Playing other sports can help kids meet new friends and have fun. Being away from the ice for a while may also help build the desire to get back on it and enhance their love for the sport.
Believe it or not, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Eat ice cream all day long, and eventually just the sight of a single scoop will turn your stomach.
What is true with ice cream can also be true with hockey – even if you live in Minnesota. Over-doing it at the rink, particularly for younger players, can be detrimental – possibly causing physical or mental burnout or injury.
As the youth hockey season winds down, it’s a good time to think about what’s next and whether or not playing more hockey over the summer is the right thing to do, or, if it’s time to mix things up.
A Pro Point of View
Former Minnesota Twins’ third baseman Corey Koskie, who is currently on the national advisory board for Positive Coaching Alliance and has children participating in youth sports, including hockey, expressed disbelief and disappointment that the issue is still an issue.
“Anyone who has played a sport at the highest levels will say the same thing – you don’t play all year, you need a break,” said Koskie, who now coaches his kids in hockey and baseball here in Minnesota. “If you play the same sport all year you can lose that mental edge and put yourself at a higher risk for injury. If someone tells you that your kid should specialize at an early age, they really don’t know what they are talking about.”
Koskie, who was a multi-sport athlete himself in high school – participating in baseball, hockey and volleyball – believes playing a mix of sports and taking respites from baseball ultimately helped him become better at his craft.
“Even when I played for the Twins I was playing some hockey in the offseason,” Koskie said. “After the season I wouldn’t touch a baseball until the first week in January. I’d work out, try to get stronger. But I wouldn’t touch a ball, bat or glove. Then I’d play catch once a week, then twice a week and mix in some hitting and build up to the next season. That slow progression helped prepare me physically and mentally.”
Koskie continued, “the biggest mistake I made very early in my minor league career came after one of my better seasons. I continued to play baseball through the whole offseason to try to maintain my swing. It didn’t work, and I had a terrible year. I learned my lesson and never made that mistake again.”
While there isn’t a recommended daily dose of Rocky Road to keep kids on track, there are a myriad of studies and anecdotal evidence available that can help parents guide their children to a healthier approach to hockey “consumption.”
USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM) provides age-appropriate recommendations for how much hockey kids should play on annual basis. The ADM is based on the science of long term athlete development and is designed to help players reach their potential as they reach more competitive age groups.
Players at the younger ages (6-9) are encouraged to have a 20-week or 5-month season and to have a maximum of 60 practices and games.
At the Peewee/12U age level, the ADM suggests a 7-month training and competition calendar.
Once players reach the high school levels (16U-18U), the recommended season for competitive hockey players expands to 9-months and well over 100 ice sessions.
Regardless of age/level though, players are always encouraged to take time off and to participate in other sports during the offseason.
What Are Some Options?
So, what other activities should young hockey players explore?
Non-traditional sports like gymnastics and swimming can be helpful in developing kids’ balance and coordination. Sports such as soccer, basketball, tennis, baseball and lacrosse can help kids develop speed and quickness. They can also add biking, hiking and other unstructured recreational activities.
Koskie advises, however, that kids don’t just add new sports while continuing to play hockey all year, as that can actually increase the risk injury.
An added bonus: playing other sports can help kids meet new friends and have fun. Being away from the ice for a while may also help build the desire to get back on it and enhance their love for the sport. As Koskie puts it, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Hockey Is a Treat
“What I see coaching Peewee is that some of the kids don’t have the edge or focus that they need, because this is just another time on the ice for them,” he said. “Being away from it for a while helps. There are sights, sounds and smells of the rink that you should get excited about. Kids who roll from season to season don’t appreciate that as much.”
It might seem counterintuitive to say to get better at hockey, don’t play so much hockey – that if everyone is playing year-round, you should take time off. But some believe taking a break is precisely the approach young athletes should take to improve. It’s about quality of training, not quantity of training, Koskie says.
He recommends doing something different than everyone else, having an offseason plan for nutrition, a proper work-to-rest ratio and improving athleticism by playing other sports.
“The biggest part of growth is passion, heart and grit. It’s more than just skills. To develop that you might need to pull something away. But some parents don’t want their kids’ feelings to be hurt and assume more is better,” Koskie said. “Parents sometimes say to me, ‘my kid wants to play hockey all the time, what should I do?’ So I say, do they love ice cream? Would they love it if they ate it all the time? Probably not. The reason they love it is because it’s special. It’s a treat.