Multiple Sports Approach to Development


The end of the hockey season can be a sad time for the hockey community. Even as the weather gets warmer and the days a little longer, the idea of less time at the rink is difficult for everyone.

But the changing seasons are a major opportunity for parents. Between the ages of 10 and 12, kids shouldn’t identify themselves as one-sport athletes. Looking for different opportunities to develop new skills and play a different game can be a great way to avoid the type of burnout that prevents a boy or girl from enjoying hockey later in life.

Even if a boy or girl loves to play the game, a few months spent focusing on a different sport is incredibly beneficial.

Avoid Burnout and Injuries

Mike Boyle has worked with Boston University, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Bruins and the 1998 gold medal-winning U.S. Women’s Olympic Team. He understands the desire to keep a kid on the ice year-round. However, he also knows the danger of doing this.

At such a young age, playing multiple sports is the best way for kids to be healthy, develop their overall athleticism and enjoy themselves. He believes it’s up to parents to make sure this happens.

“Parents just need to parent,” Boyle said. “It’s like any other behavior. If it’s not good for your son or daughter, you wouldn’t let them keep doing it. I hear a lot of parents say that their child likes hockey, so they just let them play hockey. It’s not that simple. I’ve seen kids get burnt out on hockey before.”

For adults, the idea of spending more time on pursuits you enjoy or excel at makes a lot of sense. For children, though, it can result in a lost interest over time, and in the case of physical activities, there is an increased risk of repetitive-usage injuries, too.

“You can’t apply adult values to children,” said Boyle. “It makes sense for adults to focus and spend a lot of time on things they’re good at. That idea just makes sense in our minds. It’s different for kids, though. Doing what’s best for your son our daughter means thinking about their long-term health and growth. Even if he or she is a great hockey player at the age of 10 or 11, they have to be doing other things.”

Skills, Skills, Skills

In the spring, there are a number of sports children can play instead of hockey. Each of them has different potential benefits and drawbacks, but all of them can help improve a child’s overall athleticism (which ultimately makes them a better hockey player). They can also provide a necessary break from hockey, both physically and mentally.

“The whole 10,000 hours concept is stuck in parents’ minds, but the early stages of that need to focus on development as an athlete more than just as a hockey player,” Boyle said. “There are plenty of ways to work on becoming a better hockey player without just playing in every league you can find.”

And by no means is hockey forbidden during the offseason. It’s okay to visit the rink and play a little pickup hockey with friends every once in a while, or to stick-handle and shoot in a garage, driveway or park. Some of the best hockey skill development comes in unorganized settings where a child is simply having unstructured hockey fun. But moderation is key in the offseason.

“An hour or so of working on skills every week is never a bad thing,” said Boyle. “And if a boy or girl wants to spend time playing around with a puck or playing street hockey, that shouldn’t be discouraged. Where you run into problems is with kids playing hockey 12 months out of the year.”

Which Sports Are Best?

There are many sports that kids can play in the offseason that will help in their development.

Individual and team sports both have aspects that aid an athlete’s long-term development. Individual sports like tennis can help players with their focus and self-reliance. Success or failure is completely up to them, rather than dependent on a teammate.

Team sports – especially other “invasion” sports similar to hockey, like lacrosse and soccer – are great because the tactics, team-play concepts and patterns of movement are very similar to hockey. The use of space, give-and-go tactics, pressure and containment all translate well to the ice.

Lacrosse, soccer and baseball are all sports that children can play in the warmer weather to hone skills also required in hockey.

According to Boyle, lacrosse and soccer are the most beneficial because they have the conditioning element demanded by hockey, as well as the coordination aspect. However, baseball offers its own unique benefits, especially hand-eye coordination and the mental skills needed to anticipate what to do next. When a player is thinking ahead – “What do I do if the ball is hit to me with runners on first and third base with only one out?” – they are developing mental skills that help them in every athletic endeavor, as well as in their everyday lives.

“Kids like to play baseball, and it’s a fun game,” Boyle said. “But if baseball or softball is the sport they’re playing, there has to be something else (too). Baseball has a very high hand-eye coordination threshold, and that can certainly help hockey skills. It just doesn’t have the conditioning element. Something as simple as getting them out riding their bikes or running around with their friends can help that conditioning side that they miss with baseball.”

Lacrosse and soccer, in Boyle’s eyes, offer the most benefit for improving the advancement of certain skills while also keeping kids moving.

“Lacrosse is the sport I’d recommend during the spring,” he said. “It focuses on the same skills conceptually in terms of passing and receiving the ball. Then there’s also all of the movement required in terms of moving without the ball. The same is true with soccer. Kids are running a lot, and then they’re learning to pass and receive the ball. It’s obviously more hand-foot coordination than hand-eye, but it’s the same concept.”

The physical skills don’t always have to transfer, as motor learning is highly specific, but the essential point is that playing other sports is highly beneficial regardless. It helps our kids stay physically active and develop psychological skills that do transfer between sports.

It’s a great thing for a boy or girl to love playing hockey, and it’s a good sign if they want to keep playing even as the weather gets warmer. However, it’s up to parents to realize that it might not be in his or her best interests to do so.

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