Just like a field of crops, you don’t want to harvest your hockey player too early. Air Force men’s hockey assistant coach Joe Doyle says that you can’t rush long-term athlete development.
“When you plant a crop, you have to first prepare the soil, make sure the right ingredients and everything are in there, and put your crop in,” Doyle said. “And from there, water it appropriately, make sure it gets the appropriate amount of sun and all that. In a natural process, you can’t speed that process that up. If you try to water the heck out of it, it’s going to get too much water, and not react appropriately. If you try to hurry it along with too much sun, it’s the same; it’s going to backfire.”
The same thing can be said for hockey players.
Focus on the Windows
The Windows of Trainability identify ages and time periods when a child is most receptive to developing a specific skill or capacity. At 10U, kids are now in the “Golden Age of Skill Development,” so the focus should be on skills, skills, skills, not systems, weight training or winning at all costs.
The Right Amount
While it’s important that players get their necessary dose of hockey, they shouldn’t be over-skated or taken to the rink too often.
“If they want to be hockey players, they certainly need a dose of hockey, an age-appropriate length of season and everything else that comes with it,” Doyle added. “But to think that by giving kids at those younger ages 12 months of hockey, it’s going to give them an advantage at 17 or 18, it rarely if ever is the case. It typically backfires.”
The same can be said for the amount of games kids are playing at 10U. The practice-to-game ratio should be 3:1. There is much far more development happening at a skill-focused 10U practice than during a game.
Playing Multiple Sports
Doyle wants hockey parents to understand that creating well-rounded young athletes – not just hockey players – will benefit their child. There’s no need to rush the process by specializing in one sport and lengthening the season.
The pros didn’t do it that way.
“All you have to do is look at the high, high-level players who, yeah, they’re great hockey players, but they’re big-time athletes as well,” Doyle said. “By athlete, I mean that in general, they know their body and they’re not one dimensional as far as being only hockey players. They maybe played soccer, so when a puck is in their skates, they seamlessly transition the puck from their skates to their stick. They played baseball or lacrosse, where their hand-eye coordination is so good that they seamlessly pick pucks out of the air that aren’t perfectly on their tape.
“In seeing that high-level hockey player, that’s what people see – the hockey player –
but they don’t see the big-time, well-coordinated, well-rounded athlete under that hockey player who got there by playing two, three, four sports until they were 12, 13, 14 years old.”
Doyle estimates that if you could take two identical children and have one play hockey almost daily while the other experiences other sports, the latter would actually end up being the better hockey player. While Kid A may shine at the younger age levels, before it really matters, that player’s ultimate peak will usually be lower and much earlier than Kid B who, if he or she so chooses, pursues hockey at a later age with more motivation and more athleticism.
“Kid A, he’s further along hockey-wise, but he’s already kind of what he’s going to be,” Doyle said. “Kid B, because he’s a better athlete, still has an untapped flame and fire and passion for the game. He’s going to roar past that kid at some age, 16 or 17 or 18.”
Put differently, it’s important to avoid the Early Ripe, Early Rot syndrome.
He acknowledges that it’s hard for parents to just sit back and watch.
“That’s a hard question proposition for parents, because they’re only living in the now. They see that Kid A at 11 or 12, maybe make the higher-level team, but Kid B in most instances is going to be a better player at 16 or 17 because he’s a better athlete,” Doyle added. “Your patience and trust is really what it takes. The number of kids who do pop late clearly outnumber the kid at 13, 14 who is still on the map at 17, 18, 19. The numbers aren’t even close. Patience and trust in time-proven athlete development principles is what they have to rest their hat on and know that they’re not doing a kid a disservice, they’re actually doing them a service by being patient with him.”
So when you’re thinking about ‘growing’ your own hockey player, remember: too much water or too much sun might actually hurt. Let your athlete grow, learn and develop at his or her own pace. And most of all, make sure they’re having fun.