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12U Q-and-A: How much is too much?

12/17/2019, 4:30pm MST
By Dan Jablonic

Understanding the importance of academic, athletic and social balance is key to long-term success

12U: How much is too much hockey for my 12U Hockey player?

I’ve been seeing more and more 12U kids being placed in lessons, clinics, extra ice so they are in skates 5-7 days a week. Once one kid does it, other families follow afraid their kid will fall behind. Is there evidence that this leads to better hockey players when they hit 14U/16U? Or that they could burn out?

A: Although hockey is one of the greatest sports and may be a child’s favorite, it's not a great idea to specialize early. Studies show that multi-sport athletes have a better chance to excel in the long run. First of all, they benefit from building a better base of all-around athleticism, but beyond that, there are advantages in staying mentally fresh from the variety and learning how to adapt to different roles, coaches and teammates within different teams.

Additionally, numerous studies have shown that early single-sport specialists suffer more injuries than their multi-sport peers (especially overuse injuries), as well as more burnout. Neither of those outcomes are what you’re looking for when you sign your kids up for youth sports. Young kids have short attention spans that limit the amount of time they can focus and perform repetitions correctly. Participating in multiple sports allows these young athletes to learn a variety of motor skills and increase their physical literacy. It teaches movement patterns, varied skill sets and cognitive understanding of game sense. 

Taking a long-term view, it also puts them on a path towards a strong foundation of being physically active and a lifelong enjoyment of sports.  For the 99 percent of youth athletes that don’t become professional athletes, this varied fitness foundation helps them enjoy the health benefits of an active lifestyle in adulthood. Click here, for a video on the professionalism of youth sports and the growing number of overuse injuries. 

Parents want what is best for their kids and have best intentions. Adults can get caught up in allowing or pushing their child to play one sport for a number of reasons. They might think that their child will fall behind. They might push them simply because the kids are good at it and see immediate skill improvements and love the results. However, athletic development is a long process and sport-specific skill development is only one piece. In order to reach your full potential, one must be an athlete first. Keeping it all in perspective, have patience and remember kids develop at different rates. Focus on the experience your child is having. Encourage your child to try a variety of sports and let them play, have fun, fail, learn, succeed and be kids. Balance is important at all ages. Understanding the importance of academic, athletic and social balance is key to long-term success.

About the Author

Dan Jablonic skated at the University of Minnesota Duluth before playing professionally in the ECHL and Sweden. He began coaching in 2005 and later became hockey director for the Washington Little Caps prior to joining USA Hockey.

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