Hockey Training for Different Age Groups
In recent years sports scientists have spoken out emphatically about the harmful effects of premature and over-intense athletic training of young children. Many complain that hockey programs for youngsters are too intense, competitions too many, seasons too long, emphasis on winning too great. Young children are pushed by parents and coaches to choose and specialize in the sport way before they are mature enough to do so.
- Young children (up to 6) should engage in many different movement activities. Dancing, tumbling and jumping, are excellent activities. Since these youngsters have very short attention spans, instruction has to be unstructured and fun, teaching should be short and simple, and it is best accomplished using “show and tell.” There is no long-term advantage from structured practices at these ages.
- Up to the age of 8, children should enjoy a variety of fun and stimulating activities; they need to develop a broad base of movement skills. Intensive training and competition at too early an age inhibits the development of skills such as balance, agility, and coordination, and it prevents youngsters from learning other sports. It’s been shown that children who specialize too early do not develop the varied motor skills necessary for maximum athletic performance in later years. These children are the physical equivalents of specialists who have little competency outside of their specialty.
- Between the ages of 7 to 10, postural and balance skills mature and become more automatic. Children are able to master some of the basic movements needed for organized sports, but they still have short attention spans. They have difficulty making rapid decisions involved in complex sports. Skating skills can be introduced and practiced at these ages, but again, practices must be fun. Sports like hockey, soccer and basketball, as well as martial arts, swimming, t-ball, lacrosse, etc., are excellent choices.
- Between the ages of 10 to 12 (pre-pubescence) there is great improvement in coordination, motor skills, and decision-making capabilities. For children who choose to participate in hockey, skating skills now must be strongly emphasized. Skating techniques should be emphasized and built upon in the ensuing years. Players are now ready for some endurance and quickness training as well; they should engage in activities and perform drills that incorporate core strength, quickness, coordination, body awareness, balance, and rhythm. Fun and variety is still important so kids should be encouraged to participate in other sports.
- Between the ages of 13 to 16 (adolescence) athletes can incorporate complex skills and integrate large amounts of information. They can focus appropriately and their decision making capabilities improve dramatically. They are ready to specialize in their sport of choice and to practice with true dedication and intensity. It is also the time of the Adolescent Growth Spurt (AGS), the time of greatest and most obvious (catastrophic) change in a young person’s life.
Editor's Note: Thank you to Laura Stamm of Laura Stamm Power Skating for this story. Laura offers special thanks to her friend and colleague, Dr. Jack Blatherwick, PhD., Physiologist, Washington Capitals Hockey Team for his thoughts, insights and knowledge that contributed to this story.
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