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.”
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.