Q. We just returned from my son’s 12U pre-season meeting. The coach is stressing the importance of off-ice athleticism and will be offering a free off-ice program along with my son’s practices in the fall. What is the purpose of this off-ice program? I thought I was signing up for hockey?
A. Congratulations. You have a 12U coach that understands the needs of the 12U player.
Hopefully, this 12U off-ice program makes sense logistically to your family. It should be fun and sporty as well as efficient on time. This program should not be a big time burden on your family. It may be easier on your mind to consider your 60 minute on ice practice along with a 30 minute off-ice session as a single practice of 90 minutes. Many families struggle with their schedule and with the notion that off-ice and on-ice are two different workouts. Go into the season with the understanding that practice consists of both on-ice and off-ice.
Your coach is a very wise person. At USA Hockey we firmly believe that in order to develop hockey players you must develop athletes first.
We have found that 12U players or pre-pubescent players that have a good foundation of physical literacy are inclined to learn or assume hockey skills at a quicker rate compared to 12U players with deficiency in their physical literacy. Lifting heavy weight or Olympic lifts are not needed at this point of your child’s hockey career. Simple balance, agility, coordination, body weight and speed drills will accomplish what your child needs. Hopefully your coach creates an environment where these skills are taught as well as delivered with energy and enthusiasm, creating a fun environment for your child to participate.
Recently, I had the chance to work with Joe Eisenmann PhD (Head of Sports Science at Volt Athletics, Sport Performance Tracking, Visiting Professor, Leeds Beckett University School of Sport) at the 2019 NARCE Hockey Director Certification Class. Joe has done a lot of research on this subject and presented on this very topic. His findings are fascinating. Dr. Eisenmann found that participating in youth sport alone without additional supplemental physical training, fails to optimize athletic development in youth participants. Studies show that when pre-pubescent athletes engage in athletic training along with their sport, those athletes have the greatest chance of reaching their genetic potential in their future.
As parents, we all know the sedentary culture that our children face. With the increase of screen time and the decrease of recess, physical education and play (in the free form) our children can benefit from simple movement programs such as this. Encourage your child to become ‘sporty’ and to participate in order to explore their balance, single leg strength, ankles, core strength and coordination so they can achieve great things on the ice such as outside edge stops, body checking, shooting, dangling, backhand passes and scoring. When they do become more athletic, you will see their confidence soar.
Joe Bonnett has more than 20 years of hockey coaching experience, including 18 seasons at the NCAA Division I level. Before entering the college ranks, he was a 12U and 16U coach in Michigan.
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