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Building Athleticism at Home with ABC’s

By Steve Mann, Special to Minnesota Hockey, 04/21/20, 5:00PM CDT


Acronyms have become a way of life, particularly in this age of texting and short-form communication. When it comes to youth hockey, experts believe the most important acronym is ABC – Agility, Balance and Coordination. The “ABC’s of Athleticism” is a core tenet of the American Development Model (a.k.a. the ADM).

Minnesota native and former Connecticut College star Kristen Wright is a firm believer in these principles. Following her playing career, she ventured into coaching and is currently USA Hockey’s ADM Manager for Female Hockey. She also sits on the NHL Girls Growth Committee and the USA Hockey Youth Council.

Spring and summer are prime times for young hockey players to build athleticism. We talked with Wright about things kids can work on away from the rink as the weather warms up.

Minnesota Hockey: Why is continuing to work on athleticism over the spring and summer so important?

Kristen Wright: It’s important because we need hockey players to build physical literacy and develop overall athleticism. Being athletic is a key tenet of being a good hockey player. Staying active will help young athletes build confidence, motivation and encourage continued participation in sports and other activities in the future.

MH: Does this have even more importance given postponement/cancellation of sporting events and kids are stuck at home?

Wright: It does. It’s also an opportunity for kids to spend time away from the rink and develop different skill sets off the ice. In these challenging times, there’s an added need for kids to do this themselves, which is hard at the younger levels. So, it’s important for coaches and parents to be creative and work with them. Kids who had planned to be skating at this point will have to come up with fun off-ice activities. USA Hockey’s ADM Training Cards are an excellent resource.

MH: Do you think taking a break from the rink can ultimately be a positive thing for young players?

Wright: Taking a break from being at the rink is important for both the physical and mental health of the kids. Physically, the child needs to participate in other movement patterns. I’m just happy to get them out of a hockey stance, holding a stick. Baseball and basketball are great activities. Mentally, it’s good because a break will get them excited to come back to the rink. We want the kids to continue their development away from the rink and see the smiling faces when they come back in the fall.

Injury prevention is another piece of the puzzle. If they are constantly doing the same activities and the same movements, this is where we see the likelihood of injuries increase. We do see injuries that are consistent with kids who only play hockey. We want kids to be active in sports for life, so we want to try to avoid these injuries. One way to do that is by trying new things and building overall athleticism.

MH: Is building athleticism as important as hockey skill development?

Wright: I think building general athleticism is more important for the younger players. They need to be able to move up and down and around and have hand-eye coordination, balance and agility so they can do all the movement patterns required in the game of hockey. Shooting, stickhandling and passing is fun and they are things that can be added in, but the “ABCs” should be the primary focus.

MH: How can parents and coaches make sure that working on fundamentals is fun for the kids?

Wright: Hiding the physical literacy training part tends to be the best way for kids to learn because they’ll enjoy it and it won’t seem like work. Making training a game or competition will make it more fun, so a game like tag is good because there’s a competitive aspect to it. You could also lay pool noodles down on the ground and have kids try to run through them without touching them – little competitive activities like that are always more fun. It’s important to not over-do it. A little bit every day is plenty so they are actively participating.

MH: Why are these three things – agility, balance, coordination – so important for young hockey players?

Wright: Agility is important in hockey because the game moves so quickly and in so many different directions. Balance is key because there is physical contact in the sport. Even at the youngest levels they will get bumped, especially along the boards. So, being able to balance and stay upright will be important for the kids. As for coordination, there are a lot of things going on in the game. Players need to be able to see where the puck is and where their teammates are and make quick decisions. It takes good coordination to hold your stick, move your feet, twist your body and keep your head on a swivel.

MH: What can kids do to work on each of these fundamentals away from the rink this spring and summer?

Wright: The intensity levels may vary based on the players’ age, but in general, the activities are similar. For agility, players can do ladder workouts, obstacle courses or hop on one foot while catching a ball thrown by someone else. Even little races would be a good thing to enhance agility. For balance, I always recommend a lot of hopping on one foot. Then they can add things like light shoulder bumps with a partner to work on staying upright. Juggling or throwing a tennis ball against a wall and catching it are both good for coordination. Kids can play tennis – or even balloon tennis in their living rooms – which will help with coordination, agility and probably balance, too.

MH: We know about the ABCs, but are there other letters that are critical for young skaters? G for goal-setting? S for speed or stamina? M for the mental side of the game?

Wright: All of those are good. I would go with D for development and F for fun. This may be more important than anything else. There’s a lot of data out there about what fun looks like for kids and it may be different than what it looks like for adults. It’s about being social, having competitive activity and an opportunity to set goals and see improvement. If we’re creative, all of the things we do in training can fit into F for fun.

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