, signing on fees, not to mention all of the costs involved with travelling to and from matches !”
Helen: “Agreed, it was definitely a huge shock ! We borrowed equipment until we were certain that Lewis was sticking with it and then we slowly replaced it all over time via birthday and Christmas presents. Skates, even back then, cost us £600 a time but the rest of the kit was hugely expensive too ….. that second hand shop was a life saver at the start ! We later had hockey shirts for Team England, Conference, etc. Definitely a huge shock and requiring yet more hours at work for Steve and I to help pay but we wouldn’t have it any other way ….. it was all an amazing journey and we made good friends for life all over !”
Rachel: “Oh Yes ! Even more so now he is a netminder but safety comes first so it’s worth every penny !”
Emma: “Yes it certainly did for us too and I know we didn’t have a family holiday for seven years as we seemed to be continually spending money on the boys. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret doing it for one minute because playing made them both happy but as we moved up from junior sizes and skates were hitting £675 a pair and leg pads and gloves £1,800 alongside fees and travel, there simply wasn’t room for anything else !”
Without scaring (too much) those who have absolutely no idea, roughly what is the annual financial cost of supporting your lad(s) ?
Emma: “As juniors and once they had moved to Chelmsford, I would estimate we were spending around £13,000 to £15,000 per year as they run twelve months a year instead of just during the season. That includes kit, fees and travels. As seniors, both boys are at University so we still support them to a degree so they can play while studying.”
Rachel: “I wouldn’t want to spend too much time thinking about this one to be honest ! His current kit from new cost around £3,000. Luckily, we replace a piece of equipment gradually and some parts last around three seasons. Sticks alone cost £120 so, as you can imagine, a break in a game is costly in more than one way ! His helmet was the most expensive piece of equipment but it has to be tough to stand slap shots off the NIHL2 guys and under 18 teammates. Fees work out around £75 each month if you include the annual registration fee. On top of this you pay a £10 match fee and have petrol costs to cover too. That’s for ice alone. We are currently trying to raise £3,000 for Luke’s costs to compete in the US for Team UK !”
Alison: “I would guess that with monthly training fees, replacement kit, replacement sticks and travel we probably spend £2-£3k per year on hockey …… more if Jack goes to trials or to hockey camps”
Helen: “Annual costs …… definitely run into thousands ! I would advise starting a savings plan to help cover the costs !”
How did you all handle the travelling to support your boy(s) and where was the furthest you had to go ?
Rachel: “Isle of Wight away is probably the furthest I have travelled for ice hockey – if you exclude a Phantoms Hockey Camp that took place in the Czech Republic ! For inline hockey, I will be watching Luke compete for Team UK in St Louis, USA !”
Helen: “Travelling costs were around £30 per week, the monthly training fees £60 per month and overseas travel roughly £800 especially for Canada.”
Emma: “Again this was a little different for us as once Adam hit U18s and Nathan U16s, they had both decided to move to the Chelmsford Junior Academy so l was now carer by day and hockey mom three nights a week, travelling 450 miles for training alone and with only one ‘local’ game a year playing here in Peterborough. As well as playing U18s, Adam was also playing with the Chelmsford Warriors and training with the Chieftains. I also took on the role of manager for both the U18s and the Warriors and we agreed that one of us would travel to every game which somehow we did. I think travelling on Boxing Day to Amiens in France two years on the trot and Leuven in Belgium twice and probably North Ayr also were the furthest we have travelled !”
Alison: “Before the hockey, Jack played football and we sometimes had to travel as far as Huntingdon or St Ives …… now we travel to Cardiff and even the Isle of Wight ! My husband does most of the away travelling but it’s a massive commitment for him every weekend of the season. As Jack has always played up for the next age group, this has even involved two different away rinks in the same day ….. eg: Chelmsford and Cardiff !”
So now they are playing seniors, talk us through what a typical hockey mom day looks like !
