Summer is a great time for hockey players of any age to build strength, sharpen their skills and improve overall athleticism. For young skaters, it’s also important to mix things up and have fun.
A young athlete doesn’t have to play more hockey to get better at hockey, says Matt Cunningham, former Minnesota State Maverick and USA Hockey Level 4-certified coach and instructor.
“Our youth sports culture pushes the myth that not participating in hockey year-round will lead an athlete to 'fall behind' his or her peers,” said Cunningham. “At the younger ages our focus should be on developing well-rounded athletes who have a solid base of general athletic skills. We sometimes don't connect the dots among activities that don't seem to have similarities to hockey. Mountain biking is an example. It requires body control while building the legs and lungs – both big parts of hockey.”
Cunningham, who has experience in holistic health coaching and has demonstrated the benefits of core power yoga for athletes, suggests there are many out-of-the-box activities kids can try during the offseason that may make them better hockey players down the road.
Here are some examples, described by Cunningham:
Other fun, “different” summer activities that can boost athleticism away from the rink include canoeing or kayaking, ultimate Frisbee, obstacle courses and even unstructured “free play” activities such as tag.
“Something as simple as tag has numerous benefits,” said Cunningham. “It can be played anywhere and requires no equipment. Think of all the skills that translate to hockey such as stopping and starting, short-burst speed in multiple directions, agility and body control. Another huge benefit is the deception involved in the game. Plus it's fun and competitive in an unstructured environment.”
For young hockey players who may be apprehensive to try something new, Cunningham offers some words of advice:
“Anyone who has tried to play a new sport or develop a new skill will have to develop frustration tolerance,” he said. “I speak from experience as someone who got into triathlon as an adult. It can be incredibly frustrating to fail repeatedly and struggle with something different and new. But it’s important to keep in mind the pursuit of progress, not perfection.”