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5 Summer Activities to Boost Athleticism

By Steve Mann, Special to Minnesota Hockey, 05/15/18, 11:00AM CDT


Summer is a great time for hockey players of any age to build strength, sharpen their skills and improve overall athleticism. For young skaters, it’s also important to mix things up and have fun.

A young athlete doesn’t have to play more hockey to get better at hockey, says Matt Cunningham, former Minnesota State Maverick and USA Hockey Level 4-certified coach and instructor.

“Our youth sports culture pushes the myth that not participating in hockey year-round will lead an athlete to 'fall behind' his or her peers,” said Cunningham. “At the younger ages our focus should be on developing well-rounded athletes who have a solid base of general athletic skills. We sometimes don't connect the dots among activities that don't seem to have similarities to hockey. Mountain biking is an example. It requires body control while building the legs and lungs – both big parts of hockey.”

Cunningham, who has experience in holistic health coaching and has demonstrated the benefits of core power yoga for athletes, suggests there are many out-of-the-box activities kids can try during the offseason that may make them better hockey players down the road.

Here are some examples, described by Cunningham:

  • Tennis – Tennis has many crossover benefits to hockey, including agility and coordination and short-burst, multi-directional speed. You are constantly stopping and starting. Tennis requires lots of power, both forehand and backhand.
  • Stand-Up Paddleboarding – It might look easy but it requires significant core strength. As you have to maintain an athletic stance on a board (feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, etc.) your core and quads are engaged throughout. Balance is obviously paramount. Plus, you are outside and on the water, so it’s fun, too.
  • Skateboarding – (Skateboarding requires) balance, agility and coordination. Skateboarding also requires lots of body control and general athleticism. If you go to a skateboard park, you see lots of peer coaching and mimicry along with little to no structured coaching (from adults). It's as creative as sport gets. The flip side, of course, is the risk involved, so be smart, and wear protective equipment – especially if you’re a beginner.
  • Floorball – Extremely popular in parts of Europe (including Sweden and Finland), it's been gaining traction in North America. (Floorball incorporates) similar skills and concepts to ice hockey but there is no body contact, other than incidental. It's a great way for players to develop creativity and deception skills. Floorball has similar game concepts to hockey, such as creating 2-on-1s or 3-on-2s and creating time and space. Floorball also involves significant decision-making, situational awareness, read-and-react scenarios and more. 
  • Yoga – Yoga has become a huge part of my life and it started strictly as a physical practice, to rehab some old injuries. The physical benefits range from general strength and flexibility to using those muscles in different ways. I also find it extremely beneficial for my posture, especially considering how much time we spend sitting and staring at screens. Yoga is another area where the athlete must learn to focus on his or her own practice while channeling thoughts and energy in a positive way (often easier said than done).

Other fun, “different” summer activities that can boost athleticism away from the rink include canoeing or kayaking, ultimate Frisbee, obstacle courses and even unstructured “free play” activities such as tag.

“Something as simple as tag has numerous benefits,” said Cunningham. “It can be played anywhere and requires no equipment. Think of all the skills that translate to hockey such as stopping and starting, short-burst speed in multiple directions, agility and body control. Another huge benefit is the deception involved in the game. Plus it's fun and competitive in an unstructured environment.”

For young hockey players who may be apprehensive to try something new, Cunningham offers some words of advice:

“Anyone who has tried to play a new sport or develop a new skill will have to develop frustration tolerance,” he said. “I speak from experience as someone who got into triathlon as an adult. It can be incredibly frustrating to fail repeatedly and struggle with something different and new. But it’s important to keep in mind the pursuit of progress, not perfection.”

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