As the hope of warmer weather is on the minds of many this year, it is time to think about and plan for the offseason. There are so many options that it can be overwhelming, but with a few guidelines, families should be able to make good choices.
The first decision a family needs to make is what they hope to accomplish with offseason hockey programs. Are you looking for skill development, game experience or just fun? The next decision is how much time and money does each program require and how does that fit into the family budget and other family plans.
With youth players, it is important to develop strong physical literacy by playing other sports, especially in the hockey offseason. Experts warn that playing one sport exclusively can actually slow development and could possibly prevent a player from reaching his or her full potential. Many other sports help with overall athleticism, which of course will help with hockey.
Many players will head out to offseason private teams to continue their playing experience and will also play other sports, trying to split time between. This can become very time-consuming and maybe the child is not able to preform well in either activity. It can also be quite expensive relative to the actual amount of time spent on the ice.
In most instances, these days, players do not spend enough time on the ice playing and working on their skills. As a parent, you might want to consider programs that offer a lot of time on ice doing things that are fun and helping to improve the players. A good goal for any youth player at a competitive level is to spend at least 250 productive hours per year on ice.
Here is how you count productive time:
• Games: For PeeWees, 12U and below, one game equals 12 minutes of ice time. For Bantams and 15U, credit 15 minutes per game of ice time. Now multiply the number of games by 12 or 15 and divide by 60 to get productive hours on ice.
So a 60-game schedule for Bantams equals 15 hours of actual playing time.
• Practice: This can vary quite a bit depending on the skill of the coach, but on average you can credit 30 minutes towards every hour of scheduled practice. Again, let’s assume 60 practice sessions, which equals 30 hours of productive ice time.
The combined ice times for the season equals 60 hours of actually skating and working on skills and playing games.
For ease of discussion, let’s assume that the offseason teams provide another 35 hours of productive ice time, so now each player has spent 95 hours for the year.
For the sake of argument, let’s add another 15 hours in case my numbers are off a bit, so now we are at 110 hours a year. And let’s not forget that during games, most players handle the puck for less than one minute per game.
One hundred and 10 hours a year, or nine hours a month is not enough time to master any of the skills required to play hockey well. Only the very talented kids who are lucky enough to be pre-disposed to hockey will thrive. So how to get more productive time?
As you consider offseason programs, it would be a great idea to find programs that offer lots of time on the ice – preferably scrimmaging cross-ice and with mixed age groups with only supervision and no coaching. Skills’ sessions are also beneficial as long as there is a strong component of skating instruction and repetition of skating technique. Look to build ice time towards the 200-plus hours a year.
The goal should be for automatic learning with lots of puck touches and a mix of ages on ice which cross-ice games accomplishes. These sessions should be a couple of hours in duration to allow many repetitions and lots of fun. Now the ice hours are adding up fast and development increases at a faster pace. If you cannot find a program like this, create one through your local association. Less costs and no travel!
There are a multitude of options for the offseason, so select ones that meet your family budget and values. Be sure to take time off from all sports and do other fun family activities that will create life-long memories.
Youth only comes around once for each of us and it would be a shame to spend all of it in a hockey rink. Try to maximize the time spent at the rink and make time for other activities.
For more from longtime coach Hal Tearse, click here.