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10U: Slow Start to Hockey After Summer?

11/02/2021, 11:00am MDT
By Michael Rand

Just like taking a vacation, a summer break from hockey can be a good thing

Have you ever gone on a nice, relaxing vacation? (Wait, there’s more).

You’re gone for long enough that you actually forget about the stress of work and the realities – good and bad – of day-to-day, week-to-week life.

It’s bliss … until you are blasted back to real life. That first day, maybe even that first week, feels like you are underwater or in quicksand. Tasks that used to be routine require extra concentration. Processes that should be simple are suddenly a challenge.

But soon enough, you readjust and it’s almost like you never left.

Now apply everything that was just laid out to youth hockey.

Say your child plays 10U and has spent much of the summer taking time off from hockey while playing other sports and enjoying care-free days.

Once hockey starts up again, he or she might seem a step slow on the ice – particularly compared to peers who kept skating a lot over the summer. As a parent, you might be wondering: Is that a cause for alarm or even panic?

Heather Mannix, female hockey manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, is here to tell you that no, you shouldn’t be worried.

In fact, just like taking a vacation, it’s a good thing.

The Question Is Natural

First off, Mannix wants parents to know that they aren’t strange for wondering that – and it’s not an optical illusion.

Often times, kids who take a break are a little rusty when they return to the ice.

“That’s something that you’ve seen over and over,” Mannix said. “The kids that play other sports over the summer and don’t skate, that happens. They’re a little off and they might not look as good as kids who play summer hockey for the first few weeks.” 

Good for Long-Term Development

Taking time off and playing other sports helps develop well-rounded young athletes – and well-rounded young people.

“The kids who take that break and play other sports, they develop skills that are not hockey-specific and at the end of the day they become more adaptable,” Mannix said. “That lag time as they get older will get shorter and shorter because as they become more athletic, athletes tend to pick up any sport skill a whole lot faster.”

Taking a break from hockey often will make it that much more fun when they get back on the ice.

“Them taking the summer off typically instills that desire to come back,” Mannix said. “Any time that a kid is itching to get back on the ice, it doesn’t take long.”

Keep Coaches in the Loop

Mannix says parents might have particular concerns because some teams have tryouts. If their son or daughter is rusty after taking time off, they might not look as sharp in front of coaches making decisions about rosters and playing time.

“It’s absolutely push-pull. If you think about it with any skill if you practice it then take a few months off, there is a lag period,” Mannix said. “That lag period sometimes fortunately comes early in the season. It becomes more of a concern when it involves tryouts.”

Mannix suggests having a short conversation with a coach to make sure they know an athlete has taken some time off. But she also says most coaches will know what players have been up to anyway.

Summer Ice/Avoid Burnout

While year-round hockey is becoming more prevalent, Mannix is quick to note that there are several things to consider.

“In all youth sports, you have the people who sell the “elite” programming. Those teams tend to be the ones that push the idea that you need to skate year-round if you want to keep up,” Mannix said. “But if you see that the majority of players at high levels were multi-sport athletes through middle school and high school, I take that data to heart more than a coach trying to sell ice.”

A recent survey conducted by the NHL and NHLPA in 2018 provided some eye-opening data.

  • 98% of NHL players participated in a sport other than hockey from the ages of 5-14.
  • Nearly 80% of NHL players continued playing other sports during the ages of 15-18.
  • The average NHL player began skating and playing hockey after the age of four, and they did not specialize in hockey until after the age of 14. The average age of specialization was not until the age of 16 years old.

So try not to worry.

“With what we know about burnout and development, any lag is not something to panic about,” she said. “The benefits of taking time off outweigh the shortfalls of taking a break.”

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