Fear of falling behind.
Fear of missing the cut.
Fear of missing out.
As former Cornell University player and assistant coach Topher Scott wrote recently, the Fear Factor in youth hockey is everywhere – and it’s troubling.
Keeping Up with the Joneses
FOMO often comes from the comparison game. Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to follow what youth players from all over are doing.
“When we were growing up, you’d maybe hear about another kid from a town over, but you couldn’t look up his stats or see his games on YouTube,” Scott said. “Whereas today, it’s so easy for kids to compare themselves to others and for parents to compare their kids to others too.”
“FOMO is very much alive in youth hockey. We get caught up in the rat race a lot. We get caught up in wanting to keep up with the Joneses. If this person is doing this, then we have to do it too. At the end of the day, it’s not any fault of the parent – they’re just trying to do what’s best for the kids. But it’s our job as coaches and hockey directors and educators to pump the brakes.”
One area FOMO is particularly evident is summer hockey. Despite knowing every kid is different and early specialization has numerous negatives, parents can get sucked into having their kids participate in things they don’t believe in.
“It’s up to a lot of hockey coaches and hockey directors to educate the parents on what’s necessary and what’s not,” Scott said. “A lot of times more, certainly, isn’t better.”
Miss the Rink
Scott is a part of The Hockey Think Tank, a collaborative collection of hockey people who are trying to advance the game. Along with blogs, tutorials and other content, they host a podcast. On a recent episode, he spoke with former NHLer Reed Low. Their conversation steered towards the offseason.
“He said something that was really profound: Kids need to learn how to miss the game of hockey,” Scott recalled. “I thought that was really interesting, because when you’re doing it all year round, you kind of miss that, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get back to the rink’ feeling that we all grew up with when we were playing multiple sports in the summers.”
If a player jumps from a tough season-ending loss to a spring league team the following week, the bitter pill and desire to get back to the rink the following season can be dulled. Players who ‘miss the game’ all summer will come back to the rink rejuvenated and refreshed the following fall. This can also help with the negative effects of burnout that year-round hockey can bring.
“Look at the science of recovery. Recovery is a very important thing, both mentally and physically. Burnout is alive and real,” Scott said. “You talk to professional players, and they’ll tell you about the grind of a hockey season.”
With the time commitment involved, many parents also feel the season can be a grind, but do we really want 9, 10- or 11-year-old kids to be grinding through a sport season? Of course not! Kids should be excited when the season starts and sad when it ends.
Summer Is a Time for Summer Sports (and Skills)
Research shows early specialization can increase risks of injuries and burnout. The benefits of putting away the skates for another sport are profound.
“There's plenty of research out there that talks about playing multiple sports growing up and how there's a lot of benefits to it: from a game awareness standpoint; from using different muscles and building your body up standpoint; from skills that transfer from one sport to another standpoint,” Scott said.
Attacking sports – such as soccer or basketball – can help young hockey players better understand spatial awareness and team play. Baseball, golf and tennis can help players with hand-eye coordination and stick skills.
Additionally, playing on a non-hockey team can help with socialization and players can benefit from learning from a variety of coaches, playing different roles on a team and much more.
“There is a time to specialize, and there is a time to put a lot of your focus into one sport. That's different, based upon the emotional, physical and mental makeup of the kid, but I think we make that error too much in specializing too early rather than too late,” Scott added.
Too Many Options
Another thing that can cause stress for parents and players this time of year is the pure number of spring and summer teams, clinics and camps.
Scott uses an analogy of the Chipotle restaurant model and compares it to summer hockey, only in reverse. Chipotle only has a few menu items, but they do them well and get people to return because of their simplicity and quality over quantity.
“Summer hockey is the exact opposite,” Scott said. “You have so many different options that it just stresses people out.”
Scott said there are good people running good camps and clinics, but there are so many options, parents really have to do their homework and ask a lot of questions to try to differentiate the good from the bad. They can also go to trusted coaches and administrators in their association for guidance.
“If there’s ever a time when it’s a good experience and some friends are going and you want to have a good experience, I think that’s OK to do a few things during the summer,” Scott said. “But by no means is any of it necessary.”