When does too much of something become detrimental? Moderation over obsession is a phrase to live by with almost everything we can think of. It applies to eating, drinking, working and sports. Hockey is no exception.
The biggest problem in minor hockey today is “Burnout”. Kids who grow up playing hockey today don’t have a chance to rest and regain their edge. It’s hockey 24/7, 365 days a year and it’s unhealthy and counterproductive. Now I know this sounds hypocritical coming from a guy who profits off of hockey development on a year-round basis, but if it were my kid, I would be limiting the amount of time they spend on the ice in the off-season.
Ask any hockey parent today how often they are in a hockey rink and you’d be amazed at the number of hours that are spent with coffee in hand, watching practices, games and clinics. It’s hockey tryouts for the winter team followed by a full season of practices, games and tournaments. After the winter season its spring hockey with more games, practices and tournaments. After spring hockey it’s all day hockey camps, power-skating lessons, and skill development sessions. That’s the cycle and it goes all year long. Interspersed in all that time spent at the rink, kids are being shuttled back and forth to off-ice training facilities to make sure they are conditioned beyond the 12 – 16 hours they spend on the ice every week to the tune of $60 a session. It’s go, go, go, hockey, hockey, hockey all the time.
The real question is when does a kid just get to be a kid amidst all this time at the rink? When do these kids get to explore their other talents? Even more pressing, what happens when the vast majority of these kids never make it past minor hockey in their careers? And what happens to the parent/child relationship when parents begin to realize that all that time and money sacrificed has amounted to disappointment? It’s not just disappointment for the parents either. The biggest disappointment is that felt by a kid who sacrifices and pours all that blood and sweat into something, only to see it end before it even really begins.
I asked a friend of mine, who has an 11-year old son who is highly involved in hockey, why he is shelling out all that money and driving from rink to rink all-year long. His answer was simple and honest. He said, “If I don’t put him in everything, the other kids are going to pass him by.” This is a very common feeling amongst parents. It’s a sense of competitiveness that, to me, is completely misinformed.
Growing up, I loved hockey more than anything. I was passionate about the sport. But every hockey player from Wayne Gretzky to the kid down the street, who shoots puck after puck in his driveway, gets sick of hockey and loses a bit of desire from time to time. In order to be at your best, you need to be hungry. You need to be itching to put on that gear in order to play with the passion that is required to succeed.
My advice is to let kids have a month or two away from the rink in the off-season and go and do something else. Take a healthy break from hockey and let them grow their other talents. When you do this, they will return next season, hungrier than ever to get back on the ice. You will see them succeed because they won’t be burnt out like all the other kids who are on the ice 12 months a year.
Working in hockey development, the two busiest times for me is in March and April (right between the end of the winter season and before the spring season begins) and July and August (right after the spring season ends and the winter season begins). During this time I will be on the ice 6 – 10 hours a week, teaching power-skating, individual skills clinics and conditioning sessions. Some of these kids are on the ice up to four days a week during this span. Most of them are bored and going through the motions with minimal effort. Their parents lurk around near the glass, barking and motioning to their zombie-like kids. Competition clouds the parents’ eyes and they can’t even see what’s pouting right in front of them wearing $700 skates, wielding a $150 stick.
Even NHL hockey players take a couple months to cool their jets and decompress in the off-season and these are the guys who butter their bread playing the game. Hockey legends like Wayne Gretzky, who growing up was a stellar baseball player in the off-season, and John Tavares who is a highly regarded lacrosse player, took time out of the year to take a break from hockey. When you’re burnt out and going through the motions, you aren’t learning and developing. In fact, you’ll probably end up just hating hockey altogether in the end.