With the weather finally warming up and cabin season nearly upon us, the question of how much hockey should be played during the short Minnesota summer creep into the minds of many parents, even among those already committed to spring and summer training programs.
Doug Schueller, who recently completed his 14th season as Saint John’s University head men’s hockey coach in 2021-22, believes there is value in utilizing the offseason to build athleticism and improve skills, with the caveat that parents should take cues from their young players.
“Lower-impact skill development in the summer or certain camps are not bad things if the kid wants to do it, and there’s a lot that can be done off the ice,” said Schueller, a two-time MIAC Coach of the Year and former captain at Bowling Green. “I’m a believer in kids trying to develop their skills and habits that might help them down the road, as it can be tougher to focus on individual skills during the busy regular season. But there should be a balance. It’s important to also just be a kid.”
Coach Schueller shared his tips for navigating the youth hockey offseason.
Taking a Break is Key to Staying Fresh
Kids’ lives in general are getting busier and busier, and for those that participate in youth sports, schedules can be demanding and lead to added stress. For some families, it’s manageable. For others, it’s more of a challenge.
Either way, Schueller advises that younger players take a break from the game – even if it’s just a couple of weeks at a time – to “recharge their battery” and build excitement for when they return to the ice.
“Even at the Division-III level, we take a few weeks off the ice after the season and we’ll focus more on off-ice training, strength training,” he said. “Some guys push it and do a lot, some don’t do as much. We just stress the importance of improving, and whether it’s by building strength or speed, a lot of it can be done off the ice. It’s important to recuperate.”
The Importance of Building Athleticism and Having Fun
Especially for the younger, 6 to 12-year-old players, Schueller says playing in the yard with friends and getting away from structured athletics is also important. In many cases, even without them knowing it, playing tag or other sports can build athleticism and make them better hockey players down the road.
“There’s a lot that kids can do in their driveways or backyards to build athleticism and conditioning and have fun,” he said. “Jumping rope is great for foot quickness. It’s a simple thing and can build quick twitch muscle memory. My guys play spike ball. Tag or dodgeball, where you’re moving and jumping and running, are good. Just keeping yourself active can pay dividends.”
Schueller also stresses the value of playing multiple sports, beyond hockey.
“I think sports in general teaches so many life lessons,” he says. “It teaches adversity, it helps get kids away from screens, gets them to talk and communicate and learn and make mistakes and how to handle failure. It’s a bigger commitment nowadays to play multiple sports and there’s a lot of sport specialization going on. But we definitely do value athletes. Playing multiple sports can help you get better at that one sport you may focus on in the future.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean no hockey at all. Even if they aren’t playing on a team in spring or summer, there are many ways for kids to continue to work on developing their skills in less formal, less expensive and more fun ways.
“All you need is a stick and a puck or ball and you can work on stickhandling and shooting and quick feet drills,” said Schueller. “Shooting and working on improving shooting has become a lost art. And you can definitely fine tune shooting and other skills to help you create time and space. And you don’t need ice to do that.”
Advice for Parents
Call it ‘Keeping up with the Joneses,’ or FOMO, or something else, but every year it seems parents struggle with the “how much is too much” question when it comes to their child and continuing to play hockey over the summer. The answer is not an easy one, Schueller says, and ultimately up to each individual family to determine for themselves.
“It’s complicated,” Schueller admits, because he believes there can be value in participating in camps or playing on certain teams in the offseason. “With social media, everyone knows what everyone is doing and some feel like they’re falling behind. But I think it falls on the parent to have the strength to say no at times, and more importantly, to not make the decision for their kids. The kid has to want to do it.”
“Sometimes parents unintentionally put pressure on their kids, even though they have their son or daughter’s best interests in mind,” Schueller added. “Kids know the commitment their parents are making, the sacrifice that goes with getting them to practices and games. And if they don’t make a team, or do well, they may feel like they’re letting everyone down. Sometimes that builds pressure on the kids. Parents just need to be mindful of that.”