In the State of Hockey, suggesting that our Mites and 12U’s spend less time at the rink may seem counter intuitive. After all, conventional wisdom implies that our kids need to play more hockey to keep up with their peers and/or expedite development. But rest-assured, especially for younger skaters, a little “R and R” is not only good; it’s essential.
Rest and recovery are treated as key components of training programs for all high-level adult athletes, whether the goal is optimizing performance during the season or maximizing training gains in the offseason. But when it comes to the seemingly never-ending supply of energy many kids have, we too easily forget how important rest is for them too.
Dr. Heather Bergeson, MD, CAQ, a primary care sports medicine and pediatrics physician at TRIA Orthopedic Center in Bloomington, believes taking a break is critical for young athletes in terms of continued development and their long-term health.
“We have to think about rest and recovery as part of our whole training regimen for kids and adults,” said Bergeson. “Children are different because their bones are still growing, making growth plates more vulnerable to injury from overuse. So rest becomes even more important.”
Bergeson recommends kids have 1-2 days off per week and then 2-3 months off per year from their “main” sport. And, while playing sports other than hockey – such as tennis, which has cross-over benefits like hand-eye coordination, enhanced cardio, running and jumping – will aid overall athletic development, she cautions against “doubling up” and overloading a young athlete’s schedule with more than one sport at a time.
“Playing different sports in their appropriate seasons allows for some diversification, so bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments are experiencing different forces and not having the same repetitive motions that can lead to overuse injuries,” she said. “We should try multiple sports, but when you’re playing them at the same time, playing sports more hours a week than you are years old, that’s when we’re also more likely to see injury and burnout.”
Bergeson identified some key physical and mental benefits to getting plenty of rest and recovery. They include:
“Taking a break” doesn’t necessarily mean hockey is totally off limits. Taking the game off-ice and encouraging unstructured play, pick-up games outside with friends, etc., can be fun and, according to Bergeson, “good for emotional IQ and development.”
“It’s more the routine of organized practices, drills, games and tournaments that we need a break from,” said Bergeson. “Going outside and shooting pucks or playing with friends in the street, that’s what it’s all about.”
Young athletes may want to go-go-go, and no one wants to restrict that type of passion. However, it’s up to coaches and parents to monitor kids’ workloads and guide them down a path that ensures adequate time for rest and recovery.
“It’s important to remember that development occurs over a long period of time and that the physical and cognitive development of young athletes are not always the same,” said Bergeson. “It’s tough to know how much to push your kid. Some need a little push and then discover they actually love it and want to get better. But the demands put on them should be appropriate for their age. Parents need to be the voice of reason.”