Hockey can have one of the longest seasons – many going from August through March (or longer). Many players/families jump right into spring hockey the minute the regular season is over. Personally, I don’t believe this is the best choice for most athletes. After a long physically, mentally, and emotionally draining season, even the most die-hard hockey fanatics need to take some time to recharge their batteries – especially in youth hockey! Players need time away from the demands of the sport to allow their body to recover in all three areas.
1) Physical – this one is pretty obvious. As players get older, the game gets more physically demanding. Coaches push players harder in practice, opponents & teammates hit harder, the speed increases, and injury rates increase. Physical ailments that seemed minor, if left untreated, can turn into long-term injuries. Bodies need the opportunity to recover.
2) Mental – teams go through lots of ups and downs throughout the course of a season. These swings provide some of the best life lesson teaching opportunities – but they also can wear players, coaches, and parents down by the end of the year. Give players the opportunity to think about things other than hockey for a while.
3) Emotional – did your team play in a big game this year? Win or lose, I’m sure emotions on both benches were running high. All players need some time away from these emotionally demanding moments. Over-exposure to these scenarios can actually lead to physical ailments. People who are emotionally and mentally drained are more likely to become sick – it boils down to your body only having a certain amount of energy to cope with situations. When you’re low on energy, your immune system becomes vulnerable.
USA Hockey recognizes the number one reason for players dropping out of the sport is because they aren’t having any fun. If hockey becomes a mundane task, it’s no fun. Time off from the rink is healthy – it helps keep the game special. It’s no different than having a sports car in your garage – if you drive it everyday, it just becomes “another car” – but if you save it for your summer weekend cruises, it becomes something special. Let kids be kids – give them time away from the sport, even if it’s just a few weeks. Allow them to play other sports and have unstructured time, they’ll enjoy the game that much more when they come back!
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to take at least a few weeks off after your season wraps up. I want to be very clear on one thing though – I don’t discourage off-season hockey and/or training! In fact, I think (smart) training in the off-season can greatly benefit players. My personal preference for the spring is to provide some sort of non-contact, loosely structure opportunity for players to be on the ice no more than once or twice per week. Like it or not, as coaches, we have to accept the fact that players will probably learn just as much (if not more) from having unstructured ice time and getting to try things on their own in a pressure-free environment.
As players get older, the number of training options in the off-season increase. Older players can start to get into strength and weight training. This is a great opportunity to improve your overall fitness and strength while still giving your mind & body a break from being on the ice. Is it hard work? Sure – but it’s different work.
Finally, I do encourage players to find camps & clinics throughout the summer to help hone specific areas of your game. Look for camps focusing on areas of weakness. If you want to become a better defenseman, look to find a defenseman camp…if you’re looking to score more goals, look for a shooting or goal scoring camp or clinic. You get the idea. There are hundreds of choices for hockey camps – ask around and find one you think will help, and remember…the most expensive camp isn’t necessarily the best!
If you’re a parent – don’t push your kid to the point where they’re ready to drop out of hockey. If you’re a player – go relax and be a kid for a couple weeks…let your body heal! If you’re a coach – allow players the freedom to hang up the skates for a bit, and don’t pressure them into competing year-round.
Skate hard & keep your head up. See you around the rinks…and Minnesota lakes this summer!