It’s an age-old question that coaches hear at the end of every season: “What should my son or daughter do this summer to be ready to play next year?”
It’s accompanied with a slew of other questions about next steps. Should they be going to camps? What skills need improvement? Will they fall behind if they don’t play?
“There’s no magic solution to what they should be doing in the offseason,” said Mike MacMillan, USA Hockey national coach-in-chief. “It just needs to be fun and age-appropriate.
“But coaches need to work with parents on developing their child. Meet with them, talk to them about it. Coaches should be more educated than a parent on the offseason development and development of players at a certain age. They are a valuable resource for parents to turn to.”
Whether it’s the child’s first year of mites or they are ascending the teen-aged hockey ranks, coaches should be able to steer parents in the direction that best suits their child.
Mites shouldn’t use the offseason the same way a bantam does. In fact, for 8- to 12-year-olds, hockey should be kept to a minimum in the summer.
“At 8U, 10U and 12U, their bodies and brains are more receptive to muscle movement patterns,” said ADM Regional Manager Ty Hennes. “If they only continue to use the muscles used in hockey, they aren’t training to be a better athlete, and we want to see them develop their all-around athleticism.”
If they want to sprinkle in hockey training, short and simple drills that focus on shooting and stickhandling are beneficial. Grab a stick and work on going up and down the driveway. Toss random items around the garage and have kids dangle around them like Patrick Kane. Just make sure they are having fun and the parents aren’t pressuring the child. If they don’t want to practice anymore, don’t force them.
At 14U/16U, a large window of skill trainability remains. At these ages, players are going to focus more on hockey and train through the offseason. Recommend they do so in an unstructured way.
“By playing in an unstructured environment, they are gaining a big advantage in creativity and are allowed to make mistakes without the fear of getting benched,” Hennes said.
For older players, strength training comes more into play in the summer months. Rather than just hitting the gym or weight room, players can work on core and muscle strength through every-day activities. Jump rope, rollerblading or other sports help provide an entire-body workout, rather than just over-training certain muscle groups.
Increased game activity can also be on the rise at these ages. Make sure you tell parents to limit the amount of on-ice games played to between 12 and 14 to avoid burnout.
Play Anything – Except Hockey
One sound piece of advice for kids of any age: play another sport.
“You see NHL and college players – they take 3-4 months off and never come close to the rink,” said Hennes. “They aren’t in full hockey mode year-round.”
Taking a break from hockey avoids burnout. It keeps a player’s passion for the game alive. Even more importantly, it reduces the risk of injury.
“As a development coach for high school hockey, I saw more injuries from kids who were skating year-round, than any other kind,” said Matt Herr, ADM regional manager for the New York and Atlantic Districts. “When you’re doing that, there’s an overuse of those same training motions. Constantly using those will result in injury.”
Sports that translate best to hockey players include soccer, lacrosse and baseball. But individual sports such as tennis, gymnastics or track and field are equally as beneficial.
Outside of organized sports, coaches should also recommend that players simply get out and ride their bikes or play impromptu games at the park. Whatever it is, stress the importance of a break from hockey.
Let Players Decide
You’re going to have players who love the game too much to put the stick away for very long. That’s okay, but let parents know that the decision to play should be left up to the player, not the parent.
“It depends on your kid,” Herr said of playing summer hockey. “I have a 9-year-old son, Cam, who knows that he doesn’t want to touch the ice when it’s over. The same goes for when soccer and baseball are done. He just doesn’t want to see it after the season.
“I think we want to have our kids figure that out for themselves. We want them to figure where they are and to make sure it’s fun.”
However, parents should take the lead and direct kids to be active in non-hockey ways during the summer – even if it’s hockey they want. Make sure they keep a variety of activities going, athletic or not, throughout the summer months.
Do What’s Best For Your Player’s Development
Parents tend to have a “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” mentality. Coaches should remind parents to do what is best to develop their own player. The rest will take care of itself.
“It’s hard because hockey is competitive and we’re always worried about the kid next door getting ahead of us,” said Herr. “But in the end, improvement will happen if they’re good athletes, not necessarily because they played hockey year-round.
“Parents and coaches should be most concerned in the offseason with wanting their kids to have fun. That’s what the game’s about. That’s what the offseason is about.”
March 27, 2017 | When USA Hockey implemented its American Development Model in 2009, one element of the nationwide age-appropriate training blueprint sparked more debate than any other: cross-ice hockey for 8U players. In the years since, an abundance of evidence, both data-driven and anecdotal, has proven the developmental advantages of cross-ice hockey.
This week, Hockey Canada announced that it too will introduce its players to the game through cross-ice play beginning in 2017-18.
“Re-sizing the playing surface to cross-ice or half-ice means more puck touches, which result in more chances to practice puck control and shooting, as well as overall more movement and motor skill-development – twisting, turning, balance, coordination, agility,” said Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada, in a release today. “Their field-of-play matches their size, and these players hone in on their skill-development in a way that larger ice surfaces just aren’t conducive to.”
The Grassroots Show on Ottawa’s TSN 1200 weighed in on the decision. Click the audio link below to hear how Canada is embracing cross-ice hockey for the coming season and beyond.
Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, appeared on the Grassroots Show to discuss the nationwide shift to cross-ice hockey, beginning this fall for 5- and 6-year-olds and expanding to all of Canada's Novice (8U) level in 2018-19.
“When you see 10 or 12 or 14 or 16 kids out on the ice in between periods and they’re playing 200-by-85 and 3 or 4 kids touch the puck in that whole six minutes, yet there’s people in the stands clapping and thinking it’s wonderful, I just can’t help but think about the 95 percent of the children that didn’t even touch the puck or get from one end of the rink to the other and I ask myself what are we doing when the opportunity is certainly there to have 30 kids on the ice playing cross-ice and everyone is having a much better opportunity to touch the puck, skate a shorter distance and really play. It just boggles my mind,” said Renney.
“We completely embrace, at the Initiation level and the Novice level, cross-ice hockey and we have mandated that in the Initiation program and we will mandate it across the country in Novice hockey.
“This is about the pure enjoyment of the game, and your first connection with it has to be something that’s pure fun, on a surface of play that is conducive to much more participation and joy.”