Let Kids Be Kids
Minnesota is known as the State of Hockey for good reason. The Land of 10,000 Lakes has more National Hockey League and Division I college players than any other state. And while many Minnesota natives seem to be born with a pair of skates on, it’s important for youngsters to develop athleticism with a strong balance between other sports and activities.
As a former college and minor-pro hockey player and now managing editor for the Minnesota Wild, a lot of parents have asked me, “When should my child start getting “serious” about hockey?”
While every child is different and there are a number of things to consider, getting serious about hockey–or any one sport for that matter–can wait until high school and is not nearly as important as being active at an early age.
According to the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, the best way for kids to build a strong foundation of athleticism is to participate in a variety of sports and activities. The LTAD model believes that youngsters involved in multiple sports learn different movements and acquire different athletic skills that can carry over into a multitude of sports.
While the LTAD model should be gaining steam, at times it seems to be overshadowed by another trend: specialization in one sport.
Seven Stages of LTAD
Stage 1: Active Start (0-6 years)
Stage 2: FUNdamentals (Girls 6-8, Boys 6-9)
Stage 3: Learn to Train (Girls 8-11, Boys 9-12)
Stage 4: Train to Train (Girls 11-15, Boys 12-16)
Stage 5: Train to Compete (Girls 15-21, Boys 16-23)
Stage 6: Train to Win (Girls 18+, Boys 19+)
Stage 7: Active for Life (Any age)
In today’s youth sports culture, we’re beginning to see more and more specialization in a single sport at an early age. An example of youth sport specialization comes around every four years when the Olympics roll around and we witness stories of gymnasts and figure skaters devoting their entire childhood to making The Games. The stories that we never hear about are of the children who devote same amount of time training, but don’t make it because they are not amongst the one percentile athletically, or worse yet, they burnout prematurely.
While you can’t compare hockey players to gymnasts and figure skaters–their peaks are at a much younger age–throwing all of a child’s time and resources into one sport is hardly a way to develop athletic prowess. Devoting an entire childhood to one sport, no matter what that sport is, seems absolutely ludicrous to me. While I’m not a parent and can’t give a blueprint on how to raise the next Zach Parise, I can attest to the merits of having a well-rounded athletic background.
One of the greatest gifts from my parents was the support they showed towards my love of hockey. I was lucky enough to have parents that invested time, effort and money in my development. While I did grow up playing on traveling teams in Anchorage, Alaska, hockey was hardly the only activity I was involved in. I participated in a number of sports outside of hockey up until and throughout high school. To name a few: basketball, baseball, tennis, track and field, swimming and soccer.
Each sport that I participated in had a positive impact in my game on the ice. Basketball helps develop peripheral vision and better hands while learning how to dribble with your head up. Baseball and tennis improves hand-eye coordination and reflexes. Track helps cultivate leg strength during the summer. Swimming is a great way to increase lung capacity. Soccer fosters better footwork and balance.
So, playing multiple sports is a great way to improve overall athleticism. The second question I’m often asked, “Where is the best place for youngsters to develop their hockey skills?”
It’s an easy answer and it’s free.
Kids don’t have to go away to hockey camps or play on multiple teams to get better. The best way for youngsters to develop skills that will advance them past their peers is outdoors, on ponds and local outdoor rinks, where there are no clocks, coaches or whistles.
When kids play outdoors, they get the chance to try things that would normally drive coaches bananas, they touch the puck much more often than a real game or practice and they learn how to play the game in confined spaces. Skating without coaches also can foster the love of the game because they are not being directed nor told what to do.
The most important thing about youngsters learning the game on outdoor rinks–it’s where kids get to be kids.
And that development is priceless.