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D1 Coach’s Offseason Advice for 12U

04/15/2016, 2:30pm MDT
By Michael Caples - Special to USAHockey.com

Your child’s hockey season has come to an end – so now what?

It’s not the easiest question to answer. Surely you have seen the advertisements for hockey clinics and camps that will put your 12U player on the path to NHL stardom. You have heard from other parents what their children are doing, and that you better do the same.

Hockey experts like Kevin Patrick, however, want you to put your child’s skates away for the summer months, and encourage them to pursue other activities.

“I think that’s the biggest thing right there – take a break,” said Patrick, currently the associate head coach at the University of Vermont. “You have to take a break and you should be playing other sports. 12U is still a huge athlete development window. Developing your overall athletic skill – doesn’t necessarily matter what it is; soccer, baseball, lacrosse, whatever it might be – but playing another sport and training those different muscles, the overall body development, it will benefit and ultimately pay benefits to their hockey game.”

Run Your Own Race

Patrick is all too familiar with parents fearing that their child will fall behind in the sport if they aren’t skating and training on a year-round schedule.

“Run your own race,” Patrick said. “What’s right for your child might not be right for my child. If the only reason is you’re doing something is to keep up with the Joneses, then that’s the wrong reason to do it. Hockey is a late-specialization sport. You’re not going to truly know what you are as a hockey player until your body fully matures, somewhere between 18 and 22 years of age, and then the reps that come with being fully developed.

“A lot of people who don’t get off their skates, people who skate year-round, they’re prone to injuries, overuse injuries, and those kids are also more susceptible to burnout. You might say, ‘oh I have to get ahead, I have to do it right now’ – you might be doing more to hurt your child than help them by allowing them to stay on the ice and play year-round because they become prone to those overuse injuries and the possibility of burnout.”

Kid’s Choice

For the kids who insist on still doing something hockey-related, Patrick suggests skill-specific activities for short periods of time.

“If there is interest in doing something with hockey in the offseason, it should be a kid’s choice, not a parent’s choice, and it should be something fun,” Patrick said. “Fun and skill-specific. It might be stickhandling in the garage for 10 minutes. It might be shooting pucks. It shouldn’t necessarily be playing games. For young players that have the passion to do something, if they just love hockey, well do something skill-specific for a short amount of time, then go be a kid.”

What About Hockey Camp?

Patrick is OK with a 12U player attending a summer hockey camp, as long as the focus is as much on fun as it is on training.

“I think if your buddies are going to a camp, you’re excited about doing something with your friends, I think those are OK,” Patrick said. “I don’t think you should do more than one, and I don’t think you should look at them and say, ‘I’ve got to do these for my development.’ If it’s something that, hey, three or four of the kids you are friends with and it’s going to be a cool social experience, sleeping in a dorm with your buddies and being away for the first time, then it can be cool, and I think it’d be a great experience. If it’s because you say, ‘I’ve got to go do these because I want to get ahead,’ then I think kids are doing it for the wrong reasons.”

Recharged and Refreshed

Patrick points out that a player who participates in other sports to become a better overall athlete and takes the chance to recharge his or her hockey batteries will be a better player the next fall.

“Go play in the park. Go play with your buddies. Play pick-up basketball. Go to the beach and swim,” Patrick said. “At the end of August, when your team is starting to get back together and maybe doing some dryland training and some of those things, now you’re fired up and you’re hungry and excited to get back at hockey, because of your passion and your love for it. You’ve done wonders for your muscle development, you’ve done wonders for your overall athleticism, so when you go back to your team at the end of August, you’ve made some strides without really knowing you’ve made those strides.”

After all, a player’s development shouldn’t be considered a race.

“What’s the race to?” Patrick said. “What are we racing to? Is it about getting better? Is it about development? If it is, then pay attention to the science. Pay attention to the professionals who have researched this and say, you know, in the big picture, these are the best things. It’s not about being the best 11- or 12-year-old, it’s about the big picture of overall development.”

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