Your kid is obsessed with Fortnite. Do you let them play it every night?
Your son’s favorite food is ice cream. Do you let them eat it with every meal?
Your daughter is glued to her smartphone or tablet. Do you let them use it all the time?
Your child loves hockey. Do you let them play it year-round?
The answer to all of these questions should be the same.
Convincing a kid to take a break from their homework or chores is not typically a tough battle for parents. But when it’s something the youngsters love – like video games, sweet treats or smartphones – mom and dad should be prepared for confrontation. Common sense tells us these are conflicts worth having for the good of the child.
But like Fortnite or mint chocolate chip, too much hockey can also become a detriment to young players.
Dan Jablonic, a former UMD Bulldog and current USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager, says taking a break from the game is not only beneficial, but imperative.
Even if your child wants to play round-the-clock, year-round, it doesn’t mean parents and coaches should let them.
Jablonic talks about the benefits of taking a break and avoiding burnout, while navigating the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of youth sports.
Minnesota Hockey: Why do kids need a break from the rink? Shouldn’t we be encouraged that they want to play all the time and get better?
Dan Jablonic: If you talk to anyone in the medical profession, injury prevention is one of the important elements of taking a break. It’s important for kids physically to not do the same repetitive movements all the time. Secondly, it’s good for the mental side. It gives them a chance to reflect on the season, think about why they love the sport, so they’ll be more energized when they return. That reflection time is crucial for the kids.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Heather Bergeson, a pediatric physician at TRIA Orthopaedic and hockey mom, shared the medical perspective of this topic in a TEDx talk and provides these recommendations for hockey players and families.
Minnesota Hockey: Can playing other sports really help a young person be a better hockey player?
Jablonic: Absolutely. Maybe a kid is an average 10U hockey player and then got to play baseball and started to excel at that. That newfound athleticism and confidence will bring value to his/her next hockey season. There are transferable skills in many sports that will be beneficial to development in hockey as well as in life. It’s about development, but also about fun, friendships and new experiences.
We encourage multi-sport athletes. That doesn’t mean parents should sign their kids up for 20 sports and get stressed out. The right mix depends on family dynamics and what works. Families with multiple kids have to make schedules work out.
Minnesota Hockey: Do other ‘hockey’ countries agree with this?
Jablonic: We just got back from Finland and they have a sports culture with a patience about them that makes it all about long-term athlete development. They make sure the kids are not being rushed or pushed and are appropriately getting the most out of each age group – physical literacy, then agility/balance/conditioning, then get technical as they get older. We need a cultural shift here and more and more people are starting to see the benefits of having patience.
Another thing we noticed as we walked through the rinks of Finland and Sweden – there weren’t many trophies in the lobbies. Instead you see the names of the great players who played there. They don’t get all caught up in winning. Don’t get me wrong, they have produced great teams, but they’re all about development. It’s something we can learn from – putting focus on the friendships and experiences you have together.
Minnesota Hockey: So if it’s important to take a break, what is the right amount of hockey? How long should hockey season be?
Jablonic: According to the sports science-backed American Development Model, here are the age-appropriate recommendations for how much hockey kids should play on annual basis:
8U: 5 months = 20 weeks per season maximum
10U: 6-7 month training and competition calendar = 24 – 28 weeks
12U: 7-month training and competition calendar
14U: 9-month training and competition calendar
Minnesota Hockey: Some parents feel pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” and push their kids to play hockey year-round. Do you have any advice for them?
Jablonic: My first question to them would be ‘what’s the end goal?’ If signing your kids up for hockey schools or a camp over the summer is to have a family experience or to spend more time with friends – that can be a cool thing. But if it’s to avoid falling behind or politics or some other reason like that, that’s not a great reason. Either way, you may be leading that player to early burnout. First, it won’t be as much fun if the kid thinks he has to do it, and even if he wants to, it’s okay to say no in the best interest of your child. Good associations won’t hold it against you if you aren’t participating in every camp.
During the season, you’re building the hockey player. In the offseason, you’re building the athlete. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay competitive, but balance is important. Parents should also reach out to other parents who have been through this scenario. They’ll tell you – at the time I felt like we had to do it, but looking back, we ended up stressing out our family for no reason. In the moment, all you’re thinking about is what’s next. It’s critical to focus on the big picture.
Minnesota Hockey: If a player/family decides to take a break from hockey over the spring and summer, what are some ways to still enjoy the sport without being at the rink every week?
Jablonic: Unstructured games outside or at the gym, pick-up games with friends, passing a ball with a buddy in the street or driveway are all great ways to stay active in the game, but are more about social engagement and having fun. We should promote that for our kids.
At the end of the day, hockey isn’t geared to be 12 months out of the year. We need to use common sense as parents and coaches. Do you really need another tournament, another three days of hockey in June, when you could be out on the lake, having experiences with your family and friends that you’ll remember for the rest of your life?