Once you child has participated on a house team after a year or more, he or she may have the opportunity to play travel hockey. Many programs begin travel hockey at mite level (ages 7-8). Travel hockey in the United States is commonly referred to as Tier 2, A, or AA Hockey. It's ultimately the first taste of competitive hockey that your child will likely see.
Most coaches will give you an indication during the mini-mite or mite level that your child has the ability to play travel hockey. Even if they don't have the ability to move up to travel hockey, there is nothing wrong with your child continuing to play hockey in the house leagues if that is truly what they enjoy. Again, they are still kids and playing with their friends could be all they care about, and they could care less about playing against better competition.
Travel hockey is a more significant commitment than house hockey. It's a greater time commitment, it's a greater financial commitment, and it's a greater physical commitment. If you feel your child is talented enough to play travel hockey, then it doesn't hurt to tryout if that's what your child wants to do. All kids can typically tryout for travel hockey and there is usually a small fee to tryout, but many programs refund this fee if your child doesn't make the team. Most larger programs have several kids tryout while smaller programs may not hold tryouts at all.
Most travel hockey programs hold two practices a week. By comparison, most house programs only hold one practice per week. A program in Ohio had their travel mites play 43 games this past season all over the state. The house mites played 24 games this past season and they were predominantly played in local rinks. Therefore, there is going to be a significant increase in the time you spend on the road between practices and games.
The financial commitment for travel hockey tends to be much greater than house hockey. Expect base fees for travel hockey to be anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 per year. This does not include equipment costs, travel costs, or other costs. Be prepared to spend $4,000-$6,000 per season depending on how much travel time you'll have.
In terms of equipment, you may start to spend a little more for equipment that is of better quality. That doesn't mean you need to go out and get the best of the best. But you'll find that equipment costs do go up as your child gets older and is playing in more competitive environments. Higher quality equipment tends to be more durable. Considering the increased ice time your child will see in travel hockey, you'll want to buy equipment that can hold up for an entire season.
With the increased number of games and practices that comes with travel hockey, there will be increased physical demands. You can figure around 100 "sessions" (practices and games) in a single season. That's quite a bit of physical demand for a 7-8 year old and you must think long and hard if that's what you want for your child and if he or she is up to the challenge. And it is a challenge.
Travel hockey runs from the time your child is playing at the Mite level (7-8 years old) to the Midget/High School level (15-18 years old). Most larger programs have coaches with extensive experience and many travel hockey programs are a stepping stone to AAA Hockey. Travel hockey is a wonderful way to encourage your child to challenge themselves from a competitive standpoint. It surely is a commitment and we've outlined the reasons why. Whatever direction your child decides to take, make sure it's up to them what direction they go because they are the ones that have to endure the journey.