Getting Started

Most adults end up playing hockey because of their friends.   A friend or co-worker will mention the game they played last night and the conversation will inevitably begin with “You play hockey?!”   “Isn’t it rough . . . expensive . . . difficult…am I too old to play hockey??” After an animated discussion, a new player is born.

Most new adult players have some previous skating or hockey experience.  Some may not have skated on ice, but instead used in-line skates. The player who has no skating experience should read some of the books or watch some of the videotapes we have selected in our Bookstore.

Hockey has evolved from a physical, checking game to one of skating, passing, and shooting.   To play well in adult hockey, the individual player should focus on four key areas:

Personal Fitness

Individual Skills

Team Strategy

Team Organization

Players can continue to improve and have fun over a lifetime by focusing on these important areas.


I didn’t play hockey in high school or college.   I was on the debate team.   My brother played in Wisconsin and I was always envious of the opportunity to be part of the team. I finally had the chance to join an adult beginner team and have been playing for over twenty years.     – Mark

I played in youth hockey leagues and also on the junior varsity squad in high school. I quit in my junior year, and only played sporadically after that.  Mark rekindled my interest in hockey after many years of being off my skates.

We worked together in county government — different departments.  We were working together on a re-use project for a historic building in downtown Minneapolis and Mark suggested a hockey rink!  In discussing this possibility, I was amazed to learn about the high demand for ice time in our area.  The increased demand was due in large part to new hockey teams forming for adult men and women players.  I remembered how fun hockey was and is! Mark hooked me up with Hockey North America, and voile`, I was playing once again! 

The enthusiasm for hockey that I have rediscovered will show up in this handbook. You do not have to be big or fast to play well for fitness and fun.  Even ‘older guys’ like me can play and contribute on an adult team. – Dan



The best way to have fun playing hockey is to be in shape. Playing hockey encourages you to get fit and stay in shape for a lifetime of fitness.   Although no-check hockey prevents many injuries, a player needs enough muscle tone to be able to fall down or to compete effectively for a loose puck. Aerobic capacity is a must. Although most players will only skate a “shift” of 30 to 90 seconds, burst speed and quickness are necessary attributes. Strong skating and speed can compensate for a player’s lack of skill in stick handling and shooting.

Modern hockey is played by players outfitted with excellent equipment. The game presents a great opportunity for both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Men and women, even into their eighties (there are likely older players), are playing in adult hockey leagues or playing pick-up. Hockey is easy on the joints (if you warm up correctly) and the risk of injury is slight with the right equipment.

The motivation to stay fit is difficult for most adults. Only 15% of American adults get frequent aerobic activity.   Hockey can provide a reason to get fit and to stay in shape.   There is nothing like the third period of a tight game to motivate a player to work harder at developing physical fitness!   Our Fitness page provides a number of practical alternatives for the adult player aiming to achieve and maintain physical fitness.

Hockey provides a lot of incentive for me to maintain a reasonable level of exercise.  I workout with weights, a stationary bike, treadmill and a rowing machine.  I don’t care for exercising!  I try to get in 3 to 4 one-hour workouts per week. Often I only achieve two or three 20-minute workouts per week. Whenever I am exercising, I am always thinking of how it will help me to be successful while playing against younger and better hockey players. I also know I have a lot more fun playing hockey when I am in good physical shape.” – Mark

Individual Skills

Hockey is a team game. However, the individual skills of each player on a team are critical.   Skills can be studied, practiced and improved. Although we are all limited by our inherent athletic ability, a player that studies and practices individual skills can frequently beat a more athletically gifted player.

Most adult hockey players only play once a week. With few intervening practices, it becomes an individual’s responsibility to work on their own skills. This narrative provides several approaches for the adult hockey player to improve their skills – and – on their own.

Skating is the most important skill to master (and it is never fully mastered). The ability to accelerate quickly, skate at high speed, stop, change direction, and skate backwards are all critical tools for the successful player.   Our Skating page outlines keys to successful skating.

Passing and stick handling are important to individual and team play. A well-played hockey game moves quickly and a good team moves the puck rapidly and accurately up the rink.     Although passing is best practiced as a team, it can be worked on individually.

Stick handling is another skill that can advance the puck.   The great stick handlers of the NHL are a treat to watch and they look as though they are born with the grace to dance their way past the opposing team.   However, stick handling can be learned and a few simple moves can provide every player with the tools to move the puck up the rink to be in a position to score.  Our Stick handling and Passing page provides methods to improve these skills.

One of the great joys of hockey is the well-executed shot that scores a goal.     Shooting is fun to practice.   However, some of the more spectacular shots are not very effective in scoring goals. Our Shooting page  has a complete review of all of the shots a player should master in order to have a complete grasp of this aspect of the game.  The high scorer on a team will have a mastery of all of the shots and is able to execute them from many places on the rink.

The beginning player will be initially overwhelmed. Too much to remember!   The best way to improve is to concentrate on one skill area in each game.  The beginner can ask a friend on the team to watch them and provide feedback.   Here is a list of game skills which can help the beginning adult hockey player immediately:


Game 1  – Offensive positioning (am I in the right place to score, or to pass, or to break-out?)

