Just off the ice at the Bucks County Ice Sports Center, a sign hangs on the wall that reminds youth hockey coaches like Vince Prozzillo of the ideal approach.
“Let them play, let them have fun, let them fail, let them learn, let them succeed, let them be kids."
Prozzillo leads the Warminster facility’s Flyers rookie program, a six-week series of practices sponsored by the Flyers for children between the ages of 5 and 9 to learn how to play the game. The organization recently expanded the program to 14 locations, up from 12. The camps had 1,288 participants last year, and the Flyers expect a similar if not higher number this year.
At Bucks, parents pay for ice time and the children leave the camp with hundreds of dollars worth of CCM hockey gear courtesy of the Flyers.
It’s Bucks' second year taking part in the camp, and rink owner Dave Sheer says he has seen the majority of last year’s attendees come back for the second year.
“I like that they interact with you and play games with you,” said Matthew Muller, a second-year camp attendee. “I’ve learned how to skate a lot better and how to stop. Puck control, [too].”
“It teaches them teamwork, and all kinds of skills that they’re obviously going to use off the ice,” said Muller’s father, Mark. “But it’s a good program where they can make friends and just have fun.”
Last year’s camp put more than 150 local children on a hockey rink for the first time. A normal session consists of Prozillo flying around the ice, going from station to station.
He skates backward as his students stumble around trying to catch him, he helps players get through drills, and he makes sure they’re getting water breaks.
The first drill of the night on Nov. 30 involved falling and getting back up. It’s all part of the mantra on the wall.
“They have to learn how to lose, they have to learn how to win,” Prozzillo said. “This game is not just about hockey, it’s about life lessons and it teaches you so much more than just playing the game.”
The camps sometimes feature former Flyers, including Riley Cote and Brad Marsh.
Sheer said the alums are typically great with the children, but it’s usually the parents who get more excited.
“The kids have no idea, but the parents know who they are,” Sheer said.
While the camp requires children to know how to skate before attending the first session, students typically see significant improvements in all areas of their abilities.
The idea is to teach them the fundamentals so they can enjoy the intricacies of the game later on.