Athletes make the best hockey players

By Minnesota Hockey


On Nov. 3, thousands of kids participated in Try Hockey for Free Day. One young boy from New Hope, Minn., 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 a kid doesn’t pick up these fundamentals at a young age, he or she will never 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 (Long Term Athlete Development) 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.

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. 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.