Alison: “A typical hockey hockey mom day for me involves washing a very smelly kit and airing the pads and gloves, etc. Its then often a case of preparing a completely different meal for Jack than the rest of the family in order to maintain specific diet needs depending on whether its a gym day, a training day or a game day”
Emma: “Now the boys are both playing seniors, its really more about making sure they have a good meal before home games and food to take for the away games. Then I just travel with them or prey for them to be honest ! It’s not so bad with Nathan but when your other son is a ‘villain or hero’ netminder with nothing inbetween, its hard not to do the natural Mum thing of trying to protect him !”
Rachel: “I’m a backseat hockey mom compared to most others. I’m very lucky to have Toby to do all the running around for training and to take him to games. Luke trains three evenings a week so for me it’s making sure he has eaten well before he trains – at the age he is, it is vital he has a good diet to train at his best. Unlike senior hockey, Luke has around 14 games a season (7 home, 7 away). Home games are much simpler – again I need to make sure he eats well and arrives at least an hour before the game starts. For away games, making sure they have all they need for the journey ahead – Cardiff away is our longest away trip this year. When I’m not at the games, I am glued to my phone waiting for those important updates !”
…… and do you think they recognise and appreciate your input and support or is that still to come later in life ?!!!
Rachel: “I’d like to think he does but I don’t think he will truly understand until he’s an adult ! I sold my car last year so that he could compete for Team GB in Los Angeles …… maybe he will buy me a new one once he is working ….. well I can hope ! I think it’s harder for a child to understand the commitment needed from the parents in terms of time and money. Our whole life is scheduled around Luke’s hockey.”
Helen: “I’m really proud to say Lewis does appreciate all we have done as he is always telling us that he would never have made it without us financially. The time spent travelling, sitting down at rinks at crazy hours just to get the ice time …… he tells us in time he will make it up to us but we tell him he already has by allowing us to enjoy the journey with him !”
Emma: “I think they do …… although I probably drive them mad at times ! But when the chips are down or they are on a high, it’s always me they come to first. I think sharing Nathan winning everything at Chelmsford as a junior and both Adam and now Nathan making the GB university squads, that‘s all the appreciation I need knowing that every sacrifice and every penny spent has been worth it !”
Alison: “I know Jack appreciates that his Dad takes him to all the away games but I’m not so sure he understands the other compromises we make just yet …… time, petrol, food expenses, going to away games, time away from the rest of the family, etc but the fact that he always gives 100% at all his training sessions and games is the only pay back we ever need !”
With all your direct support for junior hockey, how would you like to see the junior side of the sport evolve in this country in the immediate years ahead ?
Alison: “I’d like to see more continuity from the young players through to the senior teams and also broader decision making. There also needs to be more financial involvement from the EIHA in junior hockey with the ethos of children enjoying hockey made the priority. Winning matches is important but children of all abilities should be involved …… they all pay the same money.”
Helen: “For junior hockey, I would like to see more help from central government funding with costs. Also, more accessible ice time instead of the ridiculous hours we currently have, especially Conference training in London taking place at midnight ! I’m sure there are lots of talented boys and girls who are not fortunate enough to be able to afford all this, maybe because of consideration for other children in the family. Luckily Lewis was our youngest and all the others were off our hands which made it a bit more affordable.”
Rachel: “I’m really quite excited to see what the future holds for Phantoms Academy. The number of players playing at Conference and National level seems to be increasing year on year. This is a credit to the coaches and other club officials who work hard behind the scenes to give our players the right diet of training and organisation. The relationship between the Academy and the seniors is strong enabling under 18 players a route into NIHL hockey and that has been seen this season with four players playing in the NIHL teams plus several others who have had the opportunity to train up ……. there are not that many clubs that can say that !”
