It feels like we spend half the summer worrying about the end of summer, to the point that the back half of August is often spent cramming in all the things we missed while simultaneously getting ready for the inevitability of fall.
Every season has its time and place. And if you are a parent of a young player and you haven’t thought about hockey for a little while, that’s good! But if you are suddenly fretting about getting ready for a return to the ice, we have you covered.
There are a few small things you can do to get a head start on skating before the puck is dropped on the coming season. Dan Jablonic, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has some suggestions to ease your mind.
One thing Jablonic suggests for your 6U or 8U player, particularly if he or she hasn’t been on the ice at all in months, is to get reacquainted with your equipment, especially skates.
Everything from getting them properly sharpened to ensuring they are still the right size will give everyone a little peace of mind.
“Skating in and of itself is learning how to use your edges, getting comfortable on the ice especially for the younger kids. After You put your skates away at the end of the season. Try them on, see how they feel,” Jablonic says. “Kids grow so fast, especially at this age. Take a look and make sure they still fit and are comfortable.”
Jablonic says the technology in new skates is all about comfort and performance. The traditional break-in period has been diminished with all the advancements in skate design.
“It’s more about having mom and dad help put the skates on, finding out how they feel,” he says. “You want to have some ankle flexion for kids. And younger kids need shorter laces so they don’t trip over a long lace out on the ice.”
Once you’ve established that the skates fit and are comfortable, getting back on the ice in a fun and obligation-free setting is a great way to gear up for the season.
“Just go out in a relaxed atmosphere, maybe go to a public skate, an association might have some small area games, preseason skates, low key, maybe some four on four,” Jablonic says. “Get comfortable. Putting your gear on, particularly skates, takes some time to get readjusted. When players take time off, there’s so much that goes into the timing and the rhythm of skating. Be in an environment where you feel like you’re comfortable, learning, and having fun.”
Even if a return to the ice isn’t in the immediate plans, there are off-ice activities that can get your 6U or 8U player ready for the season.
It’s not terribly complicated, Jablonic says, and much of it is probably things they have been doing all summer, anyway.
“We’re talking about the principles of long-term athlete development: agility, balance and coordination,” he says. “Play tag. Jump rope, any activity that gets their footwork and body moving. USAH encourages multi-sport participation. Playing other sports develops fundamental movement skills.”
For something more instantly transferable, Jablonic says in-line skating is a good choice. While it’s not a perfect match for the feeling of being on skates, it helps them get the feel of playing hockey.
“You get to simulate the motions of hockey. They have a stick in their hand, playing street hockey. We’re not getting so technical. If it’s fun for the kids and they’re getting movement and agility, that can be transferable,” he says. “But it’s not like you want to work on super long strides. The best technique for young kids is learning agility, balance, and awareness by keeping their heads up.”
The bottom line, Jablonic says, is that the summer experience is different for a lot of players. Some might put the stick and skates away for months, while others might be on the ice more.
“Like anything else, if you are doing it a little more, you are going to be proficient. It’s going to take a couple weeks to get things comfortable again if you haven’t been on the ice,” he says. “Everyone develops at different rates. If one kid spends more time on the ice, maybe that’s OK for their family. But it should be about what the family wants that experience to be. We know players at this age get adjusted relatively quickly.”
And once their ready to hit the ice for real in the fall, hopefully they are geared up to enjoy it.
“The bigger picture is the fun and excitement – back on the rink, excited to be back with hockey friends, learn new skills with new coaches and just play the game,” Jablonic says. “That level of passion is what we want.”