That is a great question because, as parents, we naturally want to help our children be successful in whatever endeavors they choose. At ages 11 and 12, there are two simple things that you can do to help your child become a better player and continue to enjoy the game: (1) take time off from playing hockey and (2) encourage him to play other sports in the off-season.
It may seem counterintuitive, but time away from hockey, especially time spent playing other sports, is essential to helping a young athlete reach his full potential.
Recent research suggests what you’ve known all along: it takes years of practice to become an expert performer at any skill, such as playing an instrument or learning a sport. This kind of research led to trendy concepts like “the 10,000-hour rule.” However, when applied to athletics, many people misunderstand and misapply the rule.
An athlete’s full potential isn’t reached by spending 10,000 adolescent hours performing the same sport or skill repeatedly. In fact, doing so would actually artificially limit the player’s overall athleticism and increase their susceptibility to overuse injuries. It’s instructive to note that most NHL players don’t enter the league with more than 5,000 hours of hockey experience.
The 10,000-hour rule can, however, be properly applied to athletics in the sense that it’s a great goal for the overall amount of time your child is being physically active through diverse sports and physical activity. To reach their fullest athletic potential, children in the 12U age classification need a continued focus on overall athleticism, not just hockey.
Remember that hockey is a late-specialization sport. Hockey players don’t reach their full potential until after full-growth maturity. Specialization at an early age limits children from acquiring a broad spectrum of athletic potential. When players specialize too early, they can create imbalances in musculature, increase potential for burn-out and limit their athletic potential by not developing a broad base of athletic movement skills. The Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics states, “young athletes who participate in a variety of sports have fewer injuries and play sports longer than those who specialize before puberty. Well-rounded, multi-sport athletes have the highest potential to achieve.” The AAP give us as a guideline that “athletes should be encouraged to take 2-3 months away from a specific sport during the year.”
Wayne Gretzky’s message to parents has been always been to let your kids have fun. He was quoted as saying, “in youth hockey, in most cases, it’s really important for kids to play other sports, whether it’s indoor lacrosse or soccer or baseball. I think what that does is two things. One, each sport helps the other sport. And then I think taking time off in the off-season – that three- to four-month window – really rejuvenates kids so when they come back at the end of August, they’re more excited. They think, ‘All right, hockey’s back, I’m ready to go’”
So encourage your kids to take a break from hockey in the off-season and play multiple sports. It very well could be the best thing for their development as hockey players.