Q. My 8-year-old son plays hockey and the coach says he has a special talent. He scores a lot of goals and he is one of the stronger players. Given how much he loves the game, should I register him for summer hockey? He liked playing baseball last summer.
Your description of your son, and the comments from the coach, indicate that your son is already enjoying hockey and thriving at the sport. Your question is really whether or not he should specialize in hockey at his age.
There are very important reasons why not.
First, the research shows that early specialization in a particular sport often leads to negative consequences such as overuse injuries, athlete burnout and limited motor skill development. Some kids even end up quitting the activity altogether.
Remember, the number one reason kids play sports is to have fun. Researchers note kids don’t often have much fun with the kinds of training activities and the hours and hours of practice that specialization requires.
Second, and perhaps most pertinent to your son, a recent survey of hockey players on Canada’s 2012 World Junior team showed that they played a variety of sports as children. Consider these two basic stats from the survey:
Average age starting formal hockey: 5 years
Average age specializing in hockey: 14 years
Canada’s top young hockey players were involved in a diversity of sports between the ages of 5 and 14. Three-quarters of them were competitive in sports other than hockey during that time. On average, they played five sports in addition to hockey. The most popular were golf, soccer, baseball, volleyball, basketball and tennis.
Gretzky, perhaps the most famous player to ever play the game, said that summer hockey was the worst thing to ever happen to the sport.
Your son’s hockey skills are best served if he plays for other sports this summer. If he enjoyed baseball last year, let him play again.
In September, he’ll come back to the ice rink excited and refreshed after having enjoyed learning and practicing another game. He will have more enthusiasm for hockey and he will have picked up additional skills along the way.
Who knows, you may even see him playing for Canada one day. Playing a diversity of sports certainly didn’t hurt Gretzky’s hockey development.
Photo by: Firstin