Question-What is the best path for my child to take once he or she is of high school age? Should they go to Junior hockey, play for the local high school, go to boarding school, or stay and play for the local bantam or midget team?
This is a question that is often asked when a player is reaching the high school age and sometimes sooner, depending on the area of country the player is from. In the end, there is no correct answer or magic path for a player to take in order to become a better player. However, there are some factors a parent should take into account when looking at a specific hockey experience for their son or daughter.
Over the past decade, teams have taken on the notion that more games will bring more notoriety amongst college and NHL scouts. In the end, these games may only be hampering the player’s development and providing for bad exposure. It does not matter if a player is seen by a scout if the player is not very good. Therefore, development should be a top priority at this critical age with 16U and 14U players participating in hockey over a nine-month training calendar. During this calendar year, players should begin to increase their off-ice training schedule as well as their game schedule from the 12U level. We still need to be focusing on quality, not just quantity and travel. This nine- month calendar of training both on and off the ice still includes the participation in other sports during the off-season, helping lessen the chances of over-use injuries that are occurring more often in our youth players. Over-use injuries typically result from playing hockey year-round. Encourage your son or daughter to play soccer, baseball, lacrosse, swimming or any other sport that will help increase athleticism during this critical window of trainability for young athletes.
Another major factor in selecting that correct path should be the number of practice sessions each week. USA Hockey recommends four to five quality ice sessions a week. This includes both games and practices with the hope that practice sessions include a large majority of skill-based drills and small area games, thus helping teach hockey sense and the ability to play in tight spaces. Too many programs are still spending a majority of time standing around working on systems when a sheet of ice may cost $400 an hour in some parts of the country.
Coaches need more goal scorers and fewer players that can chip it out off the glass. A player that chips the puck off the glass is easy to develop at the higher levels, but a player who has a true sense for the game and can score goals begins at the younger ages and is developed in practice. Over the course of a nine-month season, a team should have, on average, 120-130 practice sessions and 40-50 quality games. Too often, with all the tournaments and emphasis on winning, match-ups are often skewed where the two top teams meet in the finals. The best case scenario is for every team to have quality games on a regular basis making sure players are challenged in a meaningful atmosphere so they can learn how to compete and play at the highest of levels.
Within the United States there are many options, and parents need to find the solution that fits best for their family. In the end, we need to remember that this great game is about fun and the excitement brought by being on the ice. Whatever decision you make in regard to your son or daughter’s path in hockey, remember to also consider things such as quality of education if a player moves away, cost associated with the team, and amount of time spent on the road.
In the end, the chosen path should include an enjoyable hockey experience that helps further develop a passion for the game of hockey that will last for life.