Summer seems to present a dilemma for youth hockey players. They don’t want to abandon the game completely and let rust creep in, but they also should get to experience the fun and unstructured days that the warmest of months can provide.
For 12U players who are looking to improve in the offseason but aren’t expecting to be on the ice very much – either by choice or by access – Ken Martel, the Technical Director for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has some tips.
The easiest, least expensive and most effective thing to do happens to be one thing: shoot a lot of pucks. It doesn’t have to be fancy – as much as a stick and a puck, shooting off a cardboard box into a net or tarp – to be very effective, Martel says.
“I don’t think kids can shoot pucks enough. Shoot pucks in different ways. One foot, off the other foot, in somewhat of a stride. Left, right, shoot. Right, left, shoot. Shoot pucks. The best goal scorers shoot pucks.”
Part of the reason to shoot pucks is that it’s possible to do off the ice. Another reason: It makes up for a lack of shots during time on the ice.
“If you look at most on-ice practices, kids get some shots but they don’t get a high volume of shots. A kid that gets 20 shots in practice, that’s a lot,” Martel said. “It’s hard to set up a lot of repetitions in practice. A goaltender might get 150 shots, but divide that among 18-20 players. The individual athlete isn’t getting a ton.”
Martel says varying the shots, while adding stickhandling and specific targets to shooting practice, is essential.
“It’s not as good as real live action and shooting on the ice, but you don’t need ice,” he said. “There’s nothing like shooting on your skates, but at the end of the day, on tennis shoes it’s still weight transfer and mechanical motions with your body for the most part. Again, you’re going to make the best of not having access to the ice. You don’t need a lot of equipment. People have all this super equipment but all you need is something you can shoot against that isn’t going to break. Shoot 100 pucks a day in the offseason and when you come back your shot is going to be pretty good.”
Another simple thing to do off the ice: work on manipulating the puck with your stick. Martel references soccer players who go everywhere with a soccer ball, practicing dribbling and juggling in spare moments, or basketball players who bring a ball with them to practice dribbling and ball-handling.
Be that version of a hockey player.
“It becomes comfort with a stick and an object. Work with different shapes, different weights and objects, to improve feel and touch,” Martel said. “Get in an environment where you try things and maybe don’t look down while you are doing it. Get a feel, gain some touch. It doesn’t have the same level that you get from stick and puck on ice, skates on, but this is the next best option.”
Martel notes that anything a player can do that puts him or her in a fun but competitive hockey environment has value.
“Anything that puts a stick and object in your hands. Play some roller hockey, boot hockey, street hockey. It’s not the same exactly, but you’re still manipulating an object on your stick. It’s got some transfer. You’re going to get some benefit even if you don’t have access to ice.”
Along those same lines, even if there isn’t a game to play, just strapping on a pair of rollerblades can be a good choice.
“Rollerblade around town,” Martel said. “Instead of walking, rollerblade. It’s not exactly the same but there is some benefit. It’s fun. Do things that are fun.”
That last message of fun is important because it helps us draw a distinction between offseason activities that could lead to burnout and those that will enhance a 12U player’s natural love of hockey.
“When things are kid-motivated and kid-regulated, they’ll self-regulate. Nobody is telling them to do it. There’s good research around autonomy and player choice,” Martel said. “When they’re in control, doing things they want to do when they want to do them, they’re not going to burn out. It’s the adult-directed over-scheduled stuff that they find as drudgery, but if they’re the ones initiating, if they’re setting a goal and going and doing it, then it’s up to them and we’re less worried about burnout.”
Tag(s): ADM Features