Question- "I have a 12-year-old son who is involved in hockey year-round. I am concerned my husband is pushing him too hard but he says in order to stay in the game with his peers he has to be doing something hockey related year-round. My son has started lying, saying he has done stick handling or has shot pucks when he really hasn't. I'm stuck in the middle trying to referee peace. What is too much hockey? My son only has a week off of some sort of hockey related activity, at best, every 3-4 months."
Feeling like your child will be left behind in school, sports and any other activities is always a concern for parents. So what happens in response? We do more and our children end up hating the activity or fighting with the parent. We have all heard the saying, “More is not always better.” When parents begin taking their child to private lessons for hockey, summer stickhandling, entering the local league for more games, and flying to Boston for the biggest best tournament over Thanksgiving, it becomes too much for everyone. There may be a time and place for all of this, but in the development of a hockey player at 12U, too much hockey may prove detrimental to development. Even NHL players take the summer off to allow their bodies and minds to become refreshed.
Think of the garden you may have planted last summer in the hope of that award-winning tomato. When the seed was placed in the soil, just the right amount of sun and water was needed in the beginning for growth. If all of a sudden your seed received too much sun and not enough rain, the plant does not reach its genetic potential. The same principles need to be applied for our youth hockey players based off of sports science and long term athlete development principles.
One of the first things to remember is that a better athlete makes a better hockey player in the long run. Hockey is a late specialization sport with many of our top players not being identified until they are 18 or older, unlike some other sports. Therefore, at 12U a player should take a break from playing hockey and participate in two or three other sports to help build athleticism. Different sports help keep hockey fun, while also focusing on muscle movements - translating into more speed, agility and strength once the player gets back on the ice.
However, once the season starts, a player at the 12U level is in the “golden age of skill development” and should be concentrating heavily on acquiring skills such as skating, puck-handling, and shooting. Having a carpenter show up to build a new deck without a saw, hammer or nails would make for a tough task. So for a hockey player to continue progressing they should make sure the proper tools for the game are being mastered while still having fun.
The hockey season should last about seven months with a three-to-one practice-to-game ratio. It’s important to make sure players are not over competing while focusing on the essential skills needed. One of the common problems at this age group is that teams start to focus heavily on games and winning while neglecting the key practice habits and skills crucial during this key window of trainability. More practices lead to better games; however, it must be kept in mind that there needs to a different focus OUTSIDE of hockey season – i.e., play other sports and build athleticism.
In the end hockey is a game that should be fun for our players, and without that, they will not be motivated to keep climbing the ladder of development. Remember to: Let them PLAY. Let them HAVE FUN. Let them FAIL. Let them LEARN. Let them SUCCEED. Let them BE KIDS.