You’d be hard-pressed to find many professional hockey players who focused solely on hockey when they were children. Zach Parise, Meghan Duggan and Patrick Kane all looked forward to hanging up their skates at the end of the season.
Taking a break from hockey and transitioning into a variety of sports helped them become superstar athletes. And it kept their passion for hockey burning bright.
Playing multiple sports reduces injury risk, develops athleticism, and most importantly, is fun. It’s a reason Dr. Doug Weiss, who has served as team physician for the U.S. Men's National Under-18 Team five times, recommends 8U parents and players opt for dirt, grass or court rather than ice during the hockey offseason.
New Sport, New Season
Baseball’s hand-eye coordination can correlate with plenty of on-ice situations, like face-offs, tipping shots, swatting pucks out of the air and receiving passes. Soccer develops endurance that can be utilized in hockey, when a shift gets long or overtime becomes necessary. Lacrosse, as another “invasion sport” like hockey, helps develop attacking and defending strategies in addition to endurance.
These are just a few of the sports that have significant crossover into hockey. So which one should kids play?
“All of them,” said Weiss. “Every sport offers unique opportunities to improve skills that will be a significant crossover to hockey development.
“But what is important is that they are trying new things. They are still developing all aspects of their body, including hand-eye coordination, motor skills, strength, mental components and game smarts. By playing other sports, they are using new parts of their body and training other muscles. Those will help them improve as athletes and hockey players.”
Even if it’s not an organized sport, encourage your child to get out and try something other than hockey.
Keep Them Wanting More
Imagine working round-the-clock with no lunch break, weekends or vacation time. The wear and tear would be numbing.
“Then why should a kid play a sport that often?” asks Weiss.
While it’s unimaginable that a child would be asked to play 24/7, even hockey 12 months out of the year is too much. It loses the fun and becomes more like a job.
“They need a break,” said Weiss. “Medically, it decreases their chance for overuse and injuries. Psychologically, it decreases the chance of mental exhaustion.”
But kids who were bitten by the hockey bug this year might not want to stop playing a sport that they love. That enthusiasm is great, but Weiss said it is also up to the parents to set parameters.
“If your kid loves hockey, of course they are going to want to play all the time,” Weiss said. “But the parents have to be the parents and say ‘ya know, let’s do something different this summer.’ Kids will respond to that and will avoid the burnout they weren’t even aware of.”
Hockey in the summer shouldn’t be completely banned, but the key is to make it fun, casual and minimal in hours.
Playing hockey in an unorganized setting, like in the driveway or garage, is a low-pressure way to continue enjoying the game and building skills in the summer. Grab a stick and some friends for a quick pickup game, or invent a game that works on your shots or stickhandling. Dribble tennis balls against a wall with your stick blade. Stickhandle with a golf ball to develop soft hands. Be creative. Go out and play. Enjoy the game and don’t make it drill-focused in the summer.
“Try different things, different moves and just be creative,” said Weiss. “I think doing that is going to be very beneficial. Just be sure to keep it fun and light. That’s what summer break is for.”
Let Kids Be Kids
“It’s a sport, it’s supposed to be fun,” reminds Weiss. “They can get a lot out of it, but it’s a matter of keeping that fun element and not burning them out.”
Getting outside, running around or swimming in the lake, that’s what the offseason is all about. There’s nothing wrong with sprinkling in a little hockey skill work with friends once in awhile, but be sure that hockey isn’t all you’re doing in the offseason.
After all, it is called summer vacation for a reason.