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Athletes Make the Best Hockey Players

By Minnesota Hockey, 12/03/12, 1:15PM CST


Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) encourages youth players to develop their athleticism through multiple sports

On November 3rd, thousands of kids participated in Try Hockey for Free Day. One young boy from New Hope, MN spent that Saturday morning flying around the ice, looking more like a second or third year mite than a first time skater. Yet, his mom claimed he could barely stand up the previous year when he was first introduced to skating. How could a child show so much progress over the course of a year with no additional ice time or hockey specific training?

The answer is simple. During the previous spring, summer and fall, this boy had been participating in other sports and activities, leading to major improvements in balance, muscle strength and coordination. These gains in athleticism translated into a notable difference in his skating ability.

Athleticism is king

Athleticism is the key to success in all sports. The ABC’s of athleticism which include agility, balance, coordination and speed are the foundation for all basic sport movements and skills.

“If kids don’t pick up these fundamentals at a young age, there is a very good chance they won’t reach their full potential,” said Guy Gosselin, Regional Manager of ADM for USA Hockey. “Research has shown that there are specific times in a child’s development when the child is most capable of learning these basic skills”.

The best way for kids to build that foundation of athleticism is to participate in a variety of sports and activities. The LTAD model encourages young players to get involved in multiple sports that require different movements and skills in different environments. Nontraditional sports like gymnastics and swimming can be very helpful in developing kids’ agility, balance and coordination.

Soccer can help kids develop their speed, coordination and agility, according to Darryl Nelson, Strength and Conditioning Coach for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.

Encouraging kids to play other sports is also a great way for coaches and parents to continue the process of player development while giving them a break. Research shows it takes at least three hours of practice a day for ten years (about 10,000 hours) to become an expert at anything.

“That is a lot of hours,” emphasized Gosselin. “But it isn’t sport specific. Any physical activity counts.”

Nothing special about specialization

Unfortunately, the recent trend has been for kids to specialize in one sport at younger and younger ages. This tendency toward early specialization can come from many sources: a belief that more is better, a fear of being left behind, or a misunderstanding of training programs.

It is important for parents, coaches, and players to know that early specialization in contact sports is actually detrimental to a player’s potential. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these athletes are more likely than multi-sport athletes to suffer from burnout, injuries due to muscle imbalances and a limited range of athletic ability.

“I have been working with our high performance programs for several years,” stated Gosselin. “Our best players are peaking and burning out at 17, when they should be just ramping up their training program. They are exposed to too much hockey, too early on, and we are seeing the effects.”

Although it can be difficult to understand, time away from hockey is sometimes just as important as the time spent practicing.

“Even professionals take a couple months off,” pointed out Gosselin. “Getting away from the rink in the summer is important for the mental and physical health of all players, especially eight year olds.”

No matter what, remember these are kids. The most important thing is developing a passion for the game. Play, love, excel. That’s the ADM.

This is the second in a series of articles designed to provide coaches, administrators, parents, and players with a better understanding of the principles of ADM.  Stay tuned for more details on the main training guidelines of LTAD.

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“The biggest thing is not getting these young kids burned out. My favorite sport every year was whatever season we were in. Hockey was never really my favorite sport until my older years of high school.”

-Ben Hanwoski, Senior Captain at St. Cloud State University (Little Falls Youth Hockey Association)

The ADM provides these age-specific recommendations:

  • Age 0-6: Encourage physical activity in a variety of environments (on the ground, on ice, in the water, and in the air)
  • Age 6-9: Work on developing a passion for the game as well as basic skating and puck handling skills
  • Age 9-12: Continue to participate in three complimentary sports and avoid specializing in one position
  • Age 12-16: Focus on enhancing technical skills, core strength, speed and endurance
  • Age 15-18: Can begin specializing and getting involved in more competitive situations

Want proof hockey is a late specialization sport? Here is a list of current NHL players that went undrafted.  That means when these players were 18, 19 or even 20 years old not a single team thought they were worthy of a draft pick.  Now, many of them have turned into All-Stars, Stanley Cup winners and even some Hall of Famers.

Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Encourage athletes to strive to have at least 1-2 days off per week from competitive athletics, sports specific training, and competitive practice (scrimmage) to allow them to recover both physically and psychologically.
  • Encourage the athlete to take at least two to three months away from a specific sport during the year.