In announcing sweeping guidelines in April regarding screen time for kids, the World Health Organization declared that 80 percent of adolescents are not active enough on a day-to-day basis to qualify as promoting good health.
To combat that, parents often sign their kids up for sports – a well-meaning gesture that certainly adresses part of the problem but also creates time demands that can have other negative consequences.
What are the adults responsible for promoting best health and wellness practices for 8U hockey players supposed to do when confronted with the relatively new and complicated dilemma of helping kids be active the right way?
Joe Bonnett, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model has some ideas, all while acknowledging the complexity of a “very difficult situation” as physical education programs are being slashed across American schools.
Acknowledge the issue
The idea that kids don’t play as much pickup hockey or neighborhood games as they used to might be a little overblown or generational, but it is also rooted in truth.
Parents see their kids staring at screens instead of playing outside, but perhaps out of fear (rational or not) they are less likely to turn their kids loose outside due to neighborhood safety or shifting parental philosophies, Bonnett says.
“I think the biggest concern we have is: are American kids training themselves into athletes by accident? A lot of kids just aren’t moving,” Bonnett said. “Are kids climbing trees or jumping on poles? Not as much as they used to. So what can we do to help?”
Promote multiple sports
When kids are on the ice, they are obviously active. One way to combat the burnout factor of too much hockey as well as the physical and emotional risks associated with too much sitting around is to promote playing multiple sports.
“Players have a much better chance of reaching genetic potential. There have been studies on that,” Bonnett said. “That’s how we’re combating it, especially at 8U, is trying to promote multiple sports. When hockey season is over, they’re swimming, playing lacrosse, soccer, other sporting things.”
Make it fun
Bonnett says promoting off-ice activity for young players is one of the ADM’s top initiatives. Within that goal, there’s a conscious effort to recognize that organizing kids on a team hardly fits the definition of “unstructured play” – but the activities within that model are designed to feel unstructured and fun, which can pay big dividends.
For 8U players, that should include fun drills that involve balance, agility and coordination – on-ice or off-ice games that incorporate running, kicking, dodging, leaping or crouching.
“We’re asking clubs to add value,” Bonnett said. “Our mantra is to build athletes before hockey players. If you want kids to acquire skills like balance, skating, shooting, passing, there has to be a good athletic base. We’re finding that programs that offer an off-ice conditioning component are the more successful ones.”
Just don’t call it work – or make it seem like work.
“I’m going steal a Roger Grillo line,” said Bonnett, referencing his fellow ADM regional manager. “It’s like Fred Flintstone vitamins. It’s good for you, but it’s packaged and wrapped in fun. If you get real formal with your off-ice, that’s not fun. Just like those vitamins, kids should take them but they also enjoy it. That’s when you know you’re really doing your job.”
Where do you find the time or resources to do all that – particularly in an off-ice setting when kids already have a lot of on-ice demands on their plate?
Bonnett uses the term “microdosing” to describe one solution.
Instead of scheduling a separate hourlong session for dryland training, for instance, do 20 minutes of off-ice play three times a week before practice in order to promote a “sporty culture” within the club.
Finally, don’t get too caught up in the notion that kids just sit around all the time, Bonnett says. Give them the space and opportunity to do it, and they will.
“Those screens do have an effect,” he said. “But kids still do play.”