Working in every facet of the hockey world I’m fortunate to see first hand all of the changes that take place from year to year, and generation to generation. Equipment advances have had a huge impact on everything from the weight and strength of your stick, getting your skates profiled as opposed to sharpened, to being able to drag your hockey bag on wheels. Increased awareness of concussions and their long term affects have given way to league after league adjusting to non-contact hockey right up through the midget years. But by far the biggest change I’ve seen is the transition from a seasonal activity to a year round pursuit.
It’s hard to say this without sounding like an old man, but when I was a kid hockey tryouts were in September. If we made it deep into the playoffs the season was done in early March at the very latest. Luckily the snow would typically be melting at this point and the spring / summer sports (baseball, lacrosse, soccer, golf, ball hockey) would fill the void and keep me active and outdoors. Maybe in late July/early August you’d start going for jogs, shooting some pucks or going to a hockey camp to get ready for the upcoming tryouts.
These days, many teams hold their tryouts after the season in March/April, then kids sign up for their spring teams where they go to a different tournament every weekend, and play for the duration of the summer. If they do play another sport their schedule for the ‘summer break’ is absolutely packed, and just when it ends, the pre-season games and tournaments begin for the winter team in early August.
Specializing in one particular pursuit has it’s obvious advantages, and you can often tell who continued to play hockey all summer during the pre-season, they’re a little sharper and engaged with the game. Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book ‘The Outliers’ that it often takes 10000 hours of practice to reach a level of mastery in a particular discipline, so there’s definitely something to be gained. Players at an Elite level (NHL) tend to skate at least 3 times a week with specialized skating, stick handling and shooting coaches as well as an extensive dry land training regimen, but it’s not necessarily the right choice for kids.
In a fantastic article by Hockey Now (link) Vancouver Giants coach Don Hay says “I would like to see young players compete in a variety of sports because I think it really helps to improve their athletic ability, it forces them to learn different skills to become an athlete. I really think the more athletic they are, the better it will be for them. I like how it exposes them to having to deal with winning and losing in different sports.” This sentiment was echoed by Hockey Canada VP Paul Carson in the same article who said “I do worry that if we have kids who are involved in hockey 12 months of the year at ages like 10-years-old, we run the risk of overuse injuries and demotivation. There are just so many pressures on kids at such a young age.”
It’s hard to disagree with statements like these, especially when you see the kids who didn’t play summer hockey, who were a little slower in August, excel more past them as the season wears on. Sometimes taking a break only stokes the fire and ignites the passion necessary to truly master something.
Canadian Hockey Enterprises