Game 2  – Defensive Position (am I in the right place to defend? who is my person? am I being a puck-watcher or a swivel head?)

Game 3   – Passing (Can I make my passes without an interception? are they on the tape? are they quick?)   

Game 4  – Skating (Can I make quick turns and speed changes to break free from opposing players?)

Game 5  – Skating (Can I skate backwards effectively to stay with the other team’s attackers?)

Game 6  – Shooting (Are my shots low and to the corners of the net?)

Game 7    – Fitness (Am I able to skate strongly in the third period?)

Game 8  – Stick handling (Can I skate with my head up and pass to open teammates without watching the puck? can I move the puck without losing it?)


Every player will be a member of a team that has a bad year. By concentrating on an individual skill every game, a player can improve and have fun even if their team is losing

I remember my first organized game as an adult.  I played left wing and could not understand where to go on a face-off. I did not realize that those little crosshatch lines under the ice were where I was supposed to stand. I remember a lot of waving and shouting from my bench.”- -Mark

Team Organization

Hockey teams are a mix of people from all walks of life. Some team members develop long lasting friendships. However, like all groups, good organization is the key to having a quality hockey experience and performing well as a team.

Hockey teams are usually organized like other adult sports. Golf leagues, bowling teams, and softball teams are all useful models.   And like any organization, conflicts will arise. The structure detailed below can help to minimize conflict and increase all team members’ chances to have fun.

However, in any league each team needs to appoint or elect a number of key positions:   captain, manager, and coach (if possible.)



The captain is the leader of the team and wears a “C” on his or her jersey. Captains are usually the natural leader of a group – frequently the individual who organized the team in the first place. Since the captain’s job entails a lot of responsibility and time commitment, a team may decide to rotate the job or elect a new captain every few years.

Captains are usually the league’s contact person. The captain will decide what position each player will play.  The captain needs to assure that everyone gets a fair amount of playing time. They also need to make sure enough players attend each game to have a relatively full team.   If there is a dispute about a penalty called by the referee, it is the captain’s responsibility to discuss it with the official.   And if the team needs a pep talk, that’s the captain’s job too!



Another useful position on any team is a manager. Sometimes the captain acts as a manager, but it works better if another player is designated the manager. The manager’s responsibilities should not be an additional job for the captain.

The manager accounts for the team funds and team equipment.   It is important that everyone pays his or her way because in ice hockey, rink time is expensive and the manager needs to track this carefully. The manager also needs to stay abreast of the availability of ice time at local rinks and book time for practices.   The manager may also hire the referees if they are not part of the league’s operation.

A team’s equipment may be as simple as a bag of pucks. However, some teams will have water bottles, practice jerseys and other items that are useful to the whole team. It is the manager’s job to make sure this equipment is at all games and in good condition.  



Although most teams are self-coached, some teams will have another individual who is the “coach.” Some teams may designate one of their players as coach.

The coach’s job it to manage the flow of a game. Coaches will make shift changes and move players from one line to another.   Coaches need to look carefully at a team’s performance during the game and change tactics as needed.

If a team has regular practices, it is the coach’s job to plan and run the practice so that team works on needed skills.  Be sure to check with your league regarding coaching credentials.  Some leagues require bench coaches to have a USA coaching card.

Assuring a fun hockey experience

Most adult players join teams to have fun.  In most cases hockey can be fun, but there are a few situations to avoid.

Some teams and players have an interest in the more violent aspects of hockey.     Playing with these individuals is no fun and adult players can get hurt.   We strongly recommend that adult players always play in games that are no checking and that this rule is tightly enforced by referees.   A basic rule to remember is: “We all have to get up and go to work in the morning.”

It is important to play on a team where your playing level and that of your teammates is similar.  If a player is significantly worse or better than their teammates, they will feel out of place.   A balanced team can also be more effective than a team with a few strong and a few weak players.

The personalities on a team can sometimes interfere with team performance, just as in any normal work situation.   It is always best to talk about these issues off the ice and the team captain needs to provide leadership to make sure everyone is feeling fairly treated and a part of the team.

By concentrating on the four key issues (fitness, individual skills, team strategy and organization), hockey can be an enjoyable, satisfying lifetime sport.

”Our first year team had a 3-17 record. We worked with a coach that year and practiced before the next season. We concentrated on basics like heads up passing and back checking.   The next year we had most of the same players and ended the year with a 16-4 record and second place in the league. It is amazing what a focus on basics can do.”     – Dan  


Key Strategies for the Successful for the Adult Hockey Player

  1. Determine your own fitness level and develop a program to improve it.
  2. Work on individual skills (e. g. shooting) at a different time than your team’s games or practices.
  3. Make sure you have a game strategy for every game.
  4. Pay as much attention to team organization as playing. Even a modestly successful team can have a lot of fun if it is well organized and managed.
  5. Be choosy in the type of players you select for your team; good person first, good player second; losing is no fun when your teammates are jerks.