The average NHL rookie debuts three months short of his 23rd birthday and doesn’t peak until at least 26 years of age. What’s that mean to you? It means the development of your youngster is a marathon, not a sprint. It means you should feel empowered to slow down and make the most of every stage in your child’s development.
Sure, 8-year-olds can read words in Hamlet and play notes from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, but it won’t sound good, and more importantly, it won’t develop their skills efficiently or optimally. That’s why academia and the arts tailor development to fit 8-year-olds.
In real life, parents know this tailored approach is best. We see our children, not short Shakespeares, and we want success for them in things that really matter, long-term things like career and family. We understand that what our children achieve as 8-year-olds is of little consequence compared to what they accomplish as adults. We’d revolt if schools required unabridged Hamlet for third graders.
Why then, in youth sports, do some parents ignore their own real-life wisdom?
Why do they rush development, or even worse, limit it with programming that doesn’t take full advantage of the opportunities? Why do they chase meaningless pay-to-play little-kid championships and glory in them? Why do they look at their child and see a short Stamkos?
“Hey, forget Skippyjon Jones. You’re too good for that. Get after this Hamlet instead.”
Hockey Leaders United
Working in conjunction with the United States Olympic Committee, the NHL, the NCAA and worldwide authorities on high-performance sport, USA Hockey convened a high-performance symposium last month at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. A cross-section of the nation’s hockey leaders gathered to discuss player development, and naturally, the conversation included the merits of age-appropriate training and competition.
The USOC unequivocally supports an age-appropriate, long-term approach in athlete development, a stand founded on decades of research and echoed by the NHL and NCAA.
“Our goal is to keep more Americans engaged in sport longer by creating positive, healthy experiences at every level,” said Chris Snyder, USOC director of coaching education. “Research has shown the importance of fun, age-appropriate participation as crucial in the development of elite athletes, and we’re seeing promising signs from young athletes who are excelling thanks to their American Development Model experiences.”
Within that model, USA Hockey emphasizes fun and multiple-sport participation while taking full advantage of children’s science-proven development windows.
“The windows are green-light opportunities for young athletes to supercharge their skill development, because within those windows, children are especially receptive to certain types of training,” said Ken Martel, USA Hockey’s ADM technical director. “It’s not that an athlete can’t develop skills outside those windows, but they can’t develop them as fully or efficiently, and that’s why we emphasize them within the ADM principles. We want to remove every obstacle that prevents athletes from reaching their peak.”
And when world-leading talent developers talk of peaks, as they did during USA Hockey’s symposium, they’re envisioning a 26-year-old established professional, not a teenage supernova.
So don’t be afraid to take it slow and let kids be kids. It’s a long road for athletes committed to reaching their full potential, and the surest way to get there is the slow way.