I talked a little bit about this when I explained why I chose raggedly rich as my blog domain, but I’d like to delve a little further into the topic. I think organized sports are important for kids for a multitude of reasons, and while this post is specifically for ice hockey, but the information is applies across the board.

The cost of ice hockey in Canada is insane. I was lucky enough that my family could afford it, though I never played at a truly competitive level. Even as I reached the later years of my minor hockey career, the high cost of pursuing more competitive hockey did weight on my money-conscious mind. My parents were never in a position where they wouldn’t have been able to afford it, but we did cut costs where we could. And it’s important to remember that there are options out there for people who find the idea of the costs daunting:

1. Look into Financial Assistance

If you qualify for a low-income, there should be a few different options available:

KidSport has chapters all across Canada and can help with fees associated with organized sports. Each chapter covers a local area, and has it’s own guidelines for how to apply, and what’s eligible (season fees, travel to play, equipment, etc.).

Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart might also be available for people who meet certain government financial need guidelines. They also have local chapters for areas, but it never hurts to take a look.

The Canadian Paediatrics Society also has a handy list of resources available across the country and province-based, ranging from Boys and Girls Club of Canada to resources available from places like the YMCA.

Or if you have immediate family that loves to dote – they might be willing to buy a season of baseball or soccer fees as a birthday or celebratory present, or to cover a portion of the costs.

2. Be Smart about Equipment

Be thrifty with your supplies – depending on where you live, there might be a local equipment bank that you can get some items from. There are things that you’ll probably need to buy new, and fitted (like hockey helmets and mouth guards), but there are lots of things you can use hand-me-downs for. It doesn’t matter if they’re a little ragged, they still work. There’s equipment cleaning services out there for items that have gotten a little smelly, though they may be a bit pricey. You can also wash things in your own washing machine, on the delicate cycle (speaking from experience – add vinegar to fight off the super smelly stuff). Things like shoulder pads and pants don’t need to be new, and when kids are growing, hand-me-down skates should be a valid route to take. I worked at a sporting goods store once, and we had a buy-back program for kid skates since they grew out of them so quickly. It wasn’t the best deal out there, but it could help if you’re looking for small breaks.

gentle cycle, with some vinegar for the extra stinky

You can also ask family and friends to give equipment as gifts for Christmas’ and birthdays. I’ve been gifted hockey gloves twice for Christmas’, and I absolutely loved them.

Take advantage of thinks like stamp cards for services you’ll need repeatedly, like skate sharpening. A single skate sharpening might run you $6, but a 10-stamp card makes that $50. I stumbled on a 3x the GST sale last time I was at the store, so I got my $50, 10-stamp card for something like $44.25. That’s $4.43 for each sharpening, instead of $6.

3. Be Thrifty with Tournaments and Travel

If you absolutely can’t afford a tournament, go to a coach and they should be able to help. Every single time we geared up for a tournament, the words, “If you’re family can’t afford the trip, tell your parents to come to me privately and we’ll figure something out” were uttered. I doubt there’s a minor hockey league team out there who wouldn’t do the same.

My parents both worked full-time jobs during the week, and on Saturday’s, for the bulk of my minor hockey career. More often than not I had to get a ride to those early after-school / Saturday ice time games and practises. But my parents always gave some token of their appreciation to the people who most often picked me up, and their way of contributing to the team was to usually take on jersey duty (which I wasn’t a fan of). My parents always made it out to my games when they could, too, and that meant the most to me.

hanging out with a friend before hockey: pre-packing my meal!

In my experience, people are endlessly generous in these situations, and determined to make sure every kid gets an equal chance to participate. I remember one year I didn’t want to go to band camp with my school, and had no less than three different teachers approach me to say that if it was for financial reasons, they’d figure something out so I wouldn’t miss the camp.

And if you do go to a tournament, try to find the balance between being raggedly, and being cheap. Make the best of the experience. The worst thing you can do is spend all that money on the tournament and trip, and not have a good time by avoiding the team meals out and making yourself / your child feel like they shouldn’t have come. Things like car pooling to the destination, doubling up hotel rooms, sending your child by themselves, bringing snacks to avoid expensive outings, and toting a travel mug with a hot beverage to the arena can all help cut costs. Bring an easy breakfast with you if the hotel doesn’t come with one – have fun, and remember why you’re doing it.

4. Be realistic about Johnny and Jackie’s hockey prospects

look at Johnny go!

Is your kid just playing for fun? Or are they consistently at the top of their Div 1 team, blowing out the competition and being accelerated through the minor hockey league ranks? Be realistic about how much you need to invest in organized sports. If Johnny and Jackie want sports development so they can get better, make sure they’re putting in the effort before you hire professional help. If they’re not out there practising and ruining your washing machines day in and day out, help them understand what kind of dedication it takes to become a professional athlete, and make them prove they’ll do it before you fork over the thousands of dollars it’s likely going to cost. For the average kid who doesn’t play on Div 1-3 teams, the likelihood of having a career in hockey just isn’t realistic.

Ice hockey is a sport that’s evolving drastically. Lighter sticks, better skates, faster players and more vigorous play come with a hefty price tag, and there’s no denying that those who are struggling to make ends meet are at a severe disadvantage. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives, if you’re willing to get a little creative and raggedly. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the team mentality, hard-work, and physical discipline that hockey taught me.

And don’t worry – if you have the next David McConnor, Sidney Crosby, or Wayne Gretzky, you’re going to know, and this post isn’t for you.

And, if you’re done with your minor hockey career like I am, shop around for ice times and options. I prefer woman’s-only shinny, especially after my Euro-trip from hell, since I can’t keep up with the guys. Instead of joining an expensive league, I try to go once a week at the local shinny, and opted for a 10-pass card to save a bit of money. I also shopped around for the most money-effective summer league – for $310, I play a hard 20-30 minutes a game, from May to August, 6-8 times a month, with jersey and socks provided (though I can’t keep them at the end).

What are your tips and tricks to save on the organized sports?