Youth hockey numbers decline due to high registration costs

Hockey skates on ice. (Flickr/McGill Alumni)

Canada’s rising level of inflation and the skyrocketing cost of living is having an effect on all areas of life and the world of hockey is no exception.

With the astronomical price of registration, youth teams in Saint John and Fredericton are folding and players are leaving, according to Rachel Jones-Wallace, a hockey mother of three.  

“It used to be around $150 [for registration], but now we’re looking at $600 for the girls’ teams,” said Jones-Wallace. “The referees cost more, ice times cost more. Tournament fees now are $1,000, and then it depends on the size of your team and how it gets divided.”

Jones-Wallace has three kids in hockey, her two 11-year-old daughters play U-13 and her 13-year-old son plays in the U-15 program. U-11 and U-18 house league programs in the Fredericton Youth Hockey Association are the most expensive at $465 per year.

Hockey parent Pat Lyons said many parents can’t afford the high costs, but they do it anyway.

“I know that there are parents that have gone into debt,” he said.

A key factor in why registration numbers are dwindling in hockey and increasing in sports like soccer and basketball is the cheaper equipment. Shin guards, cleats and basketball shoes cost a combined total of $125 at Sportchek.

For a child to play hockey for one season, it would cost around $460.

Lyons’ son plays U-15 elite hockey and he goes for safety and quality over lower prices. He purchased new skates, a helmet, shoulder pads and two sticks, which resulted in a bill of $1,691, on top of the $1,300 he paid for registration.

Along with the high prices, some leagues ask parents and children to fundraise for their teams to provide extra funds through bagging groceries, farmers market donations and BBQs.

Numbers of youth male hockey players have decreased, while registration for girl’s hockey has increased.

The Fredericton Youth Hockey Association declined an interview, but in its 2022 annual report, it indicated “female registration increased slightly this year to 80 registrants,” up seven from 2020.

FYHA received confirmation from Hockey New Brunswick to allow the female players on co-ed teams to be their own teams for exhibition games, and “female-only skills and drills sessions were offered for different age groups.”

The generated interest from female hockey players is a positive step for hockey, yet soccer is cutting into the hockey programs’ depth pool as it is cheaper but also because interest generated by the Canadian National team, who qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1987. 

The team increased popularity for the sport and it’s cheaper as well, with registration only $199 for U-8 and U-11, and $99 for U-3 and U-6 programs in New Brunswick, according to the Fundy Soccer Association

While hockey continues to be one of the most expensive youth sports in the world and inflation making life more difficult day-by-day, it’s no secret that parents are beginning to seek other ventures for their children, like soccer or basketball.