Emma: “I think, bottom line, junior hockey is the grass roots of the sport so senior teams need to have greater input in developing players at junior level as they are the future. Young talented players need to be guided and nurtured all through juniors and I don’t really think we put anywhere near enough into our juniors in this country. The amount of players reaching the level required at seniors is getting less and less every season and ultimately the senior level will drop over time if development isn’t shaken up. Goalie training is not covered anywhere near enough and it has taken import netminders coming over here to highlight the gap in standards. All in all, we really need to invest more and very quickly too if we are to maintain and improve our senior level for future years.”
…… so you are now in charge, what is the ONE thing you would change tomorrow if you could ?
Helen: “If I could seriously change one thing, it would be to somehow close the gap between junior and senior players in the UK. Having such big gaps now in moving up the leagues is sad for British hockey as they are simply too big for most to cope with !”
Rachel: “The costs ! Not only the cost of equipment but the actual ice hire costs. It costs over £170 to hire the ice for one hour. Under 18 games are two and a half hours long so a game can cost over £400. Realistically, these costs are not going to drop as our sport is too specialised.”
Emma: “I would have senior players and coaches having more input to junior training. Don’t get me wrong, we do have some ex-players as coaches and also a lot of people dedicated to them and I’m thankful that we do as the juniors wouldn’t exist without them but ……. we need more ex and existing players to help and guide the kids through the system in order to maintain and improve our senior level.”
Alison: “For me, the one thing I would change is the current state of the EIHA …… I’d bring in some younger blood to freshen up the sport in England !”
Last but not least, what advice would you give to a fledgling hockey mom who has just heard her youngster say “Mum, I want to be a hockey player” ?
Alison: “The advice I would give a potential new hockey mum is support and encourage them to be the best they can be. Ice hockey teaches them to be part of a team, to work hard and it gets them away from the PlayStation and gets them fit and healthy. The traits that Jack has gained from being in this sport have really helped him in all areas of his life …… respect for others, hard work and determination leading to success, there is no ‘I’ in team, to name but a few. You’ll also find the hockey family is welcoming and supportive. Oh …… and keep working to pay for it all !!! Seriously though, it really is worth it when you watch them achieve their goals and then strive to get to the next level. Jack is never happier than when he is on the ice and playing the game that he loves !”
Helen: “My advice would be to plan your finances …… join a savings club or a credit union or similar – they are excellent. You’ll have amazing places to visit, amazing people yo meet and many of those will become friends for life and then there’s the amazing fans out there because without the fans you have nothing ! Enjoy that journey ….. we still are and Lewis is now 21 and has played in Peterborough and Milton Keynes. We’ve all been to some amazing places – the best was probably Quebec. Lewis was selected for England and for Conference and he captained for both. He was selected for speed skating for the Winter Olympics where everything was paid for him from kit to flights to food and we all had an amazing journey and met amazing people. We hope to still be watching Lewis on his hockey journey for several years yet so encourage your boy/girl to go for it as it’s a really fantastic sport.”
Emma: “Run for the hills !!! No, seriously, be prepared to commit to it and support it. I always told my boys that I would buy the lot, take them where they needed to be but the rest was up to them to determine where they ended up. Remember also that yes, all kids want the latest top of the range kit – wouldn’t we all, but it’s the player that makes the kit not the kit that makes the player. Only hard work and dedication will do that and that gets tougher as they get older with peer pressure and exams so be prepared to be tough on them when it’s needed because ultimately hockey has a limited shelf life and a career will be needed for their future !”
Rachel: “Enjoy every moment ! Hockey becomes your life and whilst it sounds cheesy you do become a family. I’ve had a couple of tough times over the past few years and my hockey family have been amazing ……. I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. The friendships that you and your children create are priceless. You only have to look at some of our NIHL2 players, the friendships they have as adults are still there as they were when they were kids. I have friends that live all over the country who I have met through ice hockey …… hockey parents are a great bunch of people. Not only that, ice hockey itself is a pretty cool sport !”
Thanks for your time ladies ….. and huge respect to you all !