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The Optimal 12U Offseason Plan

04/28/2019, 3:45pm MDT
By Michael Rand

As the weather warms up and thoughts turn to summer, a natural question for 12U hockey players and parents might be: What is the ideal offseason plan?

Roger Grillo, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has some thoughts on that. The main takeaway: While he doesn’t say that the only ice a 12U player should see the warm months is in a glass of lemonade, there are very good reasons to get away from hockey.

Overuse and burnout

12U is an interesting age because players are starting to get more serious. But they’re also still growing and maturing on multiple levels, and it’s imperative that those things are considered when putting together an offseason plan.

“They should be experiencing other sports,” Grillo said. “We need to protect their passion and drive by getting away from ice hockey a little bit. We see a lot of issues with overuse injuries like hip labrum or shoulder labrum problems. To take a step back is really, really critical from both a physical and mental standpoint.”

While it might be tempting to keep pushing through the summer, it’s a matter of short-term vs. long-term gains, Grillo says.

“Reality-wise, if you do stuff year-round you’ll be ahead of the curve tryout season,” he said. “But you need to have the patience and wherewithal to know that long-term, it’s a negative.”

On the ice

Grillo notes that in previous generations, young skaters probably averaged an hour a day on the ice over a full year – but it was concentrated over multiple hours per day spent on the ice in winter, both indoors and outdoors.

The availability of year-round ice creates year-round temptations.

“I think in reality us for us old-timers the rinks weren’t even open,” Grillo said. “Our indoor rink became a tennis court. Your buddies migrated from hockey to baseball season. But more rinks are open year-round, and rinks have to sell the ice.”

That can be an advantage – to a point.

“I don’t have a problem with kids going in spring and summer to a rink as long as it looks nothing like winter hockey,” Grillo said. “It should be unstructured. Go and horse around, go skate, do some fun things just like you would at the park. That’s a home run. The negative comes in when it’s overstructured and overcoached. When the fun factor is not as high, that’s when it starts to break down.”

Off the ice

The same notion of not turning spring and summer training into a chore translates to off-ice work as well. Grillo says 12U players shouldn’t be doing heavy lifting as part of strength training.

“Everybody is different with where they’re at growth wise, but I would say that the traditional weight training is OK for those that are ready and want to, but not absolutely necessary,” he said. “Body weight stuff, certainly. Agility stuff, coordination, balance stuff absolutely. But really simple stuff. Nothing that needs to be rocket science.”

Same goes for something as basic as practicing shooting and stickhandling in the garage or basement at that age.

“I think all that’s good, but it can’t become a job,” Grillo said. “When you’re 14, 15, 16 it’s imperative. But I don’t think it’s imperative that a 12-year-old do it.”

Tennis really translates

Any warm-weather sport, really, is good as a fun diversion and to help create a well-rounded athlete. But while baseball and lacrosse have tended to be more natural crossovers, Grillo says the best from the standpoint of translatable skills to hockey might be tennis.

“You have quick change of direction, hand-eye coordination on the move, angles to an object and anticipation of where the ball is going to go,” Grillo says. “As somebody who before the ADM wasn’t aware, I would have thought soccer, baseball and lacrosse would have made more sense.”

Still not convinced that kids need a break from hockey and should play other sports? Just check out the rosters of the USA Hockey national teams.

“I think more people have to take a look at the things we’re putting out there. All our Olympic players were multi-sport athletes,” Grillo said. “Reality is what really happens instead of what people think happens.”

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